Saturday, December 31, 2011

Should auld acquaintance be forgot ...

We come to that moment at man with black hat, where we reflect upon the past year, as well as give a brief acknowledgement of some of those things upon which we meant to report, but didn't get around to it.

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Below is a picture of my Mom's family on the farm in Brown County, Ohio, dated 1943. Mom is in the first row on the far right. Of her ten brothers and sisters, some never left the farm, some never left Ohio. A few of them moved elsewhere, even to (gasp!) California. These decisions influenced each of them individually, and in turn their relationships to one another over a lifetime.

You see, I've discovered something about my family in the last three months, something that would never have occurred to me in the last three decades. As the only one of four children to move to another part of the country, the distance invariably affected the dynamics of that relationship. Visiting for several days every four or five weeks is like getting to know them all over again. Whereas before, you're not involved in the day-to-day comings and goings, especially with regard to caring for your aging parents, now you are. Not only do they have to get used to the idea, but you have to get used to their having to get used to ... you get the idea.

There is no one to blame, and no right or wrong about any of it. But rectifying it is simply what has to happen. I've accumulated enough annual leave over the past two years, to make reconnecting a priority over the next one year. Now THAT'S a New Year's resolution I'm certain to keep.

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I believe that the American people have lost the collective wisdom necessary to choose a President worthy of the title.

With all that has happened among the Republican would-be candidates, each have had their ups and downs. As this is written, Mitt Romney sits comfortably at the top as the least offensive candidate, Newt Gingrich is falling, Ron Paul is getting ready to fall, Rick Santorum is moving steadily upward, Michele Bachmann has earned a permanent spot in the "also ran" category, Rick Perry is attempting a comeback that won't happen, and most of us wouldn't know Jon Huntsman if we bumped into him on the street. Among those of that elusive phenomenon known as "the Catholic vote," Gingrich has the status quo in the bag, having been forgiven for cheating on two wives, thus giving annulments a bad name for the rest of us. But no matter. Meanwhile, many traditional Catholics are backing Rick Santorum. He is known to be a very principled man, with few if any pretensions about himself, and the "right" positions on most of the issues. He is criticized for too much emphasis on social issues. He should be talking more about jobs and the economy. That's what voters want to hear, just like the German people in the 1930s when they elected Hitler. (How'd that work out, by the way?)

Now if Santorum can only explain how a nation that is going broke, can continue to be the world's baby-sitter with its policy of interventionism, he might convince yours truly. But he hasn't -- yet.

The GOP will probably end up picking Romney, not because he is the better candidate (even the endorsement from the Washington Examiner was lukewarm at best), but because he is, as we said before, the least offensive of all of them, and the one most likely to beat President Obama. And that's what sad about this election. We've consigned ourselves to picking the lesser of two or more evils. A guy like Santorum, on the other hand, is easier fodder for rock star celebrities and late night talk show hosts. This is to say nothing of the manipulations of the mainstream news media, which we saw so blatantly in 2008. (Isn't that right, Chris Matthews?) America can no longer decide what it wants in a President without checking in with those Chatty-Cathies on "The View." Whatever happens in November of next year, it will be what the American people truly deserve, even to the nation's own downfall.

(But hey, don't just take my word for it.)

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One morning this past May, Father Lawrence Madden of the Society of Jesus was found dead of an apparent heart attack, at the Jesuit Residence at Georgetown University. He was 78 years old. Madden was the founder in 1981 of the Georgetown Center for Liturgy, sponsored jointly by Georgetown University, and neighboring Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown. Madden assumed the role of pastor of Holy Trinity in 1994. The Washington Post reported thus:

The parish was riven by disagreement between supporters and opponents of the silent protest [over the reserving of priestly ordination to men]. That difficult period at Holy Trinity was chronicled by journalist Jim Naughton in his 1996 book, “Catholics in Crisis,” an account of the tension between progressive American congregations and the Catholic church leadership.

Fr. Madden was seen as a “calming influence” who could navigate between the expectations of the congregation and church authorities, Naughton said ...

My acquaintance with Father Madden began shortly after I moved to Washington in 1980, and I joined Holy Trinity the following spring. I witnessed a different side of him than most people. I had good reason to doubt his judgment, with respect to certain liturgical innovations implemented by him in the parish, and had the unmitigated gall to challenge him publicly. But it was Madden, more than any single individual, who inspired my deep and abiding interest in the study of liturgy, which I maintain to this day. I left Holy Trinity in 1987, in protest over giving a "pro-choice" congressman/parishioner a speaking venue. I returned in 1991 when I moved to Georgetown while going through my divorce, and was a sacristan on staff there for three years. Madden and I developed a mutual respect for one another, despite the acrimony of our past, and while under his employ, he was never anything other than fair. I lost track of my ties to Holy Trinity around the turn of the century, and so only learned of his passing recently. I will miss him.

Father Madden is memorialized at the blog Pray Tell - Worship, Wit & Wisdom, as well as by Mary Fox of the journal Pastoral Liturgy.

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It is putting it mildly to say that Steven Jobs changed my life forever. Then again, he did it for so many others. When I was studying graphic design at the University of Cincinnati in the mid-1970s, I had a notion of what I wanted to be. It would be roughly two decades before it even existed, and a decade after that before it could be realized. Jobs did not invent the internet, nor was he the sole innovator behind personal computing. Even credit for the Macintosh itself has to be shared. Steve Wozniak can be given as much credit as Jobs, even if he lacked the public profile. Susan Kare was the designer behind the first icons for the original Macintosh, thus giving life to the "graphical user interface" that was its hallmark. At the end of the day, it was Jobs who had the vision, who connected all the dots. It was Jobs who, more than anyone else, spearheaded the merger of design and technology, to make both accessible to the masses, in a way that even the "experts" in those early days found inconceivable.

Jobs once said that the consumer didn't always know what he wanted. I agree with this assessment, as for the consumer to want something, he has to know it was possible to begin with. Where once he could not imagine a device like the iPhone, now he wonders how he got along without it. To this day, the Macintosh operating system still takes second place to the Windows operating system. But in terms of accessibility and user-friendliness, the former has led the way for the latter, whether the architects of the latter want to admit it or not.

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The problem with Christopher Hitchens was not only that he did not believe in God, but how tenaciously he professed others to be fools for believing. He had one redeeming quality, which was not caring what anyone thought of him for being who he was. Some would call this conviction, including many Catholics, especially those Catholics who insisted on storming Heaven with prayers for his final conversion before dying of cancer. They know that, in studying the lives of the saints and the great intellectuals of history, the most dramatic conversions are the ones that are hardest to come by. God can turn the coldest of hearts to his favor, thus teaching the lukewarm among us of His glory. This tribute video, produced by, shows some of his more memorable moments. [CONTENT WARNING: Occasional expletives with corresponding hand gestures.]

May God have mercy on him.

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Finally, we read in Sunday's style section of the Washington Post about the personal goals being set by various country music artists for the coming year. This includes Taylor Swift, and how she would

“... love to make collaborations in different directions that aren't exactly expected.”

Translated, this means that our little glamor girl is getting a taste of the high life, and wants to crossover into pop music. This is not unlike the "countrypolitan" phase in the 1970s, fueled by the disco craze, and by transplanted hillbillies making enough at the auto factory to move to the suburbs. Waylon Jennings said it best: “Did ol’ Hank really do it this way?” Probably not, but others have, which means it will be anything but "unexpected." Look for an album of evening cocktail music, maybe even a duet with Tony Bennett, in the coming year.

And remember, you heard it here first.

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As this year draws to a close, the next one will be the most challenging ever. Facing the possible loss of a parent, progressing with a significant career change, the future of one's service to the Church and the community, health issues, and certain matters of the heart -- all told, they are a sign that one individual can always live in "interesting times." We cannot concern ourselves with the doomsday prophecies that would accompany the Year of our Lord Two Thousand and Twelve. They have been with us before, and will likely continue, until time really does come to an end. Our Lord reminded us that the challenges of the present day are enough to worry us. So we make the most of what His Father in Heaven has given us.

Or, if one were to ask Mr Hitchens, we take what we can get ... don't you think?

Or don't you?

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