Friday, August 31, 2012

The View from Beaver Island

Beaver Island is the largest (55.8 square miles) of a fourteen-island archipelago, located just west of the northern tip of Michigan's lower peninsula, and just 32 miles by ferry or "puddle jumper" from the coastal city of Charlevoix on the mainland. While the Catholic faith has predominated the island for most of its history, being originally settled by the Irish, it was in the mid-19th century the home of a peculiar breakaway Mormon sect that has since moved on.

The island has a year-round population of just under seven hundred, most of whom are descendants of the original Irish settlers. It stands to reason that the parish church, Holy Cross, at the north of the island on Kings Highway, is the center of the community.

In recent years, unfortunately, it has become the center of more than that.

There was no dinner this year ... The lack of participation stemmed not from a lack of interest but from frustration and tension tied to the parish's new pastor, Fr. Joseph Blasko.

"The Catholic church used to be the mainstay of our community here. And it's troubling to people to see what's happened, and how our church is falling apart right now," said Jeanne Gillespie, sacristan for nearly 20 years at the only parish on the 58-square-mile isle in northern Lake Michigan.


The article portrays a consistently brusque and intemperate demeanor attributed to the 71-year-old Father Blasko, which resulted in the intervention by the local bishop, the Most Reverend Bernard Hebda, and the decision of many to withdraw from the life of the parish.

Inasmuch as this is the National Catholic Reporter, one might expect an ideologically progressive slant to the story, one that is aided by the inability of the parish priest to comment (which is not unusual when priest-personnel matters are under scrutiny). As that tendency goes, it could have been worse. But even more disappointing (if not the least bit surprising) are some of the comments with the article. A few are well thought out, including those familiar with Beaver Island and/or the Diocese of Gaylord. A few others are well-intentioned, if ill-informed. But most of the comments, as is standard fare for NCR's audience, are sophomoric, idiotic, displaying an abysmal lack of understanding of the Faith and the Church, an obsession with petty bickering, not to mention awash in the usual clichés associated with the "spirit of Vatican II" and the aging adolescents equally associated with it.

Well, okay, there was one exception.

It would be difficult enough for any man not "bread and buttered" on the island to fit in, given its characteristic insulation from the outside. This is not unusual ... I've dealt with pastors like this before. They've treated me like this before. At the risk of bragging, it only happens once. To find out why, you have to read my blog. (Sorry.)

It gets much better.

The comments from those familiar with Beaver Island and its people tend to give a more balanced view of the issue (as in, plenty of blame to go around). Then again, there was the one that quoted from a misguided study conducted by Catholic University sociologist Dean Hoge, who failed to grasp in his conclusions that, yes, a priest IS ontologically changed upon ordination. ("Cultic model"? We might have one of those here. Keep reading.)

Meanwhile, NCR editor Dennis Coday was moved to explain why he ran the story, as he suggests what is and is not the problem. It's some of his conclusions that are a problem in themselves.

The failure on Beaver Island is not the failure of a pastor or a bishop or parishioners. All parties, it seems, have tried their best to work through the difficulties. Sadly, they have reached an impasse. But even that is not the real failure. The failure on Beaver Island is systemic. The people on Beaver Island are caught in a system that stifles creativity and can't generate new ways to solve problems.

So, these people need someone on the mainland to quit stifling them so they can get on with solving their problems. Does that include any problems they might have with themselves, or is it just everyone else? This has been the challenge of the faithful from the time of the apostles. “Ecclesia semper reformanda est.” (“The Church is always to be reformed.”) Two thousand years of evidence shows that it always begins in two ways; with the laity, and with personal reform. No one can lead without learning to follow. No one can clean up anybody else's act until they clean up their own. No major reform of the Church has ever succeeded any other way.

Hold on to that thought. We'll be needing it as we go along. What prevents us from reforming ourselves, or much of anything, for that matter? In any walk of life, not just parish life, we are creatures of habit by nature, humanity being one of fallen nature. Let's review what those prospects might be with the three main players in this drama.

The Bishop

In his 1989 book on the operation of the Church in the United States entitled Archbishop, the Jesuit Father Thomas Reese devotes his largest chapter to personnel issues, in particular those involving clergy. The case load of such matters before church tribunals is second only to petitions for annulments. A bishop has X number of priests, and Y number of places to put them. Despite improvements in the number of vocations overall, in some parts of the United States, X and Y still fail to match up. While priests are subject to a bishop's will in their assignments, he must be attentive to their particular talents, their legitimate needs, and ability to be reasonably content with where they are sent. Every attempt is made at "a good fit." Some dioceses have extensive consultation with parishioners. Others already have some idea of what a parish wants, needs, and/or is willing to live with. Either way, the average pewsitter seriously underestimates the percentage of a bishop's time that is taken up with such matters.

Were it not for its isolation, and difficulty to reach for part of the year, a parish in the States with less than 200 parishioners -- that would be at its peak, given only 120 year-round -- would probably never have a resident priest. Finding the right man for the job becomes even more difficult with human resources stretched thin, never mind with the two other parts being played here.

The Pastor

If Professor Hoge wants to talk about a "cultic model," he might want to examine the phenomenon known as the "personality cult." After fifteen years, Father Pat Cawley appears to have been a very difficult act for the best of men to follow. A description of Father Blasko's history in the comments section, by one resident of the Gaylord diocese identified as "Anonymous" (the most common pseudonym in a forum devoted to steadfast conviction), is very hard to live down: eight assignments in thirteen years. That comes to about one year and eight months per assignment. Even associate pastors (or parochial vicars, as canonically known) usually stay on the job for at least two years. And even in a diocese where turnaround is said to be higher than average, this is hardly time to unpack. It's a wonder any priest can be effective in such an unstable environment.

(This would be a good time to mention that Blasko's predecessor served there for what is apparently an unusual tenure of fifteen years. Having that kind of time is quite the advantage, especially given the rate of transfer everywhere else in the diocese.)

Blasko's is a delayed vocation, his having been ordained in 1999 at the age of 58. He would be very set in his ways by then, as would be any of his parishioners. Met with a hermeneutic of suspicion at the offset for being an outsider, and not one given a great deal of time to be appreciated, he likely fell back (again, out of habit, in this case a bad one) on his usual defense mechanisms. One can read various motives therein; fear of vulnerability, response to rejection, clinical depression, or just being disagreeable.

Or is it something else?

Interesting that you mention that, a retired Priest, blood relative of many on Beaver Island, born and raised on the island himself, came back a few years ago to settle in the community. He wasn't too well received either and earlier this year left the island for a more "peaceful" location. He had delivered the service in church several times in the absence of the previous Priest, yet the congregation never treated him very well either. There is a lot more to this story than is depicted in this article. Newcomers, even though they may have totally altruistic intentions, often aren't treated very kindly on the island.

Whatever it is, Father Blasko's calling is from God, not the islanders, and that parish is his responsibility to others, in a way that is not required of those whom he serves. Meeting that responsibility entitles him to some latitude in how he seeks input from others. His resorting to some structure in lay consultation -- the standard pastoral and finance councils (the latter being required by canon law), as opposed to the previous town-meeting style "voice vote" -- was probably all that was needed to set some people off. And yet this by itself does not close the door on anyone, it merely sets a framework in place, and with that, a level of stability for a pastor, which is helpful when you get moved around so much.

The Parish(ioners)

Before we go any further, dear reader, you must understand one thing about small towns, especially those in remote areas: as a social construct, you're either in, or you're out.

It usually is decided early on, and it usually (but not always) stays that way. As the pace of life is slower, things are slower to change -- this includes habits, as well as grudges -- especially an island reachable only by air during the winter months. With a diminished outside interchange in human contact, unique patterns of social intercourse and individual behavior form a life of their own. (A popular bumper sticker reads "Slow Down! This Ain't The Mainland.") With little need for complex organization, and an emphasis on self-reliance and self-ingenuity, one must be well-versed in the unwritten rules. There is a place for everyone, but everyone knows their place.

The result is not always conducive to the "creativity" of which Mr Coday is convinced the islanders are so deprived. Could they simply be depriving themselves?

In the NCR story, and in the comments, there are continual references to what is known as "the island way." Is it as hard and fast (as opposed to ever-evolving and "creative") as its proponents appear to suggest? In the history of Beaver Island, the main livelihoods of its people by the mid-20th century were fishing, logging, and farming. By the 1970s, when the population was less than one-third of its present one, this was supplanted by tourism, as visitors from throughout the Great Lakes region came to the island to recreate at the beaches and inland lakes, as well as to play golf. The construction of seasonal cottages as a growth industry soon followed. It is reported that only in the last decade has the island had any access to the internet. It seems that "the island way" can bend when it has to.

But most important to our story, roughly half a century ago, the Catholics of the island changed the way they celebrated the Mass, just like every other Roman Rite Catholic on the mainland, and beyond. Where was "the island way" among the parishioners when that happened?

Perhaps they saved it for when one of those upstarts from the outside world gave them the need for a united front.

In late July, West and a group of parishioners met with Hebda when he came to the island to celebrate Mass in Blasko's absence. While West said they entered the meeting with a great deal of hope, they left frustrated, feeling Hebda rebuffed them, having an explanation for each of their grievances.

... which is easy enough when the audience isn't ready for it. And since when is an explanation necessarily "rebuffing"? When you are told what you don't want to hear? Ask anyone who ever raised children how often that happens.

But wait, there's more.

Hebda told NCR the message that people aren't happy is "perfectly clear," and "by no means have I ignored the situation, and I certainly am in constant contact with Fr. Joe and with others to find out how things are going."

The bishop offered to bring in a mediator for the parish, but said the idea was flat-out rejected, as parishioners have drawn a line in the sand -- they'll come back when Blasko is gone.


"They'll come back when Blasko is gone." This is not the ideal bargaining position for any group of individuals, who are fortunate to even rate their own parish in better times. Fair or not, the bishop holds all the good cards here, and the locals played a bad hand regardless of what they were holding.

So now, everybody is probably waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sending in a new priest will not solve the bishop's problem in the long run, which would be his most likely move if he had one to spare. He will still have a parish whose people will throw a fit whenever they don't get their way. This in turn is what the parishioners appear to want, but is it what they need? Transferring the current pastor will not solve that priest's own problems, unless it is one that is based upon his problems. We'll get to that shortly as well.

Meanwhile, back outside the box ...

The bishop can handle this like a manager of people and property, or he can handle it like a shepherd. For all his efforts (and let's presume his sincerity for now), the usual approach has not worked. Maybe it's time to try the other one. After all, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.”

First, Bishop Hebda needs to spend at least one hour, alone and without interruption, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, if only for the intentions related to this particular challenge. If the "still, small voice" was good enough for the prophet Isaiah, it's good enough for him. He does not have the luxury of treating this as some little parish in the middle of nowhere. It is now in the middle of national exposure in the Catholic press, and he has a captive (and much wider) audience.

To put it another way, the bishop must leave the ninety-nine sheep behind, and seek out the one that is lost. (There is a precedent for this. If you have to ask ...)

Second, the bishop needs to take care of the one soul for which he might well answer most of all, that of Joseph Blasko. This guy needs to be sent on a thirty-day, no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners, Ignatian retreat, under the guidance of a dyed-in-the-wool, whiskey-drinking, cigar-chomping, shanty-Irish, kickin'-it-old-skool Jesuit priest. No stone will be left unturned, and what happens after that can be decided later.

Third, the parishioners need a lesson they will never forget, one that reminds them, not only that they are still a parish, but one that is able to function only in union with the whole Church -- you know, the one on the mainland. This will require removing the control over events completely and resolutely out of their hands, and letting the purification begin. If personal reform is to happen, one must dispense with the illusion that all is well.

Recent years have seen a small but growing resurgence in religious life. One success story is the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, an order in the Franciscan Capuchin tradition founded in 1987, and dedicated to evangelization through the call for personal reform and renewal, as well as working with the urban poor. If this order, or one much like it, could be persuaded to send a priest, preferably two or three, to the island parish for a period of one year, or ideally, three years, it could embark on a parish mission, one that would last longer than the usual one week or one month. Perhaps the people should also be told, that the alternative is accept a refreshed and renewed Father Blasko upon his return. They can roll the dice, and take their chances.

The observations of Mr Coday notwithstanding, such conflicts are hardly a post-conciliar phenomenon -- Father Peter Gallagher, a pastor in the late-19th century, got into fisticuffs with a parishioner, inside the church! -- but are definitely signs of a spiritual crisis. At its heart is an infestation that must be pulled out at the roots, not covered over with political theater and talk about some imaginary "healing process" (which is chancery code-speak for "making this go away"). The parish must be re-catechized from the ground up, preferably by a disinterested party, one accountable to, but outside of, the diocesan machinery. In time, not only will wounds be healed, but the parish will rediscover their Catholicity; that is, what it really means to be a Catholic, beyond a mere once-a-week fellowship gathering.

On the other hand, if fellowship is all they really need, establishing a Moose Lodge on "America's Emerald Isle" would be a lot easier, don't you think?

Or don't you?
 

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FAMW: Clint Eastwood Talks To Empty Chair

Hey, just kidding. It was sort of like a one-man play. But when Oscar-winning actor and former mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California Clint Eastwood spoke at the Republican National Convention in Tampa earlier this week, he made everybody's day. Listen to him make yours too, for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

We know you want to get the weekend started early, so we're posting this early. But don't worry about us, as we've got a live one scheduled to publish this weekend. Stay tuned ...

(H/T to Jazz Shaw at Hotair.com.)
 

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The MWBH Ballpark-Guessing-Top-Ten-Of-All-Time List

We didn't get to show the best of last year's work due to the pressing family matter which yours truly discussed in some detail at the time. When monitoring our viewers' choices over the last few years, we notice that some of the same pieces keep coming up. For this, our decennial year, we have decided to show -- this is educated guessing here, okay? -- what we have determined to be the ten most popular written works since we began publishing in June of 2002. We might just as well have included two or three more, but TEN seemed like a good round number.

Some are the result of common Google searches, others may be favorites from our more dedicated readers. Whatever the case, remember, these are not necessarily our picks, but yours -- probably.

Dec 24 2007
Christmas at Stanbrook in 1904

Jun 10 2008
Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh — Why Did I Ever Leave Ohio?

Apr 03 2009
“You only need two tools in life ...”

Apr 20 2009
Bullies for Columbine

Sep 07 2009
The Ant and the Grasshopper

Feb 01 2010
They Don’t Make Nun Names (Like That No More)

Apr 08 2010
“Da mihi animas, cetera tolle!”

Nov 21 2010
Paruparong Bukid

Mar 17 2011
Guitar Workshop: D Modal Tuning (DADGAD)

Finally, the one published this year, the one that brought us the biggest daily visitor count of all time ...

Aug 01 2012
U wanna peece of this?

And so it goes ...
 

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Meanwhile, at this end of the blogosphere ...

Earlier this summer, we showed a chart of readers' visits in the previous week. This is a chart of visits over the past twelve months. Fascinating, isn't it?

We here at man with black hat have had three months so far this year that have exceeded four thousand visitors; January (4324, the highest in our ten-year history), March (4025), and July (4091). A few days ago, Father Zuhlsdorf of WDTPRS commented on a devoted Jesuit priest who passed away, and who did not get his dying wish for a Traditional Requiem Mass. In the comments section, yours truly related his own experience with the funeral for his father's passing. It seems that quite a few of you were curious about that, perhaps to see how it was possible to bring due reverence to a Funeral Mass using the Novus Ordo Missae (aka the "ordinary form").

Hey, anything we can do to help.

But what really got the staff and management of mwbh running for cover, was the attention gained by a little something we ran in May of last year. It seems that a Google search for "new orleans flood gates" turned up the heat on a piece entitled “Because a man’s home is his castle ...” The crackerjack team in our Research Department cannot begin to explain why, but this one got us 218 visits yesterday (our daily count usually falling between 100 and 120), on a day that we didn't publish anything, and we're still feeling the residual effects, enough that August is more likely than not to be another "four thousand plus" month.

Of course, nothing could beat our all-time daily record of 449 visits on the first of this month. That was awesome! Closer to the present, only two more days and 218 visits to go.

Our gratitude is there in any case.
 

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Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: OK Go “White Knuckles” (3D Version)

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.

You may remember last Friday's Moment of Whimsy, right? Of course you do. And we promised you the 3-D version of OK Go's “White Knuckles” didn't we? Well, here it is, having been brought to our attention by Daniel Engber of Slate.com.

The original clip, featuring twelve trained dogs and four trained guys, got over 14 million hits on YouTube, when its 3-D version came out in April. The latter hasn't seen its fair share yet, but it certainly deserves it.

The YouTube page itself defaults to the "anaglyph format," the one that requires the two-color glasses as used in movies in the 1950s, and for basic 3D television technology today. (See still image above.) For the embedded version shown here, sometimes it defaults to the "side-by-side" option. This can be viewed in 3-D by simply holding the screen at the right distance, while relaxing your eyes to the point where the double vision of one or the other appear to overlap in the middle. This "no glasses/cross-eyed" version works best when viewed with a smartphone held somewhere around eight to twelve inches from your eyes. But if you go to YouTube, or hit the "full screen" option here, you can look in the lower-right hand corner for the “3D” options, and choose the one that best suits you, or your special glasses.

There is more to be told about the making of this video. In fact, there are two videos of outtakes and eight videos describing the "behind the scenes" making of the end product.

For those of you (make that "us") who can't get enough.
 

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Monday, August 27, 2012

“I read the news today, oh boy ...”
(End-Of-August Edition)

Liberal pundit Touré accused every Republican of being racist. Senator Barbara Boxer thinks that Republicans hate women. More on these stories, including the mythical Obama recovery, and a good old-fashioned cat fight, from the folks at Pajamas Media.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on planet Earth:

A man in Portland, Oregon, who hadn't been drinking in years, decided after hitting the hard stuff again, to sleep it off in a dumpster, which was followed by the ride home he didn't expect. (The Sideshow)

Speaking of bad timing, a man in Nevada was watching The Bourne Legacy in the theater, when the gun he was carrying fell from his pocket and went off, hitting him in ... (The Atlantic Wire)

In yet another case of bad timing, a family of four was stranded at the airport in Salt Lake City for six days. They won't be flying JetBlue again, you can count on it! (ABC4.com)

Closer to home, a farmer in Fauquier County, Virginia (the heart of fox-hunting country) is facing stiff fines for hosting ... a birthday party. Is nothing sacred, even in the Old Dominion? (HotAir.com)

Finally, a case of good timing, for patrons at a Denny's Restaurant outside of Sacramento, California, where an anonymous customer paid the tab for everybody in the house. (KCRA-TV)

And that's all the news that fits. As the week goes on, stay tuned, and stay in touch.
 

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

2016: A Cautionary Tale

Dinesh D’Souza was a policy advisor to President Ronald Reagan, and is currently the president of The King's College, as well as the author of numerous books that have made the New York Times best-seller list. 2016: Obama’s America is a documentary about the origins of Barack Obama's worldview, and is presented in true Thomistic fashion. D'Souza begins with a sympathetic view, and then proceeds to dissect the seamy underbelly of ideology. Obama's father was from Kenya, and D'Souza himself was born in India. Both countries were British crown colonies, and both men's families were vehemently anti-colonial. But the resemblance, and the reasons thereof, end there, as D'Souza lifts the veil that the mainstream press has kept under wraps until now.

Those who are prepared to vote for "the other guy," and those disillusioned with Obama, will find new food for thought. Those still committed to Obama's vision will dismiss this movie out of hand. This leaves the independents, one of those voting segments that was won over by Obama in 2008, but who could go either way at this point.

The movie has a limited run. It was shown in several DC-area theaters this weekend, and Sal and I went to see it tonight. While it has been very well attended for a film of such limited distribution, it is recommended to see it sooner rather than later, preferably with someone "on the fence" in tow.

The point D'Souza is making is this: Love him, hate him, you don’t know him.
 

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

The first man to set foot on the moon died earlier today, from complications related to surgery to relieve blocked coronary arteries. He was 82. Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, a small town in west central Ohio (and one of the last with phone booths that only required a nickel to make a call). He was an accomplished Navy fighter pilot in Korea, and a test pilot for the government's high-altitude flight programs in the 1950s, before joining the space program in 1963.

I met him twice.

The first time was as a member of Dan Beard Council's Eagle Scout Class of 1971, held early the following year at Cincinnati's old Emery Theater. He was the keynote speaker, and we all got to shake hands with him. The second time was as a freshman design student at the University of Cincinnati. He was a professor of aerospace engineering, and he accepted an invitation to speak to our class about the aerodynamics of kite design, as prelude to our major project for that term. In addition to feeling somewhat out of his element -- an engineering professor speaking to a bunch of latter-day hippies at an art school -- he was as unassuming a man as you would ever chance to meet.

Armstrong did accept offers as a business spokesman for various interests, but had NO interest in politics. He was a man with no desire for fame or notoriety, only to go on with his life. He was the quintessential man of America's heartland, and the Nation is poorer without him.

Rest in peace.
 

Friday, August 24, 2012

FAMW: OK Go “White Knuckles”

OK Go is an American alternative band, originally from Chicago, but now in LA, and are "best known for their often elaborate and quirky music videos" (Wikipedia), and on a low budget at that. No animals were harmed in the making of his video, so it will do no harm as this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

We can't wait to show it to you in 3-D. That's coming next week, so stay tuned ...
 

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Depth at a Funeral

I usually do not seek a round of opinions about attending a wake, as I did for that of Alex Poliakoff, a photographer and much-loved fixture in DC's cajun/zydeco dance community, who recently succumbed to cancer. But for once I made an exception. It seemed like the thing to do at the time, and so I availed myself of Facebook, and posed the following:

Recently, a man who was well-known and very much loved in the cajun-zydeco dance community in DC passed away, after a long bout with cancer. Unfortunately, he never liked me all that much, and I never knew the reason. As far as I know, I never did anything to him, nor said anything against him.

Exit question: The viewing is on Wednesday night, and I was thinking of going.

Discuss.


The discourse that followed included two priests (one Catholic, one Orthodox), two laywomen (one of them a hermitess), and four laymen. The sentiment was unanimous, but the responses themselves managed to run the gamut.

ER: Go, it is a spiritual work of mercy. All else is irrelevant.

SS: Nobody likes you all that much, David. If you let that stop you, where would you be now? ;)

TP: If it's an open viewing, take a Sharpie with you and write something special on his forehead when no one is looking.

Paul Alexander during his zydeco phase, March 2003, Catonsville, Maryland. Photo by Alex Poliakoff. Used without permission or shame.

So what the hell, I went. I walked into the room, and before saying much of anything to anybody, I walked across the room to the closed casket, and standing to one side, began to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, attempting neither to put on a show, nor hide what I was doing, nor rush through the process. I imagined Our Lord's suffering, as I saw it in the Mel Gibson movie The Passion of the Christ. Despair came to visit him in the Garden of Olives, in the form of a malevolent spirit. He warned the three disciples to “stay awake and keep watch, that Thou wouldst not be put to the test.” He knew what was coming, which is more than I can say for me.

After I was finished, an elderly woman came up to me, a veteran of the folk dance scene for many years, and embraced me. She recalled as a young girl seeing the adults gather around the deceased and praying the rosary. She was tempted to join me herself. Others came up to greet me as well. Most of those who came were women, probably because Alex preferred dancing with them as opposed to men (and I can't say I blame him). It may also be because some of the men in the dance community might not own a tie, which is not hard to imagine judging from how they dress at the dances. Most important, the real jerks didn't show up at all.

Several of those who did asked me why I didn't come around anymore, why last Saturday night was the first time they had seen me and Sal in a long time. What could I tell them? “You guys stopped inviting me to your little soirées eight years ago, and I can take a hint.” No, I wasn't going to do that. It was probably just as well, because four of them were kind enough to invite me to dinner. I obliged them, and stayed long enough for drinks. I still have a day job after all.

Any responses to this would invariably include something about forgiveness. The late Dr Scott Peck once wrote that “there can be no pardon without a trial.” In other words, cheap forgiveness is just that. Christ taught us to love our enemies, but throughout the Scriptures there is an underlying message, to be wary of the malfeasance of certain of our neighbors, lest they bring us to ruin. Eight years ago, a small cohort of individuals decided I couldn't sit at the cool kids table anymore. Some of those who were in their number (but who likely had little to do with regulating the "A" list) reminisced that evening, about the heyday of cajun and zydeco dancing in DC in the early- and mid-1990s, when there really was a place known as the Twist and Shout. It still goes on in some places, but with less of a crowd, and what crowd is left is not getting any younger.

There is another message there, don't you think?

Or don't you?
 

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre:
Scott McKenzie (1939-2012)

Time once again for our usual (ostensibly) midday Wednesday feature.

“San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) is a song, written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, and sung by Scott McKenzie. It was written and released in June 1967 to promote the Monterey Pop Festival.

The song reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and was number one in the United Kingdom and most of Europe. The single is purported to have sold over 5 million copies worldwide. The song is credited with bringing thousands of young people to San Francisco, California during the late 1960s.

In Central Europe, young people adopted "San Francisco" as an anthem for freedom, and it was widely played during Czechoslovakia's 1968 Prague Spring uprising against Soviet rule.

The song has been featured in several films, including Frantic, The Rock and Forrest Gump.

McKenzie died this past Saturday from complications related to Guillain–Barré syndrome, which he was found to have in 2010. He was 73 years old.
 

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Year of the Eagle

Before we turn out the lights here at Chez Alexandre, we should highlight an historic event of one hundred years ago today. It was on this day in 1912, that the Boy Scouts of America designated its first ever Eagle Scout, a young man by the name of Arthur Rose Eldred, of Troop 1 in Rockville Centre, New York. He received notification from the National Office in a letter dated that day. The medal was awarded less than a month later.

But first, they had to actually make one.

In the "original edition" of the Handbook for Boys, the highest rank was supposed to be the "Silver Wolf." It may have saved the young organization some face, in that this edition was never widely circulated, because by the time the "first edition" of the Handbook came out the following year (yes, there is a difference between the "original" and the "first"), the name was changed to "Eagle Scout." The illustration provided was of an eagle in flight suspended from a red ribbon. By the time Eldred received the award, its appearance took on the one by which it is known today.

The requirements were originally more straightforward. It was earned after achieving First Class Rank, simply by attaining the required number of merit badges, which was (and has been for most of its history) twenty-one. The first five required were in the area of health and fitness (First Aid, Lifesaving, Public Health, Personal Health and Athletics), and so that intermediary rank was known as "Life Scout." The next rank was earned by attaining five more merit badges, and was known as "Star Scout," for the five points of the star. (By 1924, the two designations were reversed, as the requirements for the early stage were altered, and the "star" simply recognized the earning of the first five merit badges.)

The medal itself has varied only in certain details that have been "tweaked" over the years. Eldred went on to distinguish himself in Scouting as an adult, and was the first of three generations of Eagles. (Interestingly, for most of the BSA's history and until a few years ago, he was misidentified with an incorrect photograph. Don't ask me why.) The requirements have been supplemented by Troop service requirements for Star, Life, and Eagle ranks, culminating in the "Eagle Scout Project," now even more challenging than a generation ago.

And through it all, only three out of one hundred Boy Scouts ever achieve the high rank. 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 many others.

Including this one, in December of 1971.

FOOTNOTE: Hey, you wanna know something cool? Among the original merit badges was one known as Master-at-Arms, which was devoted to learning the "manly arts" such as boxing, a sport which even Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement, encouraged in young boys as a means of character development. Try calling a guy a sissy after he cleans your clock, eh?
 

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Rummaging Through Closets

My mother was a dyed-in-the-wool packrat. This was probably the result of growing up on a farm during the Depression and World War II, when you didn't have much money, and had to improvise. As a result, I was never at a loss for material on a school project, even in college. The thing is, she had the room for it, in the form of generous shelving in the back of the basement, and was super-organized about it, with a place, a box, and a label, for everything.

I inherited her penchant for packratting. Unfortunately, not for organization. On top of that, I am a man of numerous varied interests, with books and other material to match (including at least a dozen musical instruments, some of them antiques, a few of some historical value). As a result, I have to do a periodic purge of a townhouse with less than 800 square feet.

This past year, a new translation of the Roman Missal rendered some hymnbooks and other music material from the "sacred music" bookshelf as obsolete. There was at least one grocery bag right there. Today is my day off. My job requires nine-hour workdays, so I get one predesignated workday off every two weeks. Today I'll probably go through clothing I don't wear anymore. This gets more or less divided into "thin clothes" and "fat clothes," since in the last ten years, my weight has fluctuated by twenty or thirty pounds. I'm presently on the way down, Deo gratias. There are also certain items that would either get limited special-occasion use, or I couldn't get away with wearing ten years after first buying them.

Finally, a few things from my cajun-zydeco dancing days will probably need to go. (The "party shirt collection," I used to call it.) It is unlikely I'll ever get into that scene very much, except maybe as a musician, and only then if I can get around the local promoters and deal directly with the bands (which is another story for another day). Sal has confessed that the dance form is not her cup of tea, preferring ballroom, latin, or swing. The latter are three types of dance where the men are more inclined to "dress to impress." I think it's a Filipina thing.

As our lives change, so does what we keep in our closets. In the ten years since writing this blog, a lot has changed. Once I was 47 years old, and now I am 57 years old. You don't have to take on Mount Rainier to know what a difference that can make. In fact, I can't even remember the last time I wore a pair of blue jeans. I bet my dad wore "dungarees" more when he was this age (roughly thirty years ago) than I do now.

I also own at least ten suits, all bought at thrift stores, because I wear them to work for three-fourths of the year. (You can't tell I got them at thrift stores. Really.)

Cleaning out closets is often done out of necessity, but it can also be a sign of the changing seasons in our lives. It's not that something is out of style, so much as it is a change of style.

You can't take it with you anyway.
 

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“I read the news today, oh boy ...”
(Mid-August Edition)

Joe Biden forgot what century it was, and the New York Times celebrated the death of a Chick-fil-A executive (which is pretty sick if you think about it, and that leaves out most people). Did Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi see a ghost? Find out. Plus, hear more about Democratic protests, birth control, Paul Ryan, and more from our pals at Pajamas Media.

Meanwhile, elsewhere on planet Earth:

It has been announced that Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympics. In anticipation, a 24-year-old construction worker there has survived a 6-foot metal bar falling from above and piercing his head. That's gotta count for something. (AP)

And speaking of the Olympics, a Finnish teenager beat its gold-medalist javelin-throwing record by 17 meters, with an old Nokia cellphone. (Reuters)

If you think that's news, try this: two brothers from the Hudson Valley area have found a new medium for advertising, one that is impossible to ignore, or, sooner or later, do without. (Journal-News)

And finally, for those who love happy endings, a man in Braintree, Massachusetts, ordered one kind of lottery ticket from a vendor, but was mistakenly given another. It gets better. (AP)

And that's all the news that fits. As the week goes on, stay tuned, and stay in touch.
 

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Natural Law and Unnatural Acts:
The Only Guide You Will Ever Need

This chart came from Father Erik Richtsteig of Ogden, Utah. It is employed here, not only because of the issue of same-sex marriage on the front burner, but it demonstrates how an argument works, or more precisely, the importance of the sound premise to making the effective argument.

The yellow boxes contain the original contention of the promoter, the blue boxes contain the subsequent arguments of the promoter, while the red are those of the challenger. The viewer will note that throughout the process, the focus is not upon the person themselves, but upon the actions. It is the act, not the person, that is at issue here. The image can be clicked on to be read in full.

And if you still believe such practices do not have consequences for others later in life, click here.

(And, if you want to know what yours truly did for his summer vacation, click here. The high point is Day 4.)
 

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Return To Seattle: Postlude

I've been back for a few days now, and still have that dry cough I picked up on Mount Rainier.

If I had to do it again, I would:

Use a major airline to go both ways, as opposed to a "budget" carrier, for about the same price.

Consider flying first class for at least the long part of the trip, especially if flying at night.

Pack more judiciously.

Consider taking my traveling guitar, checking at the airline desk the day before to ensure that I could carry it on.

Stay for two weeks instead of just one.

Get a better deal on a car rental, and carry my proof of insurance and one utility bill. (Geez, like they really couldn't just look it up.)

Lose at least ten more pounds before taking on Mount Rainier again.

Check the weather at Mount Rainier online.

Take even better photographs of Mount Rainier.

Maybe go to Mount Olympia instead of Mount Rainier, for once.

Go dancing in Seattle at least once, maybe.

Visit all of my cousins while I'm there.

Go kayaking.

One thing I would not necessarily do:

Go up the Space Needle for the first time. The admission is twenty bucks, and the dinner up there isn't exactly cheap either.

Well, that about wraps it up. Now, I hear New England is lovely in the fall ...
 

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Helena: “I’ll Tell The World”

Today the western Church commemorates Saint Helena (circa AD 230-330), wife of Emperor Constantinus and mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. She is credited with leading the discovery of the remains of the True Cross circa AD 327. The Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran churches commemorate her on May 21.

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“Nothing ‘stands to reason’ with God. If he had wanted us to have it, no doubt he would have given it to us. But he hasn’t chosen to. He gives us enough.”

“But how do you know he doesn’t want us to have it -- the cross, I mean? I bet he’s just waiting for one of us to and find it -- just at this moment when it’s most needed. Just at this moment when everyone is forgetting it and chattering about the hypostatic union, there’s a solid chunk of wood waiting for them to have their silly heads knocked against. I’m going off to find it,” said Helena.

The empress dowager was an old woman, almost of an age with Pope Sylvester, but he regarded her fondly, as though she were a child, an impetuous young princess who went well to hounds, and he said with the gentlest irony: “You’ll tell me, won’t you? -- if you are successful.”

“I’ll tell the world,” said Helena.

(From the novel, "Helena", by Evelyn Waugh. H/T to the National Catholic Register and Jay Anderson.)
 

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Friday, August 17, 2012

FAMW: Taylor Mali “An Open Letter
to the Staff Copywriter of the FAA”

We now return to our regular man with black hat programming.

Taylor Mali performs his Spoken Word poem, “An Open Letter to the Staff Copywriter of the Federal Aviation Administration” in the NYC-Urbana Poetry Slam's 2009 MegaQuasiSemiFinals. (It seemed like the thing to do right about now.) For more information on the NYC-Urbana Poetry Slam, please visit: bowerypoetry.com, or just sit back and enjoy this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

This guy doesn't miss much, does he?
 

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Return To Seattle: Day 7

I went through Kayak.com to make my flight reservations. It was AirTran on the way to Seattle, United on the way back. The difference was night and day.

I use a walking cane to go any great distance, or when taking public transportation, due to a minor back injury a year ago. Upon seeing my cane, AirTran was forced to remove me from a window seat that had extra room, because it was near an exit. All well and good, as I made an error in seat choices, don't ask me how. I just thought I needed the room, and was sure I had reserved an aisle seat. But they put me in a cramped window seat elsewhere (NOT an aisle seat), such that I could barely move. The second leg of the trip was a mild improvement. I had to pay a fee for wireless as before, but no meal was served.

United served meals. United let me board first for even a mild disability. United didn't pressure me to check my luggage at the gate because they were fully booked, while letting other passengers who did NOT meet the carry-on requirements get off easily. United also sold meals on the plane.

Next time I'm trying to avoid small carriers,especially for trips of more than two hours, and/or which are not non-stop. I don't know about anyone else's experience, but there was little difference in the price between the two airlines. I'm going to keep that in mind.

I may also start taking my traveling guitar again. One person took theirs on the plane with United, without a case. They actually tried to accommodate them. Maybe they remember what happened when they didn't.

So now I'm home, one hour after touching down, which was fifteen minutes ahead of schedule. More thoughts on savvy traveling later ...
 

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Return To Seattle: Day 6

We didn't read the news today, oh boy. There were other things to do.

I went to visit Paul at the studio where he is interning. There they were, all in the conference room, having lunch. (Me: "Hey, guys." Them in unison: "Hey, Dad.") The two of us went out for Vietnamese, and then I came home, returned the rental, and came home again.

Of course, I ran late the whole day, all for the sake of a catnap in mid-morning. Truth is, I haven't gotten a decent night's sleep since I arrived. Can't really explain why. But tomorrow morning I get up at about 2:30, to catch a 5:50 flight on United. Then I'll change planes in Houston (hopefully not on the other side of the airport), and proceed to Washington National, where I'll arrive at 5:00 pm local time.

If I had to do it again, I would have stayed for two weeks instead of just one. I also would have bought sleeping aids over the counter. As it is now, I'll write the entry for Day 7 when I get home (the real one), then crash for about 24 hours, which is why I took Wednesday off.

It is quiet here at the house on East Louisa Street. I start packing already. It won't be long now ...
 

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Return To Seattle: Day 5

The morning began, of course, with Sunday Mass.

Usually, when I travel, I look for either an Eastern Rite Catholic church, or a Roman church that offers the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM). It may be a sign of getting on in years that I have lost any patience with novelty in Catholic worship. If some twit pastor wants to make the Sunday experience akin to watching a game show, and if his lackeys that pass for parishioners cannot get enough of it -- well, I have had enough of it, so they can have the rest.

The Seattle area is served by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), which administers North American Martyrs Parish, using the physical plant belonging to Saint Alphonsus Parish in Ballard. They give the choir the summer off, and the High Mass becomes a Low Mass. Personally, I could have done without the organist; not because they played an instrumental during the Offertory, but because they kept it up through the Preface, the Sanctus, and up until the Hanc Igitur (shortly before the Consecration). This made it difficult to follow the liturgical action from a distance, by obscuring any distinction amidst the various parts, thus impeding even interior participation.

Aunt Shirley decided it wasn't her cup of tea. I cannot say that I blame her if that was her re-introduction to it, but it's still mine. I had heard that these people were real tight-asses about anyone in the pews responding to anything, but those reports are somewhat exaggerated. And the people we met after Mass, who drove for over an hour with their six children, were very nice.

There was more writing during the afternoon, and in the evening, Paul let me take him to this great Japanese restaurant in the International District. This is a shot of the feast of the evening, followed by a lively discussion of Paul Ryan, the health care mandate, the origins of the power to regulate interstate commerce, the difficult choices in balancing the Federal budget, the pros and cons of tort reform, and why Obama is a big disappointment even for many liberals.

Who knew?
 

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Return To Seattle: Day 4

On a clear day, you can see Mount Rainier from the house on East Louisa Street -- except there's a big-ass tree in the way. Paul and I made a road trip out of getting around it.

I had spent yesterday getting ready. While shopping downtown, I made my obligatory stop at one of the finest hatters in the northwest, namely Bernie Utz Hats on Union Street. I had bought one there back in 2002, an olive green outback (similar to a fedora, with a broader brim, but not quite cowboy), with built-in ear flaps. I usually reserve it for the winter. Most of my regular headgear has definitely seen better days, and must be replaced every five or six years, so I got two news ones, tan and black, both made of wool felt. Today I was sporting the tan hat, which usually replaces my signature color during the summer.

Getting to Mount Rainier National Park was the (relatively) easy part. Waiting an hour to be admitted through the gate was only the beginning. But it seems that the temperature in the subalpine region is not always thirty to forty degrees cooler than at the low ground. With not a cloud in the sky, it was more like ten degrees cooler, if that. So my son Paul ended up carrying my safari vest for about half the trip.

It was clear that I am not as young as I was nine years ago. Treatment a year ago for a herniated disk, not to mention an additional ten to twenty pounds, didn't help much either. But the walking cane did help; in fact, it made the trip possible. So we took the low road instead of the high road around First Burroughs and Second Burroughs Mountains this time.

There are always other things to see, like snow in the middle of August.

The snow that remains near or above the tree line feed the streams that venture down the slopes, increasing in size as they go along. These two gentlemen discovered the effects of the frozen layer at the base of the snow, in the form of a ravine which they said went back about "five to seven feet." There were other children about, sliding down the hill in the snow.

They were having too much fun to notice how the snow feeds the streams that start near the top of the surrounding mountains, making their way from about 6500 feet about sea level to the rivers in the valleys over 2000 feet below. From here, we see how the Ice Age formed the hills and valleys over the vast ages of time, beginning with a trickle, and transforming ever so gradually into a stream. One is tempted to drink from these streams, but there are others that depend on them. Wild animals feed from these streams, and the lakes that are formed by them on the high level grounds, and they leave fecal matter and other impurities behind. A portable water purifier can make it potable, and we found at least one experienced hiker doing just that.

There were other effects of the Ice Age as well. The glaciers would push tons of rock off to the side as they made their way from the north, leaving behind layers of shale that were upended from their original state. These were formed over thousands of years, centuries before the first Amerindians made their way across the Bering Strait into and across the Americas.

Since our last visit nine years ago, Paul has become an avid student of the sciences in his spare time. (An argument with him over quantum physics is not for the squeamish.) Here he is now, having "blinded me with science" during a brief interlude.

We found lush green meadows all along the trail, ablaze with flora that is unique to this mountain range. Among the most common of the many varieties at the subalpine level were mountain aster (aster lepophyllus), lupine (lupinus latifolius), as well as arnica (arnica latifolia), which is used for a homeopathic remedy. But even in the sandy ground among the rock formations, nature found its way to triumph over the elements, as seen with these two buds of magenta paintbrush (castilleja parviflora oreopola). At the same time, this triumph is the result of a delicate balance that must be maintained, especially given the popularity of national park lands, as there were frequent reminders to remain on the trails, and avoid areas under "meadow repair."

One cannot leave this wonderland without observing the awesome view of Mount Rainier itself, and the surrounding mountains, towering over the valleys below. If you look at the lower left of this photo (made easier by enlarging it), you will find a turquoise-colored area. That is a lake covered with algae, which takes on that blue-green shade when at near freezing temperatures. We remembered that lake, and a closer view thereof, from our last visit. We remembered how it took our breaths away, just staring at the majestic peak presiding over the magnitude of scenery below.

It was hard to leave, even after over three hours, even after I was exhausted, and Paul was starving. It was good to know that vegetarian burgers are now offered at the dining hall. We made our way home, vowing one day to return. The Sunrise Visitor Center is located at the eastern slope, and is where we have visited so far. If I ever bring Sal with me, we will probably stay at the popular Paradise Inn, located on the southern slope. It is high enough in elevation (5400 feet above sea level, as opposed to Sunrise at 6400 feet), but it will be yet another exciting chapter of the American experience.

One might suppose that the place will be here for awhile, don't you think?

Or don't you?
 

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Return To Seattle: Day 3

Today I returned to the Pike Place Market for a closer look.

The Pike Place Fish Market was first opened in 1930, and has become a legend both within and without the market. This notoriety happened after nearing bankruptcy in 1986, when the owner decided that the only way to save the business was to become "world famous." And so, as many as 10,000 visitors a day come to the Fish Market to watch the fishmongers throwing fish that customers have purchased, from the far end about twenty-five feet to the cashier, where they are caught by another fish guy carrying open newsprint in his arms, to catch the goods and quickly wrap it.

The above simply isn't the same as seeing it, so we found this 2008 video. Calamari, anyone?

I was ready to purchase one of their dried smoked salmon boxes, when one of the staff recommended I go down to "Yuri" at the other end and try the real thing. It was good alright, but the smoked variety with pepper and garlic seasoning was even better. So I had them shrink a one-pound piece of one of those puppies for dinner tonight.

Then I went down to one of the produce markets, where it happens that a number of laid-off game developers and programmers were moonlighting. While talking shop on behalf of Paul, I picked up a pound of cherry-sized potatoes in three different colors; I have no idea what they're actually called.

I rummaged through Capitol Hill for awhile, stopping at a favorite thrift store and finding nothing, including my reading glasses which I always kept in that one special pocket. (Grrrr!) On the way to catching the bus, I found an Enterprise car rental outlet. This should save me some trouble, I thought. But like most people, I carry my official proof of insurance in my car, not on my person. They wouldn't even call my agent to verify it. That was odd, since my carrier does business with that company. It cost me an addition to my deposit, which I'll get back anyway. But I drove away with a Toyota Corolla (which has a good history in my family, if not with me personally), ready for the trip to Mount Rainier tomorrow.

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Today, all of Christendom, both East and West, celebrates the Feast of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr, and the patron saint of yours truly. We found this poem to mark the occasion.

Today is the feast of Saint Larry
who towards death did not tarry
in his memory we grill
and merrily trill
"it's done on that side" as was Saint Larry!

Tomorrow's the feast of Saint Clare
who led a life quite austere
by Saint Francis sent
to found a convent
of simplicity exceedingly rare.

August is a Marian time
The Assumption a feast sublime
Saint Bernard praised her deeds
and Saint Dom prayed her beads
and Saint Max ... wait, I've run out of rhyme.


(H/T to Kate at Peace and Pekoe. Adapted for the present circumstances without permission or shame.)

Now be sure and go outside tonight, if it's a clear night, and watch the remainder of "Saint Lawrence's tears" in the form of a meteor shower.

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By now you've all heard of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's night on the town in Colombia earlier this year. Well, she's taking it to the next level in South Africa.

Brace yourselves, 'cuz here it is, your Moment of Whimsy.

By the way, the salmon was to die for!
 

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Thursday, August 09, 2012

Return To Seattle: Day 2

Those of you who are familiar with Seattle would know of Interstate 5 leading north from downtown, with State Route 520 making its own way to the west, across Portage Bay. Over a narrow water passage linking it to Union Bay known as the "Montlake Cut," there crosses overhead Montlake Boulevard, which links the University District to the north, to the Montlake neighborhood to the south. Getting off 520 and going south, the boulevard becomes 24th Avenue East.

Just to the right at the juncture of the name change is East Louisa Street, where halfway up the hill on the right is a Tudor-style house, the home of a distinguished professor of physiology, who still goes to work on his bicycle for twelve-hour days at the age of eighty-two. His wife is my Aunt Shirley, still very spry at seventy-two. For the next week, I have the couch.

When it comes to either public or private transportation, there is no better place to be.

In the morning, you can take the bus from the end of the street, as it ventures down 24th Avenue, then over to 23rd. As it turns down East Madison Street, the downtown area comes into sight, as one is surrounded by all manner of retail establishments, enough of which are to remind you that this is the West and not the East Coast. At the bottom of the hill, at the end of the line, there it is.

Pike Place Market was first opened in 1907, and is one of the oldest continually operated public farmers' markets in the USA. Many small farmers, craftsmen, and other purveyors of local goods make this their home. This writer wasn't there for very long today, but several of the photos shown here in the days to come were taken at the Market earlier today.

I also took a photograph of these guys, but none could do justice to this video. I listened to The Millionaires' Club for three minutes, which was all the convincing I needed to "give some of that energy back" and buy the CD. Their brand of classic jazz and early swing, with no small amount of that jug band jive, was the kind of music my Dad used to love.

I caught the bus to Capitol Hill (not to be confused with the one in the other Washington), and walked a mile or so to the house where Paul was staying. After lunch at the Vietnamese place, we engaged in a lively discussion of the gaming industry and his future prospects, which evolved into a debate over quantum physics, the theory of evolution, and the yeas and nays of the Uncreated Creator vis-a-vis the Big Bang Theory. (It was a draw, for the moment.)

Upon leaving, Paul showed me how to use the iPhone to get a bus home. I knew that Google Maps could give me directions, but I had no idea it could find the proper bus route and schedule for the user. I could get used to this century.

More about the Pike Place Market tomorrow (which is also my feast day, and it makes me wanna cry).
 

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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Return To Seattle: Day 1

As this is published, I am on an AirTran flight to Milwaukee. It is expected to be somewhat hectic due to road construction at a nearly interstate. After a two-hour layover and switching planes, I will depart for Seattle, where I expect to arrive by 11:10 pm west coast time, which is 2:10 am east coast time. Hopefully my anxiety disorder will keep me alert enough to catch the right bus to Aunt Shirley's house.

It helps to see the good in everything, don't you think?

Or don't you?
 

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Sofia Guerra Explains It All For You

Namely, what we've been saying here for years.

The drive to be on the “A-list” of Catholic Bloggers distorts what being a Catholic blogger means. I saw this behavior on the speaking circuit when years ago I was close friends with the “A-list”. I was always invited to the speaking engagements by the “A-list” because I was funny. I would entertain the speakers at the after parties. Yup, the after parties ...

The “A-list” were usually good people who loved being Catholic and loved making a living talking about being Catholic. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is when they considered themselves the “A-list”. Then, it’s over ...


As this is written, the plight of a predominantly Catholic nation, one where most major holidays are in fact HOLYdays, is being virtually ignored in the Catholic blogosphere. Has anyone on the "A" list has graced them with his or her attention? (There is one exception that is duly noted.)

Alas, the Philippine people will just have to wait until we're done re-hashing the Chick-Fil-A thing of a week ago, and repeating what we said about the LCWR over a month ago.

Besides, the election year is still young.
 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

An Appeal From The Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines is one of the few predominantly Catholic nations left in the world, that still inculcates the Faith in its culture. Their faithful ones do so despite the rapid encroaching of Western secularism, brought on by disingenuous "Catholic" politicians, with the aid of entertainment celebrities (not to mention Planned Parenthood). Now that faith is being tested, as a result of a devastating tropical monsoon that has brought record flooding to the northernmost island-region of Luzon, which includes the national capital region of Metro Manila.

Our friend Filipino-Canadian singer-songwriter Mikey Bustos shot this video while flying over Metro Manila in the past 24 hours. For those here in North America watching TV Patrol on ABS-CBN or The Filipino Channel, the scale of desperation is more than clear, as search and rescue operations are being tested beyond their limits. Please help by visiting The Philippine Red Cross or by calling the GMA Kapuso Foundation Telethon hotline at (+632) 981-1950. You can also call the GMA Kapuso Foundation: 928-4299/928-9351. They are currently in need of ready-to-eat food, canned goods, bottled water, et cetera.

Bustos reports: "This needed to be published right away! I took the video footage from my plane window and I wanted everyone to see what I had seen. Hoping people do what they can to help, even by sharing this video."

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On a personal note, Sal last heard from her family in the homeland just over 24 hours ago. Their casa was taking in water on the second floor, which is unprecedented. The evacuation ordered for their area (Barangay Niugan, Malabon City) was underway. Before we were cut off, her mother, the caregiver, and the housekeeper had yet to be rescued. We are praying hard here at Chez Alexandre. We ask the same of our readership; indeed, the entire Catholic blogosphere.
 

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Return To Seattle: Prelude

Tomorrow in the late afternoon, I will board an AirTran flight out of Washington National Airport. After changing planes and laying over in Milwaukee for two hours (which has to beat the hell out of Chicago O'Hare), I will head over the prairies and the mountains (in that order) to Seattle, Washington. Longtime readers of this venue may remember two earlier trips there, the first in December of 2002, the second in the summer of 2003. To those who are convinced it will rain every day of my visit, you should know that late July and early August is the best time to avoid the weather that made the city infamous, and the landscaping so incredibly green.

But the main reason for the trip is to visit my son Paul, who is interning at an up-and-coming game design studio. I will be staying with my Aunt Shirley, who lives just south of the University District, so I'll be relatively convenient to everything. Paul and I will go to an IMAX movie, shop at a thrift store, visit the Pike Street Market, that special tea shop uptown that I visited the last time I was there, dine at the Space Needle (no, haven't been up there yet), and return to Mount Rainier, for another five-mile hike in the wilderness.

This is my first time flying since January of 2005, during which time there have been a few changes. The restrictions on carry-on luggage are even tighter than before. I can't take my guitar with me this time, not even the traveling model, so I'm going to try and fit the ukulele in my carry-on bag (the smaller of the two). It's made by a French company, and the body is not as deep as most such instruments, which makes it ideal for packing, if it comes to that. My other bag will contain a laptop, so I can stay connected under any and all circumstances. Even with a US Government ID, which identifies me as having already passed a low-level security clearance, the idea of a guy being allowed to rifle through my luggage because it pays better guard duty at the mall, to the detriment of the Fourth Amendment, doesn't sit well.

But really, what could go wrong?

From Wednesday the 8th until my return (flying the "friendly" skies of United) on Tuesday the 14th, our regularly scheduled programming will be suspended. Certain features in this venue require more advanced preparation, and there will be little time for that. The main feature will be a daily journal, not only of my own comings and goings, but other stuff that occurs to me in the course of the trip. And if pictures of the journey are not to be found here, there's always Facebook or Tumblr.

And with that, stay tuned, and stay in touch.
 

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Harry Truman Was Right

“If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

This quotation has been attributed to the 34th President of the United States (although there is some doubt as to whether he actually said it, but we don't care right now). Come this December, I will have lived in the Washington area for thirty-two years. I have made a lot of friends over the years, but very few good ones. I can count them on one hand. And when I say "friend," I don't mean it as they do on Facebook, a medium which, for all its benefits, tends to redice the very notion of friendship to the superficial (as one of their early employees will attest).

There are those who say that the closest friendships we have are those from childhood. That may be true, even though I had a rather difficult time making friends in those days. You wouldn't know it when I go back home today, or to a high school reunion. And it's where the bonds of camaraderie already exist, that Facebook works to an advantage. Right now I belong to a group called "You know you're from Milford, Ohio, if ..."I grew up with and/or went to school with most of the people signed up for it. We look at old photographs of what the town once looked like, including this one from the early 1960s of a drive-in restaurant down the street from my house (courtesy of Susan Terrell Kupka) in the "new" part of town, where you could actually be served while staying in your car.

Sal has a lot of friends. She has two things going for her which I do not. She is a Filipina, and I am not. She is also very warm and personable, while I am a curmudgeon-in-the-making. Filipinos are a very clannish people by nature, and if enough of them live within driving distance, they're all in each other's lives. This is especially true for those in the caregivers' industry. She is constantly on the phone with her kababayans, whether from here or overseas, while I'm lucky if the best friends I ever made in Washington return my call the same day (and that's when they need ME for something).

Washington has some things going against it. It is a very transient city, with few people actually being from around here. It is a very multicultural city, with most neighbors not getting to know one another if they look or talk a little too different. It is also a very self-important city. A know quite a few people whose egos could well afford to be brought down a notch or two. And these are the nice ones. The not-so-nice ones don't really make friends, so much as they form alliances. Alas, science has found no cure for them.

That said, I am occasionally surprised. Yesterday I stood in the parking lot and spoke for at least five minutes with a nodding acquaintance. We talked about family, about work, about our plans to leave town in the next few days, stuff like that. The fact that he just happened to be an associate justice of the Nation's highest court was of little consequence at the time. What was of more consequence is that I've had friends who don't give me that much time. (After all, there's a world out there to be saved, and if they don't ...)

If it sounds pathetic, it is. I had a lot of "fair weather friends" in my old dance hall days, in the 90s and the early 00s. They're a million miles away. There have been two occasions in my life when I was "one of the gang." That was one of them. The other was when I was with the shows department at Kings Island in the early 70s. But those things don't last. All of us are on our own journey homeward. We take a step, we turn a corner, we look around to see who's there -- and they're not. Those days don't come back. We can't wish them back.

I just did an internet search for zydeco dancing in Seattle, and found something that's actually current. I had a great time at their dances ten years ago. I might go to one this time. They probably don't even remember me. Then again, what if they do?

They say you can't go home again, especially if it never was.
 

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