Saturday, February 28, 2009

What I Saw At The Counter-Revolution

Today I attended this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. This is the third or fourth year I've attended, I can't remember which. I get in at the student rate since I'm still at the Art Institute (probably for the last time at that rate). I only go on Saturday, so I miss a lot of conferences and meetings and what-not that take place on Thursday and Friday. I was never one much for chasing celebrities. It makes me feel silly. But I did manage to meet three interesting people this year.

Ed Morrissey is one of the writers behind one of my favorite political blogs, Hot Air. You've probably read about him here before. I finally got to meet him at Bloggers' Row. He recognized my call sign (which would be "manwithblackhat") from among the registered commenters there, and I was flattered to know he appreciated the things I wrote, as much as I did his writings. He had an interview coming up, one of a number of webcasts he had been doing over the last three days. But we talked for about five or ten minutes. Ed works for Michelle Malkin, the syndicated columnist who is also president and owner of Hot Air. (I never got to ask him why she only hires guys.) They were handing out giant posters elsewhere, from the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, and one of them was of Malkin. I picked up one, but it's for a guy who sends a lot of articles and stuff my way. I can't very well hang it at my place. Sal would eventually see it, and that would be bad.

Bill Russell ran for Congress last year, to win the seat for Pennsylvania's 12th Congressional District, from a pork-barreling blowhard named John Murtha. I saw his material for the "Russell Brigade" at a booth, and started talking to these two guys there, about why Murtha did so well in that district, despite referring to his constituents as "racists" and "rednecks," and what a guy like Russell would have to do to win against someone like that. Of course, that's when I learned that Russell was standing right behind me the whole time. They all got a good laugh out of that. Good thing I knew what the hell I was talking about. That district includes Johnstown, one of my favorite places, and he discussed the progress he made in the campaign, despite everything, and how it might work in his favor if he decides to take another shot at it. I certainly hope he does.

Sometimes it pays to be a good sport.

Finally, I met Joe "the Plumber" Wurzelbacher. He was signing his latest book. We talked about his current plans with political organizing. He seemed very upbeat, despite taking one or two on the chin in recent weeks. In fact, the overall mood there was very optimistic. Conservatives tend to be more gracious losers than liberals, at least in this country, or so I've noticed. When Sal and I had dinner tonight, the Vietnamese restaurant had CNN on the big screen, and Rush Limbaugh could be seen stirring up the troops on the podium at the convention. They had the screen tuned to closed captioning, so I caught the jist of it.

And so, this is to give a shout out to, and a Tip of the Black Hat for, Ed Morrissey, Bill Russell, and Joe Wurzelbacher. Thanks for making this year's CPAC a great one for me. Tell ya what, guys, I enjoyed it so much, I might even come for more than one day next year.

Maybe even pay the full price. It could happen.

Friday, February 27, 2009

This is a song dedicated to the month of February, and so is how we close out the week, and the month (unless something else comes to mind later, in which case this would be how we begin to close out -- oh, whatever...). "He's always been the runt of the litter." We've got Joel and Berry. They've got MySpace. They've got YouTube. Put it all together for another Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My Peggy Noonan Moment

In the past year, I have stopped caring what former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan thinks, about much of anything. There are several reasons for this, her trashing of Sarah Palin during the election being one of them. This troubles me, because Noonan is one of those women whom I truly with to admire. Really. But she keeps coming up with reasons for me to conclude that Der Tommissar might be right about her (which he is about most things anyway, so...).

The latest sizable egg she has laid, is this one:

A mysterious thing happened in that speech Tuesday night. By the end of it Barack Obama had become president... Years ago I wrote of an Italian woman in my neighborhood who made spaghetti every day. When I asked how you tell it's done, she showed me: You take a strand and fling it against the wall. If it's done, it sticks. If it's not done, it falls off the wall down the side of the stove. You keep flinging till one sticks. At the end of the day that is Obama's recovery plan. Cash infusions for the banks, fling. Tax increases, thwack. Pork -- excuse me, public investment -- splat. When we look back years from now, we'll see what stuck.

The true measure of greatness, then, is the ability to spend other people's money, and get a standing ovation for it.

Really, if you're going to adopt a view that mystifies the people with whom you have been of like mind for most of your adult life, you should at least leave the conversation better than you found it. Barring that, there are those who have something to say, and those who have to say something.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Return of the Jindal

The designated response of the opposition, to the President's State of the Union address, has always been an example of having a tough act to follow. After all, it is not as if you have a crowd cheering for you every time you hit one out of the park. So when Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal stepped in front of the camera last night, he was not exactly at his best. But take heart, fellow Americans! Today is a brand new "great day in the mornin'," and the Governor bounced back with a vengeance on NBC's Today Show, to elaborate on why he believes the stimulus package is "irresponsible."

(Meanwhile, a word from the wise to a certain personality behind the cameras: Chris, for God's sake, please do something about that tingle up your leg, will you? Act like a real journalist for once!)

Babylon Revisited

Until today, if you looked over at the sidebar, there would have been a video clip identified as a reflection on Psalm 137 (or Psalm 136 in the Latin Vulgate numerology, a story unto itself which can be explained by clicking here). This psalm expresses the longing of the Jewish people in exile, following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC. There is also a post-apocalyptic short story entitled "By The Waters Of Babylon," composed in 1937 by Stephen Vincent Benét for The Saturday Evening Post, under its original title "The Place of the Gods." I had read this story in grade school. It was in one of those leaflet periodicals they used to pass around to us for extra reading. I was fascinated by the story, and its dark vision of the future, in contrast to the rose-colored vision at the New York World's Fair. It is safe to say that Benét did not envision videophones in his account of the days to come.

Today, the Western church begins the major penitential season of the liturgical year known as Lent. That which is identified as a "Catholic blog" would be expected to do some tribute to this feast, possibly not much different than whatever other Catholic blogs are doing. But we here at mwbh decided to do something different anyway. Our first video clip is one that has usually appeared in the sidebar. It features the 1978 recording of "Rivers of Babylon" (a reference to the Euphrates River, its tributaries, and the Chebar River), by a German disco-pop vocal group named Boney M. Do not be deceived by their Jamaican appearance and surroundings; they are German. I don't get it either.

There is another version of this song, one that is different enough to make you wonder if it isn't just another song altogether. In 1971, singer-songwriter Don McLean recorded an arrangement he -- uh, co-arranged, with Lee Hays of The Weavers, entitled "Babylon," on the same album as his signature hit "American Pie," on the album of the same name as the latter. As there is no "official" music video of that song, someone named "ButtCrackMcCracken" went to the trouble of making one. The last four seconds are a real ice-breaker, which is why it is the version to be featured during the Advent season. It is not the one to be featured in Lent. The next one is.

And... here's the next one. A quick glance will show that it appears in the sidebar today, to recognize this as a penitential season. In this scene from the AMC early-1960s period drama "Mad Men," advertising executive Don Draper finds himself somewhat out of his element in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse. As one with a mysterious past who plays his cards close to his vest, Draper cannot hide from the senselessness of his life, as other scenes in the lives of his colleagues juxtapose with his own. He has disdain for rebellious people who in turn have disdain for his material success, even as he is intrigued by them. There is a message in there for us somewhere.

Finally, there is a version of this song that is to be featured at mwbh during the seasons of Christmastide and Paschaltide. If you recognize this as the "German" vocal group Boney M, in a televised performance of their 1978 hit "Rivers of Babylon," you would be correct. They appear to be dressed for a Carnival, maybe for New Year's Eve, we have no idea. But whatever the time of year, if we know what is good for us, we are all longing for Zion.

That's the idea.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I left my Mardi Gras beads at home today....

...and I would have worn them on the bus, in the office, at the cafeteria, in that important meeting I attended this morning. Actually, I used to make more of the occasion. I'd put in a leave request for Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning for what I would mark down as "pre-Lenten religious observances." It usually involved driving to Baltimore and hanging out at some watering hole in Fells Point till one in the morning. That was about seven or eight years ago, when I was young and foolish.

I don't drive nearly as much as I used to. Not that I don't miss it, but there's too much to do here at home. They changed the weeknight Low Mass for Lent, from Friday night to Monday night. Friday is devoted to Stations of the Cross, and Wednesday's out, because that's the Eucharistic Holy Hour. We don't skimp on tradition at S J the B, nosiree!

We'll make an exception with this coming Wednesday evening. We all know why, don't we? "Remember, man, that thou art dust..."

Stimulus and Response: Part Deux

In the past week, five Republican governors in the South have said they are considering, or have already decided upon, not accepting at least part of the stimulus funding alloted to the states.

One of them is Bobby Jindal, the pro-life Catholic (it can happen!) Governor of Louisiana, and a possible candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2012. He's not talking much about his political future, but in a recent appearance on NBC's Meet The Press, he's not holding back on the present. Notice his emphasis on the long-term obligations for a short-term solution. Funding for transportation infrastructure pays for itself over time, in the form of tax revenue for commercial use; at least that can pay for itself in short order. Unemployment insurance is another matter.

A governor less reluctant to take a Federal handout is -- where else? -- in California. On another Sunday morning talking-head show the same day, Ahh-nold licks his Viennese chops in a desperate attempt to keep his state from sliding into either bankruptcy, or the ocean, whichever comes first. An old adage says it best: "The drowning man will grab even the point of a sword." These two vignettes show an illuminating contrast, in how the nation is responding to something that won't go away by throwing money at it.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Brendan et le Secret de Kells

From the savvy media blog automaton industries comes word of a piece of great new film from the mind of artist Tomm Moore, one that is just begging to journey from the Emerald Isle for some American exposure. Alan Szymkowiak, by his own admission "raised on a steady diet of video games, dairy products, and red meat," serves up his latest dessert:

I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to mention a little animated movie from Ireland called Brendan and the Secret of Kells... the story revolves around a young boy who gets wrapped up in helping complete the famous illustrated Bible, The Book of Kells, and his epic journey finds him confronting enemies both real and supernatural (including some sweet Vikings).

Audiences fed a steady diet of Pixar and other CG creations can easily lose a sense of craft that goes into creating good animation. After all, if a machine can create that which came from the hand, how long before the heart and soul follow? It would do the world good to rediscover good two-dimensional imaging, as evident in the accompanying video clip. A little parlez-vous Francais proficiency might make it easier to follow the story. Hopefully an American release (or later DVD) will include English subtitles. We'll keep you posted on this one.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thomas Welsh (1921-2009)

The Most Reverend Thomas Welsh, founding Bishop of the Diocese of Arlington, passed away last Thursday, following a brief illness. He was 87.

Welsh was an auxiliary bishop in Philadelphia in 1974 when the Diocese of Richmond, then comprising the whole of Virginia, ceded its twenty-one northern counties at the behest of the Holy See, to form the new Diocese of Arlington. At its beginning, the new jurisdiction had 136,000 Catholics in 49 parishes and seven missions. Thirty-five years later, the Diocese of Arlington now has more than 410,000 Catholics, 68 parishes and seven missions. The resolve to sustain such dramatic growth as a local church, can be traced to the legacy set by Bishop Welsh.

He was a shepherd of what might be termed "conservative" theology, at a time when it was even more out of fashion than today. He was also a man of steady self-discipline in personal habits and comportment. For all this, Welsh was one who did not take himself all that seriously. This was evident in his habit of greeting a cheering audience with a tip of his scarlet zucchetto (a skullcap worn by prelates, similar to a Jewish yarmulke).

His role as a shepherd was another matter. Shortly after the ruling of Roe v Wade, and in the early years of the March for Life, Bishop Welsh paid a visit to a local congressman, an ostensibly Catholic man with a boldly pro-choice legislative record. After listening to the legislator's rationale of being "personally opposed but..." and so on, Welsh looked him right in the eye and said, "You make me sick!" The congressman exclaimed that he had never been spoken to that way by a bishop before. (With any luck, and with the continuing voting record of the party in question, it won't be the last time.)

At a time of great confusion in the Church, Welsh set his "eyes on the prize," making considerable inroads in welcoming communities of Women religious in the diocese, both of active and contemplative ways of life. He recognized the proper role of the lay apostolate, and encouraged societies dedicated to their activity. In addition, Welsh and his "old school" leadership in the presbyterate set the stage for theological discipline amongst the clerical ranks. This inspired a record growth in vocations, particularly in the 1990s, and still characterizes priestly life in the diocese to this day.

Welsh left Arlington in 1983, when the Holy See installed him as Bishop of Allentown, Pennsylvania, which included the little town of Weatherly, where he was born and raised. He retired in 1997, and remained in the Allentown area until his death.

The Arlington Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper which he also founded, has published a fitting tribute.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Amen.

Rebel (With A Clue) Revisited

No, not that Michelle, you silly boy, a different one!

Regular visitors to this blog (and you both know who you are) may remember Michelle Muccio of the Acton Institute, the young "rebel economist." We saw her for ourselves earlier this month in a piece entitled "The Other Stimulus." It seems she has been turning a number of heads lately with... uh, her proposal.

Politicians are going to spend $800 billion dollars which they claim will stimulate the economy. For the same amount of money we could eliminate the payroll tax for the rest of the year, giving the average worker thousands of dollars back in their pocket...

This clip is from her interview with CBS News' Bob Schieffer. Oh sure, the mainstream media is taking a moment out from the Obama Love Fest to hear an alternative, just because she's young and pretty and all that.

Whatever works.

(h/t to Allahpundit of Hot Air.)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Stimulus and Response

This past week, President Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus plan into law. To help our readers understand how the plan will work, we provide the following illustration, sent to us by one of our avid readers:

+ + +

Shortly after class, an economics student approaches his economics professor and says, "I don't understand this stimulus bill. Can you explain it to me?"

The professor replied, "I don't have any time to explain it at my office, but if you come over to my house on Saturday and help me with my weekend project, I'll be glad to explain it to you." The student agreed.

At the agreed-upon time, the student showed up at the professor’s house. The professor stated that the weekend project involved his backyard pool. They both went out back to the pool, and the professor handed the student a bucket. Demonstrating with his own bucket, the professor said, "First, go over to the deep end, and fill your bucket with as much water as you can."

The student did as he was instructed.

The professor then continued, "Now follow me over to the shallow end, and then dump all the water from your bucket into it."

The student was naturally confused, but did as he was told. The professor then explained they were going to do this many more times, and began walking back to the deep end of the pool.

The confused student asked, "Excuse me, but why are we doing this?" The professor matter-of-factly stated that he was trying to make the shallow end much deeper.

The student didn't think the economics professor was serious, but figured that he would find out the real story soon enough.

However, after the 6th trip between the shallow end and the deep end, the student began to become worried that his economics professor had gone mad. The student finally replied, "All we're doing is wasting valuable time and effort on unproductive pursuits. Even worse, when this process is all over, everything will be at the same level it was before, so all you'll really have accomplished is the destruction of what could have been truly productive action!"

The professor put down his bucket and replied with a smile, "Congratulations. You now understand the stimulus bill."

+ + +

(A tip of the Black Hat is in order to "D.W." for sending the above.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

“Birdhouse In Your Soul” is the work of recording artists They Might Be Giants, which is mainly the duo of John Flansburgh (guitar, vocals) and John Linnell (accordion, saxophone, lead vocals), backed by a revolving group of three or more sidemen at any one time. From their childhood in Lincoln, Massachusetts, they began writing songs together, even though they didn't form a band. After going their separate ways for college, they reunited in 1981 while living in Brooklyn. Taking their name from a 1971 movie of the same name -- don't ask me why -- they initially performed around New York City, accompanied only by a drum machine or pre-recorded rhythm track. The additional musicians, and the increased overhead that seems to accompany noteriety, came later. With their clever play on words and arcane subject matter, TMBG developed a unique form of “geek rock” or “nerd rock” that prevailed throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

“Birdhouse” is featured on “Flood,” the third album for TMBG, and their first on Elektra. The album went gold, mainly due to this song, as well as a remake of “Instanbul (Not Constantinople).”* The first clip is NOT the official music video, which is tied up with the recording industry lawyers for the second time this year already. So we're featuring a 2001 live performance from the UK's famous “Top of the Pops” show, one of the few where they don't speed it up noticeably faster than the recording. (I hate when they do that.) What's more, it's not so obvious here, but TMBG's concertgoers tend to sing along with suitable vigor.

After all, they're geeks, aren't they?

For our second clip, we here at mwbh couldn't resist showing you the “literal remix” version, especially since those cake-eaters in pinstripes at WMG have yet to find it. (Click on it now, while you still can.) Such was the least we could do for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

* Originally recorded by a Canadian group called The Four Lads in 1953, on the Columbia label, peaking on the Billboard charts that same year at number ten.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Was it something they said?

It seems there are some after-effects to Senator John McCain's appearance last fall, on ABC's regular waste of perfectly good airtime, also known as "The View." During his interview, McCain was asked why he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate. Apparently they weren't too nice about it because...

Various sources within the Buzz, including Portfolio, are reporting that Barbara Walters saw Sen McCain at a Washington event. During the encounter, Walters expressed hope that the senator would return to her daytime TV show. McCain promptly shot her down. Quoth the senator: "Not anytime soon." Such an obvious diss should give the ladies something to gab about for a few months.

And to think we're still waiting to hear which china pattern the Obamas will be using for state dinners. Stay tuned...

(PHOTO ABOVE: ABC/Steve Fenn. Used without permission or shame.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Importance of Being Ardent

About ten years ago, I had the honor of attending Evening Prayer for the Dead for the late Bishop of Arlington, in the wake of an untimely passing. I was one of a string of writers contributing to the Arlington Catholic Herald at the time, and the Editor was good enough to reserve a place for me with his staff. The best seats in the house, of course, went to priests of the diocese and visiting prelates. Behind them, were the local civic and political dignitaries; the senators, congressmen, and Federal judges, by virtue of their being Catholic. They got the same great seats in the Cathedral when the new Bishop was installed, while the average parishioner waited for some doofus in the chancery, to dole out remaining tickets to parishes at the last possible moment.

It is safe to say that many of the senators and congressmen in (very prominent) attendance were then, and remain today, avid supporters of "a woman's right to choose."

Congresswoman and Speaker of the House and "ardent Catholic" Nancy Pelosi recently visited Rome, and had a private audience with the Holy Father. As one would hope, and albeit somewhat diplomatically, he chose the opportunity to read the riot act.

Following the General Audience the Holy Father briefly greeted Mrs Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, together with her entourage.

His Holiness took the opportunity to speak of the requirements of the natural moral law and the Church’s consistent teaching on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death which enjoin all Catholics, and especially legislators, jurists and those responsible for the common good of society, to work in cooperation with all men and women of good will in creating a just system of laws capable of protecting human life at all stages of its development.

No, he did not take the opportunity to excommunicate her on the spot. Such matters are, by their very nature concerning the state of one's soul, very delicate, and as such are demanding of due process; in this case, reserved for the person's own bishop. This is to ensure proper recourse to private reproach, and failing that, escalating to a more formal and public denunciation.

Still, I don't think it will happen. The Archbishop of San Francisco can barely tell when burly men cross-dressing as nuns receive Communion from him. Don't expect His Immenseness to awaken from his bureaucratic stupor anytime soon. On the other hand, the Pope emerges from this episode as a great man. He fulfilled his pastoral duty in proclaiming the Gospel of Life, to someone who desperately needed to hear it.

Nonetheless, the fact remains, that for whatever major ecclesiastical event she attends, Madame Speaker can rest assured of getting one of the best seats in the house. That's a long way from the DOGhouse, dontcha know? Why would she not dismiss out of hand, the up-close-and-personal correction of the Vicar of Christ on Earth, her questionable grasp of the writings of Augustine notwithstanding? Why not just have the ushers carry her on a sedia gestatoria to Communion while we're at it? Until it occurs to someone in authority that we are effectively encouraging such behavior, and the subsequent rise of state-sanctioned infanticide, we will have to endure the kind of drivel featured in the video clip above, for years to come.

After all, why bother with the trouble of getting a clue, when nobody makes it worth the trouble?

At least not in this life.

[MID-AFTERNOON UPDATE: Father Z: "The mismatch between the two statements of what was talked about in this conversation suggests to me that she was either unmoved by the content of what the Pope said to her, or embarrassed."]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beyond the Palin

Here's a little something every parent learns about their kids before they finally leave the nest: they want to be known as more than the son or daughter of their mother or father. I think Paul would bear me out on this. (He probably had other considerations when he started wearing a nose ring, but never mind that.) If every parent is fortunate (albeit not without a sense of the bittersweet), the child approaches young adulthood with the culmination of a process known as "individuation." This is what the dictionary calls "the process by which social individuals become differentiated one from the other." Or, as it is known in Jungian psychology, "the gradual integration and unification of the self through the resolution of successive layers of psychological conflict." The latter is a fancy-pants way of saying the former.

So, when Bristol Palin is interviewed by Greta Van Susteren of Fox News about her (Bristol's) pregnancy, and Bristol says that "everyone should be abstinent, but it’s not realistic at all... because it’s more and more accepted," only an idiot -- or the average contributor to The Huffington Post -- would consider this a political liability for her mother, Alaska Governor and former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

For those who listen closely, it becomes clear that Bristol doesn't think much of them either. I mean, as long as you're going to schlepp north to Alaska just to hang on every word this girl says....

Monday, February 16, 2009

Presidents’ Day

As a boy, we had two holidays in February. The 12th was devoted to the birth of Abraham Lincoln, the 22nd to that of George Washington. At some point Congress decided to combine them into one holiday, and so the Monday that falls somewhere between the two is designated "Presidents' Day," and we get the honor all of them, even the lousy ones. Forty-two men can now be said to have occupied this office in the past. (No, not forty-three; Grover Cleveland was both the 22nd and 24th to hold the office.) C-SPAN decided to gather a group of historians to rate them periodically. A chart has been compiled to show how they fare now...

  1. Abraham Lincoln
  2. George Washington
  3. FDR
  4. Teddy Roosevelt
  5. Harry Truman
  6. JFK
  7. Thomas Jefferson
  8. Dwight Eisenhower
  9. Woodrow Wilson
10. Ronald Reagan

...compared to 2000. Ed Morrissey of Hot Air provides his usual astute analysis:

I find it terribly ironic that Harry Truman gets ranked as #5 now. I don’t have a big issue with that ranking, but when he left office, he was less popular than George W Bush, who comes in at #36 in this survey. It was Truman more important than Thomas Jefferson, who doubled the size of the nation with the Louisiana Purchase and set the stage for Manifest Destiny? I know JFK wasn’t a better President than Jefferson, which alone makes this survey deeply suspect.

It is interesting to see how well JFK fared, but hardly surprising given the gullibility of an ill-informed American public. While recognized even in his time as a charming and charismatic figure, he was sharply criticized for a number of foreign policy blunders. More people blame LBJ and Nixon for our involvement in Vietnam, yet it was Kennedy who put us there, LBJ who back then advised against a land war in Asia, and Nixon who got us out.

At least Reagan did well. Somebody was using their head.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wanna show your kids what happens after years of substance abuse AND have a good laugh at the same time? Watch the appearance earlier this week, of Joaquin Phoenix on CBS' Late Night with David Letterman. It is a cautionary tale for all of us, not to mention this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

The Other Stimulus

A 27-year-old "rebel economist" known only as "Michelle" [now identified as Michelle Muccio of the Acton Institute] has an alternative for the blank check currently proposed around Washington: "Politicians are going to spend $800 billion dollars which they claim will stimulate the economy. For the same amount of money we could eliminate the payroll tax for the rest of the year, giving the average worker thousands of dollars back in their pocket. Instead of more government spending, why not just let the American people spend their own money?"

How does our heroine propose this? Long story short, eliminate the payroll tax for one year. For example, if you have an annual income of $30,000, you would get at least $2,000 back. You could put it towards a new car, a new house, playing the ponies -- whatever would best stimulate the economy. What are we to make of this? The alternative is to resort to the guidance (and we apply the term loosely here) of such luminaries as Congresswoman Maxine Waters of the House Financial Services Committee.

The down side of Michelle's proposal? This would make it more difficult for the President to keep every promise of instant relief, to anyone lucky enough to "spontaneously" get hold of a microphone at one of those town hall meetings. Of course, what better way to encourage initiative in America, than to take the fruits of their labor away and "spread the wealth around" to those who, for whatever reason, were not able to work for it?

Do the math, people. We report, you decide.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the USA, was born two hundred years ago today, in a one-room log cabin in Hardin County (now part of LaRue County), Kentucky. The cabin is no longer standing, but a replica has been built at the site of his birth.

Lincoln was the first President born outside the original thirteen colonies. There are a few odds and ends concerning his life, some not generally known:

• Also born on this very date was Charles Darwin, naturalist and author of On the Origin of Species.

• While espousing Christianity as an adult, Lincoln did not formally belong to a denomination. As a boy, his family attended a form of Primitive Baptist congregation known as "Hard-shell Baptist," or simply "Hard-shell."

• Following hard times, the family left Kentucky and settled in Indiana. His mother fell ill and died, his father remarried, and the family then moved to Illinois, where Lincoln was to come of age.

• In 1842, Lincoln married Mary Todd, daughter of a prominent Kentucky family. She had also been courted at one point by Stephen Douglas, who would later become a great political rival of Lincoln -- both during the 1858 race for the Senate (the occasion for their historical debates), and the 1860 Presidential race.

Conventional wisdom, and the textbooks of American schoolchildren, would have us believe that Lincoln preserved the Union by challenging the succession of Southern states in forming a separate Confederate States of America. The assumption is that the Civil War was entirely over the issue of slavery. Others (including this writer) consider slavery as the catalyst, but not the sole cause of the War, as economic and social tensions between the pre- and early-industrial North and the agrarian South, had been festering since the founding of the Republic.

Some scholars, among them Joseph Sobran, maintain that Lincoln overstepped his bounds as President to hold the nation together:

He outraged many Northerners by raising troops and money himself for several months, without summoning Congress, whose powers he was usurping. He suspended the writ of habeas corpus, thereby usurping another congressional prerogative; and when Chief Justice Taney ruled that this was a violation of the Constitution, Lincoln not only defied the ruling but wrote an order for Taney's arrest! He later offered the lame argument that a part of the Constitution might have to be violated in order to preserve the whole. But Taney, in this case, was on firm ground: the suspension of habeas corpus during war or insurrection had always been a legislative, not an executive act. Lincoln was acting as a dictator, for which there was absolutely no provision in the Constitution. But, as he ominously put it: "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present."

We assume that Lincoln was very popular in his day, when the truth is far from it. Many fellow Republicans thought he was too quick to wage war to accomplish his ends. Such was the unpopularity of the conflict between the States among those in the North, that there were riots against the military draft in New York City and other cities. For a time, the South might have won, were it not for some key victories by General Ulysses S Grant in the latter days, as well as the industrial and logistical superiority of the North. The South had the "home field advantage," better military leadership in the minds of some historians, and the rural upbringing of most of their soldiers made for better marksmen.

At the end of the conflict, Lincoln sought no revenge upon the South, but endeavored "to bind the nation's wounds." An assassin's bullet cuts his plans short, and the period of Reconstruction that followed plunged the South into economic hardship. It also fanned the flames of resentment toward newly-freed people of color, and a culture of "Jim Crow" laws, and an American apartheid, would prevail for as long as a century after the War's end. It was only in 1968, for example, that interracial marriage was finally legalized in Virginia and other Southern states.

To this day, many Southerners refer to the American Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression," and scholars will still argue over whether the Southern states truly had the right to secede under the Constitution. Whatever position one may take, there can be no dispute that the 1860s were the defining decade for this Nation. Before that time, the United States would commonly be referred to in the plural, as in "The United States are..." Afterwards, they would be referred to in the singular, as in "The United States is..." As Washington is considered "The Father of Our Country," Lincoln is considered "The Savior of Our Country." Their likenesses would appear together on a mountainside in South Dakota, seventy-five years after the great conflict ended.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Combox Capers

Darwin stayed up late one night, to discover what he knew in his heart all along. Given enough blogospheric rope by which to hang yourself, you will be sucked unavoidably into the Vortex that is... The Comments Box:

Someone against whom I carried paper left a comment I disagreed with, and rather than sticking with a basic refutation I went all out: questioned motives, brought up old arguments, put words in his mouth, the works. An hour or two later I got an email from my friend. "Wow. Next time tell us what you really think... A year and a half ago, this other blogger and said such-and-such. And when I'd pointed out his obvious errors, he'd said that. And then there was that other time. And remember when over on that other guy's blog he's said this in the comments? And...

There are quite a few blogs that have a small but very proactive audience. Some conversations in their respective "comboxes" are more intelligent and edifying than others. Two of the good examples are The American Catholic and Caelum et Terra. Generally, the people who comment at those blogs, many of them regulars, know what the hell they're talking about.

Unfortunately, there are only so many Guardians of Truth to go around. As a result, a combox often becomes the happy hunting ground, for people whose book knowledge gets ahead of their good sense, people whose opinions get ahead of their book knowledge, or your basic garden-variety troll who posts four or five consecutive comments, before he/she has their IP address blocked, and they have to sneak in from a computer at the library, or the office, or their brother-in-law's house. You can spend most of the day refuting people with limited attention spans and unlimited spare time.

Living in their parents' basements until they're forty (or being a theology professor with tenure) does have its advantages.

Blog authors with buzzing comboxes usually set up rules. Some are real sticklers for "civility." Sometimes it's disingenuous, and used as a stick to beat people over the head who aren't total sycophants for the blog owner. Sometimes it's not so much dishonest as it is... well, selective. Even I have gotten the red light from Father Z more than once, at the Mister-Know-It-All Convention better known as the comboxes of WDTPRS (one of the great Catholic blogs of all time, but come on, really...), and I have no idea why.

On the other hand, when he posted more often than he does now, Dom Bettinelli had spirited debates, but he was eminently fair and knew when to toss out the occasional troll.

It is safe to say that man with black hat doesn't get a lot of buzz in the box. (I mean, when you've said it all, what else is there? That's gotta be it, right?) But we do have a few rules here: 1) Don't dish out what you can't take, 2) Don't make claims you can't back up, 3) As I am the High Lord and Grand Master of my personal Universe, I'm the only one who can call you names; it is very rarely done, and always for your own good. And finally, 4) We call her "Mother Church" for a reason, and nobody picks on Mama.

The result is civility, without the anal-retentiveness. That's how we roll here at mwbh. Somewhere in Austin, Texas, the lights in the Darwin house will go out a little earlier than before. Darwin has escaped the Vortex.

For now.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy. It is the end of the work week, and you know you want it. Some people in the Catholic blogosphere are content with humor that's merely "little-old-lady" funny, as opposed to serious "ROTFLMAO" funny. The former is what passes for laughs at the Catholic Blog Awards, stuff like cheap-@$$ Photoshop pics of Pope Benedict on a surfboard. (yawn!) But the truly discriminating among you know better. And until Der Tommissar decides to come down from Mount Olympus and regale the Catholic blogosphere with more of his Iowahawk-esque wisdom, you have nowhere else to go.

Hey, why else would you be here?

And so, for this installment, we review the highlights of this year's Super Bowl ads. For reasons beyond this writer, the top-rated ad at USA Today and YouTube, was the "Free Doritos" ad. We all know guys like these two at the office, hanging around the water cooler or the vending machine. We avoid them like the plague, but we vote for them at moments like this. Duh.

Then there are jobs like mine. Until about ten years ago, the scene from this ad for could have described MY job. My boss at the time would walk by my desk and make some cheap-ass remark, or would wait until I got up out of my cubicle when he was a few spaces down kibbutzing with the rest of the staff. For awhile, the rest of the boneheads that passed for middle management around here were perfectly okay with it. Then the political winds changed, and most of the aging while male douche bags, who couldn't get a job in the private sector stealing chickens, opted for early retirement. The rest is history. And I didn't need after all.

You remember in our last installment, when we told you of the Miller High Life "One-Second Ad." Well, here's the one that made it. Yes, in television, they measure things right down to the second. This one took two of them. Guess they'll be getting the extra bill for double the "Miller Time." I imagine most of the "buzz" for this promotion was the "buzz" itself during the preliminaries. If we can get a hold of the next issue of Advertising Age or Ad Week, we'll find out how they did the math.

Sometimes we wonder what would make the world a better place. Having been an amateur musician for most of my life, I've been around enough professionals to know, that it's the road crew that makes everything happen. Ever try to talk to the guys in the band? They're sequestered somewhere being interviewed by some armchair critic, usually a woman who moved up the food chain from "groupie" who just wants to go nighty-night with them. Trust me, the "roadies" are a lot more fun. They're not all unsavory characters either, just hard-working guys who don't hang their hat in one place for too long.

There's a certain magic to "deadpan" humor, and we may all love it on stage or screen. But meeting people like that in real life makes us look at each other and wonder whether the guy's meds are wearing off. I know this, because people look at me like that all the time. Obviously, I'm staying on the meds. It's the only way I can sleep at night after watching Alec Baldwin confess to "an evil plot to destroy the world." What if he isn't kidding? What about all those people who proudly eschew owning a television set, for the more selective medium of internet-based media (and you know who you are, Kristie)?

Finally, my personal favorite. Pay close attention to the lady in blue. If I were thirty years younger, this is the woman I would want to be the mother of my children. Obviously she'd also have to be a nice traditional Catholic girl. And love dancing. And be at least as well put together as our example here. I don't think I'm asking for much, really. Other than that, I think we could find a way to close the deal.

Give Daddy a kiss.

Is The Highway Calling?

When my marriage fell apart in 1990, I moved to Georgetown. I was devastated by events, obviously. But my friend who owned properties in the neighborhood, and who rented me one of hers, described the city within a city as "a good place to heal." It was, of course, but it didn't last forever. Eventually, interference with our arrangement by one of her children, and two suspicious break-ins in as many weeks, forced me to leave. (Children of the wealthy may inherit their parents' wealth, but they rarely inherit their class. Those who don't earn their own place in the world are content to ride on the coattails of others. This goes a long way to explain Caroline Kennedy, but I digress.)

It was during that period that I made a deal with myself. At least one weekend out of every four or six, I would get in my car and take to the road, for whatever reason. Pittsburgh was a favorite destination. It had a friendly dance scene back in those days, and still does, I suspect. The Pittsburgh Fall Dance Weekend was a big favorite of mine. To quote Tom Rush...

I get the urge for going
When the meadow grass is turning brown
Summertime is falling down
And winter's closing in...

Sometimes I don't wait for the above, but that's when I usually would take off.

In the last five years, I've tended to stay closer to home. There are several reasons for that. Most people who know me locally assume "Sal" is the reason. Maybe the main one, but not the only one. Between school, scouting, and church work, not only can I not get away, but I rarely "get the urge for going" anymore.

There is a scene along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, one that everyone traveling to and from DC gets to know. Going westbound and looking over the shoulder past Breezewood, you can see the town of Everett. With a 2000 census population of 1,905, it exudes a small town charm among its rolling hills, with scenes both weather-worn and bucolic. US Route 30, "The Lincoln Highway," goes through the town, as well it should, being the gateway to the real America that it is. The bestselling American novelist Dean Koontz was born in Everett. The old movie theater is converted to a stage and dance hall. The old hardware store is nearby. Even the local radio station, WSKE-FM "Cool Country 104.3" continues to operate at its old studio on 151 East First Avenue, not far from downtown. It is locally-owned, locally-operated, and you can tell by listening to it that it has not gone the way of pre-packaged "country-politan" stations.

I go through that town about once or twice a year. I visit the antique stores, I stop by the diner and order "the usual," I go to the supermarket for a several-month supply of Mrs Weiss' Kluski Egg Noodles, which are the closest thing to the ones that Grandma Alexander used to make. I tune out the satellite radio, and tune in to 104.3 megahertz. Maybe I'll hear some REAL bluegrass, not the suburban pasteurization that passes for it in Washington. Maybe I'll still hear Paul Harvey, telling me "the rest of the story," and wishing me "good day."

I wonder if other people drive by there wishing they could get off and put down roots in a Lake Woebegon place that time forgot. Then I wonder about the young man working the local gas station, who looks up at the cars rolling by on the Turnpike, wondering if there's life out there.

Is anyone from that part of the state listening?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Executive Privilege

One of the things you'll be hearing more about, is the initiative toward "greener" or more energy-efficient Federal buildings, not to mention more efficient use of resources. This includes not only recycling of products for government use, but conservation of heating and cooling systems.

And just so you know this is coming straight from the top:

The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat.

“He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?” said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. “He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.”

We should mention that he's also from Chicago, where they know how to tough it out in the cold. According to him, we aren't able to do that here in Washington. He's right, of course. People here just can't trade in their Gucci shoes for galoshes.

Then again, he can't put on a sweater indoors, either. But what he can do, is show through his press secretary what he means by "transparency." I know you've been dying to hear this straight from the top as well.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Somebody’s Top Ten List

It's about time for this year's Catholic Blog Awards™. Somebody didn't waste their time.

Jim Garlits, author of the blog Uncommon Sense, recently moved from northern Indiana to Alexandria, Virginia. "He has been a radio personality, a factory worker, a short order cook, an Army officer, a coffee shop and used bookstore owner, an apartment painter and a writer, but not all at the same time." A devoted husband and father of four, Garlits composed a "top ten list" of Catholic bloggers. Listed in alphabetical order, they are:

American Papist
Creative Minority Report
New Liturgical Movement
Overheard in the Sacristy
Rorate Caeli
The Hermeneutic of Continuity
The Shrine of the Holy Whapping
What Does the Prayer Really Say?
Whispers in the Loggia

It is an insightful list of choices, for the most part, with one possible exception. Rorate Caeli, while often the first to break news concerning the restoration of Catholic tradition, is selectively hostile toward papal authority, an attitude that is not limited to the comments box (although it is certainly enabled). This betrays a certain intellectual cowardice, when you consider that half its contributors operate under pseudonyms, for no clear reason. After all, if you are in a position in the church to fear reprisal, honesty demands that you at least state as much.

Rocco Palmo has enjoyed considerable acclaim as a Catholic reporter, and rather early in life. As a result, his need for personal maturity is more apparent than with most. We would look forward to that, and to even more good fortune for the author of Whispers in the Loggia.

Personally, I never heard of Overheard. Perhaps I should have. We'll get back to you.

To his great credit, Garlits avoids the habitual trap of trotting out the usual suspects from the mainstream Catholic print media. The result is one indication of a trend in the Catholic blogosphere, upon which we expect to elaborate in a future piece later this month.

Michael Dubruiel

...has fallen asleep in the Lord. He was 50 years old.

Michael was one of the first Catholic bloggers I read with any regularity when I started writing in this medium. His wife, Amy Welborn, is the pre-eminent author in the Catholic blogosphere. The joys and sorrows, and the many adventures of her family, she has shared with us over the years. Today she has only this entry:

Michael collapsed this morning at the gym and was not able to be revived despite the efforts of EMTs and hospital personnel.

We are devastated and beg your prayers.

Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Wazzup, Playuh?

Our sojourner in Seattle has a new game to play, obviously to celebrate his re-designed blog site, and to show those trolls who lurk in his comments box who be da Boss:

Don't bother writing back with a lot of sturm und drang (appropriate language, eh?) about your Right to Free Speech. You have no such right on my blog. You are my guest and subject to my draconian but benevolent rule. If you want to spew stupid paranoia, start your own blog... So: my new contest: Identify Mark's Real Masters!

The gauntlet has been thrown, and the challenge met. His master has been identified for all to see.

Everything has come to pass, as the prophecy of The Shea has foretold.

The Day The Music Died

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of a small-plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa, which killed three rock and roll musicians: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J P "The Big Bopper" Richardson. Generally considered to herald the death of innocence for the explosive new musical genre, it has been immortalized by singer-songwriter Don McLean in his 1971 song "American Pie" as "the day the music died."

Ritchie Valens (born Richard Steven Valenzuela) was the singular pioneer of "Chicano rock," even though his professional career lasted less than one year before his untimely death. He is best known for his 1958 hit "La Bamba," an updating of a Mexican folk song. In the first video clip, we see the East LA band Los Lobos perform the title song from the soundtrack of the 1988 movie named for the song. The part of Valens was played by Lou Diamond Philips, who also appears in the video. The second clip is a scene from the movie itself, where Ritchie Valens auditions for his first band.

The opening licks for the Los Lobos arrangement of "La Bamba" makes for good garage band material, so this post would not be complete without a lesson, or at least a preview. In this iVideosongs title, instructor Steve Rieck shows you how to play it. While the song and guitar solo are relatively simple, the use of barre chord fingerings will challenge beginner-level players. Be sure to put down a mere $4.99 for a download of the genuine article at

The 1959 tragedy was arguably a factor, in the downward trend of popularity for the anarchic "rock and roll" sound. A generation of teenagers who thought they and their heroes could stay young forever and never die, got a dose of reality with that incident, combined with the induction of Elvis Presley into the Army, and the blacklisting of Jerry Lee Lewis. (Something about marrying his underage cousin.) The next several years heard a softer, gentler sound on the pop charts, with male baby-face crooners and female baby-doll sirens, virtually all of them as white as white-bread America. By the early 1960s, when a group of four young men from an English seaport town approached Decca Records, they were told that guitar bands like theirs were already on the way out. They managed to ignore that advice, and the edge in popular music rose again -- as our fourth video clip will attest.

But as CNN reported this past week, the way things were back then are still remembered in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Plug This: DarwinCatholic

Our "Plug This" series is devoted to lesser-known figures in the Catholic blogosphere. You know, the ones which the mainstream Catholic print media avoids while obsessing over the same two or three every chance they get. The subject of this installment has been known and respected at "Saint Blog's Parish" since their inauguration in January 2005.

Where Religion, Philosophy and Demographics Meet

We all have moments like this. We want to read a blog, but cannot decide between enlightened and insightful social/political commentary through a Catholic lens, and one of those "mommy blogs" composed by the next generation of Erma Bombecks with adorable pictures of little kids messing up the house. Fortunately, a Texan couple known to most as "Mr and Mrs Darwin" (I know their real names, but I'm not tellin' -- nyahh!) fill the empty void as only they can. I know it sounds too good to be true. After all, who has time to pontificate on lofty matters of the world when your kids are approaching middle school and can't make their own beds? (Hey, I forgot to do it this morning myself, but that's another story...) But I ask you, who could resist this adorable five-month-old, secure in the knowledge that by Halloween, he'll discover how to walk and grab tablecloths and start pulling until everything on it falls down?

The Darwins also host an online educational resource known as The Humanities Program, featuring "...two courses in Western history, literature and culture designed by and for homeschoolers." It is supplemented by its own Humanities Program Blog. In addition, Darwin has branched out into other areas of blogdom, as a contributing writer of the everlasting polemic known as The American Catholic.

Not only that, but this blog has been listed among the "highly evolved" on their blogroll. Such discriminating taste bears notice. That, and this writer has enjoyed their frequent correspondence over the years.

Astute observations on politics and economics, musings the state of Catholicism in America, reviews of books for the discriminating reader, the tribulations of renovating a house with the kids still living in it -- all are waiting at DarwinCatholic, where it is said that "most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive."

You'd think that would be obvious to most people, wouldn't you?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Post-game Whoop-Dee-Do: Part Deux

Most people know that the Pittsburgh Steelers won their sixth Super Bowl last night, edging out a second-half would-be rally by the Arizona Cardinals, with an edge-of-the-line end zone completion at less than three minutes to the end, for a final score of 27-23. But many of the fans are waiting for the critical analysis of the halftime show with Bruce Springsteen. We're showing a clip here from NBC's "Today Show" with his live performance of that hit from last fall called "Radio Nowhere." This would be an improvement over that to which we were subjected last night. Among other gaffs, Rob O'Connor noticed the same thing last night that we do in the clip.

There were too many people on the stage. After five members in a band most rock 'n' roll groups get noticeably worse with each additional member. Van Morrison is the exception to this rule and Bruce has skirted it by employing top notch guys like Miami Steve and Nils Lofgren. However, he had at least six guitar players onstage. All playing the same parts. Add on the horn section and we're talking chaos.

At the very least, we're talking overkill. As a general rule, no rock band ever needs more than three guitarists -- lead, rhythm, bass -- unless the fourth is the headliner, and that's just for window dressing so he can jump around the stage like Garth Brooks with an attitude problem.

We'll have more Monday morning quarterbacking today and tomorrow -- that would make it Tuesday, whatever -- as time and coffee breaks permit.

We'd love to show you Springsteen's "official" music videos, but he disabled the embed code in all of them. And you thought his sales deal with Walmart was just an accident. This has "sellout" written all over it. Maybe video really did kill the radio star.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Watch the Big One Online

So you're working on serious code tonight and can't get to the local sports bar? Or the big-@$$ screen TV is in the other room? Well, we just found the solution. Click here...

...and scroll down to the "" screen. Then click on that too. Wish I'd thought of it sooner. Enjoy.

[POST-GAME WHOOP-DEE-DO: We have three places on the internet to review this year's Super Bowl commercials. If you want to place your vote, or see how the rest of the world voted, check out the pages at either USA Today or YouTube. If you can't wait that long, and just have to fill the empty void tonight, go to the special MySpace page. And by the way, how 'bout them Steelers!!!]