Thursday, January 29, 2004

Viva la difference?

This story came to my attention this morning, on the premise that it's probably true:

An officer in the U.S. Naval reserve was attending a conference that included admirals from both the U.S. Navy and the French Navy. At a cocktail reception, he found himself in a small group that included personnel from both navies.

The French admiral started complaining that whereas Europeans learned many languages, Americans learned only English. He then asked: "Why is it that we have to speak English in these conferences rather than you speak French?

Without hesitating, the American Admiral replied: "Maybe it's because the Brits, Canadians, Aussies and Americans arranged it so you would not have to speak German."

The group became silent.

Then again, my father's mother was a Barga, from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France. In their family Bible, the various entries are listed as either Barga or Berger. It's a good thing I wasn't there; I'd probably mention that piece of trivia to break the ice, and the Aussies would feel obliged to beat the crap out of me.

God save the Queen.
"It's a nice day for a white wedding."

I woke up this morning, with the sun shining and the snow on the ground. I could have sworn I heard the announcer on Classical 103.5 say the above. Eat your heart out, Billy Idol.

Yesterday was the feast (reformed Roman Calendar) of one of my favorite saints, Thomas Aquinas. The work and example of "The Angelic Doctor" is considered to this day, as the benchmark of classical Catholic theology and philosophy.

But don't take my word for it. Consider yesterday's entries at Disputations; How to study and Lord, make me a humble idiot.

Not bad, huh?

When I was a boy, I learned to be a Thomist at the dinner table, with the old man teaching us such priceless gems as "Everything you do in life is either a plus or a minus," while engaging us in Socratic debate -- a regular baptism by fire if you're a teenager. I mean, it's not as if he had to settle for "because I said so." It was "because you can't say anything better." Whatever the man's faults (and there were only a few), it was that ability to engage that formed my intellect to making me the man I am today. Thanks Dad.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

"I really can't stay (baby, it's cold outside)..."

I was out yesterday. Eight inches of snow and the whole town is in turmoil. So the morning newscast gives us all the closings and delays, every last one of them, before giving us the one answer to the one question most of us in the DC area need to know above all else: WHAT ABOUT THE FEDS???

Turns out it was just "unscheduled leave," which is one step removed from "liberal leave," two steps removed from "essential personnel only." Knowing how long I'd be stuck underground waiting for Metrorail to finish stumbling all over itself, I bagged it for the day. I did manage to get into the office today, though. Of course, with the half-hour-plus delay of Metrorail, it would have been faster to walk the three miles from home to office. I have to go to the DMV tomorrow to replace my misplaced vehicle registration. (My guess is those pinheads at the last body shop I was at in December decided to, uh, borrow it for something and didn't put it back.) Then I've gotta get my vehicle inspected before the end of the month. I finally got a hold of a live human being at the DMV in Richmond, who told me I didn't need my registration to get my vehicle inspected. Whew, that was close!

It does underscore the value of talking giving poor slobs like me an alternative to push-button phone menus and those annoying... what's that? Hey, now they're telling us to leave three hours early. "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

I still don't know if swing dance class is on tonight or not. I don't wanna lose what little touch I have.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Another ship passing in the night...

In posting the quotation below, which is a reference to the passing of Bob "Captain Kangaroo" Keeshan, my thoughts went back to growing up in Cincinnati in the mid-20th century. Most of the country doesn't realize it, but:

"Cincinnati had three TV stations in operation as early as 1950, and for a while was a major source of network programming (especially for DuMont and ABC), so you can imagine that the city was pretty active in the field of live local programming - especially children's shows."

This would include programming for grownups as well. The above link to a three-page history of Cincinnati television comes with a few surprises. Read where Jerry Springer got his start in the public arena, as well as actor George Clooney (whose father Nick and aunt Rosemary both figure prominently in Cincinnati broadcasting history). As I remember, the local shows were sometimes a bit hokey, sometimes ahead of their time (including a puppet show with shades of Ernie Kovacs), but always uniquely Cincinnati.

It's enough to actually make me long for the place.
"O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won..."

-- Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass, 1900

My son is taking philosophy in high school this year. That's philosophy, in a public high school. Not having much control over this, I decided to augment his course of study with my own philosophy course, from a Catholic/Thomistic perspective. I found a series of taped lectures from a Catholic publisher that fit the bill nicely, and each month we cover a different area -- logic, cosmology, psychology, ethics, and so forth.

I also provide supplemental material. One of them is The One-Minute Philosopher by Montague Brown, published by Sophia Institute Press. He was excited by the discovery of this book, as it gave him exactly what he needed for holding his own during debates in class.

The book makes distinctions between words that are often used interchangably. One such pair is the words "freedom" and "license." People think "freedom" means being able to do whatever they want. But in reality, this would properly be known as "license." True freedom does not impede the freedom of others, but implies the freedom (as a form of the common good) for all; license does not take others into account, only oneself.

In the early days of the Holocaust, German soldiers would take Jews to the outskirts of town, make them dig their own graves, and shoot them en masse so they would fall into the holes. But the repeated killing of unarmed men, even the elderly and small children, had grave psychological effects on the soldiers themselves. They would experience severe trauma, psychotic behavior, even to the point of suicide. So the Nazis had to come up with a way of solving "the Jewish problem" without ill effects on those carrying out the deed. To that end, they developed the concept of mass-produced extermination, in the form of the death camps. They made the process so that, not only could no one person could take responsibility for what was happening, but they could sanitize the process, through the use of terminology to make it all seem so benign -- "resettlement," "family camps," "processing," "the showers," and so on.

The legacy lives on. We can't bear to hear of mass murder of an entire group of people. We seem powerless to stop it. So we call it "ethnic cleansing." It makes it seem less horrible than we know it really is. In our own country, people who favor legalized abortion cannot bring themselves to acknowledge what really happens during a partial-birth abortion. So even though "pro-choice" Catholic politicians, like the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, referred to partial-birth abortion as "infanticide," most in his position will simply call it "a woman's right to choose."

Choose what, you might ask? But most dare notask. And the major newspapers won't show the massive crowds that gathered for yesterday's annual March for Life, probably the largest annual rally to occur in the Nation's capital. Instead they will show a picture of people from both sides carrying signs, being sure to show "Keep Abortion Legal" among the ones that say "Choose Life." They wouldn't be so even handed if it were the other way around. They never are.

When the Second World War ended, the Allied soldiers were aghast at what they discovered in the death camps. They forced people from the neighboring towns to tour what was left, to see the piles of dead bodies. The townsfolk denied knowing what went on in the camps, even though some of them worked there. Perhaps they found a way to turn their heads and look the other way. People will do that to avoid facing something so terrible, especially when others are watching, and might disapprove in a way that makes life... well, inconvenient.

Then one day it becomes too late. So the pro-life movement turns its attention to helping the women themselves, showing them that they deserve better than being backed into a corner, into doing something they know will haunt them for the rest of their lives. After all, discussions for or against abortion accomplish little. Most people have their minds made up, and showing someone a picture of a dead fetus is seen as being impolite or a form of extremism.

Such delicate sensibilities did not occur to the GIs entering the death camps. Maybe we've gotten more sophisticated since those days.

Or more clever at fooling ourselves. You tell me.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

The Year of the Monkey

So it is for the Chinese today, as they celebrate their New Year throughout China, and in Chinatowns the world over. Here in DC, Chinatown is not what it once was. Then again, little is in the downtown of most cities. They, and waves of immigrants' sons and daughters before them, take to the suburbs for the better life, for the right to drive two miles for a quart of milk, and never to know their neighbors.
Greyfriar Watch

Today's update on Father Groeschel's condition includes a two-minute video with excerpts of his talks, reminding us of how we all have our crosses to bear, and ending with the plea to "please, continue to pray." Nice work, guys. (QuickTime required for viewing.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Note to son Paul: Don't try this with your mother's car!
Greyfriar Watch

Father Glenn Sudano, Superior General of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, gives us another daily update of Father Groeschel's condition, as well as links to previous updates. Remember, this is a man over seventy, with a history of severe heart trouble. That he is improving noticably after such a shock to the system, is remarkable in itself. Obviously you're all storming heaven with prayers. It's working.
Tuesday is starting off like Monday...

...because when I got on the Orange Line at Clarendon Station this morning, we ended up be held up for almost a half an hour while they cleared a broken-down train somewhere across town. Now, my home is just three miles from my office. The time from when I leave home to when I sit at my desk is about forty minutes. For me to walk the whole trip would add only twenty minutes. So if there's a delay of more than that...

Yep, I thought of it. But it was too cold outside.

Besides, it gave me a chance to read the news. Kerry won Iowa. Big deal. I mean, he's a war veteran and a hero and I respect that. But I don't respect his endorsement of "a woman's right to choose." Even Kucinich, who was once pro-life, has made the big switch for that clever euphemism of "choice." (Some things never change from the days when he ran Cleveland. He still shoots his mouth off.)

So those of us who have the audacity to believe, not only that an unborn child is a human life, but that taking that life amounts to murder and should actually be treated as such under the law, are stuck endorsing a guy who is supposedly fixing things so he and all his fat-ass white fraternity boy business partners will get stinking rich while the poor get poorer. I mean, that's what all the KEWL people are saying, right, so it must be true! And good Catholics everywhere, most of whom have been voting Democratic out of habit since their working-class grandparents did, will continue to follow the lead of some Hollywood starlet or fancy-britches recording artist who takes a shot at that "war-mongering" Bush.

Where were these visionaries when we were sending the boys to Bosnia, and using outdated maps for bomb drops?

Just wait until my third cup of coffee. Then I'll be as sharp as a tack, and that's when my attitude will be right where it belongs.

Thursday, January 15, 2004


I'm the last out of the office tonight. That's what happens when you're the last in the office in the morning. On the internet radio, some country boy (I think it's Mark Wills, I dunno, they're all starting to look alike to me these days) is singing about how he's "just a singer in a band," and then talks about the real heroes in life. You go, boy! I always figured early January to be anticlimatic, and the cold weather not helping much. This time, though, it's been a lot different. I've been making new friends all over the place. Come the weekend, it helps being a guy who knows how to dance.

"Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
when other helpers fail and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me."

My comments on a controversy, such as the one covered earlier this week, usually don't generate much reaction from my peers. I was flattered that a few of them noticed -- including one who usually doesn't. Thanks for listening, guys.

"I need thy presence every passing hour;
what but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me."

And yet, amidst the good spirits, I am troubled by the recent accident involving Father Groeschel. There have been many nights when I have hung on every recorded word of his, when I was experiencing the "dark night of the soul." I wish I could share some of this with some of the friars. But they're asking us not to call. I suppose they'd be inundated with well-wishers if they didn't draw the line. Then they couldn't get anything done that makes them worth calling in the first place. But despite a history of heart trouble, I hope he pulls through this one, even if it does take a miracle. And yet, none of us are here forever. And those of us who know of him, and who love him, are surely asking ourselves at this moment: "Who would take his place?"

"I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's dark sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me."

Tomorrow night I'll go dancing. And there's a lot of dancing to look forward to this weekend. The zydeco crowd in Baltimore is coming out of hibernation -- finally! -- and wouldn't you know, I'm actually starting to miss some of them. (Just kidding, guys!) So this should be really great.

"Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me."
Hey, kids, let's talk about what we don't wanna talk about!

The big story during "the coffee hour at St Blog's Parish" this week, has been the Diocese of Arlington's plans to implement a "Good Touch, Bad Touch" program for children in its educational programs, in an attempt to counter possible sexual abuse. One correspondent believed I was being unfair to the priest mentioned in the story. For the record, we have a lot of great priests in the Diocese of Arlington, and Father deLadurantaye is one of them. But I still maintain that, given the disparity of emotional/sexual development among pre- and early-adolescents, and the Church's emphasis on the parent's primary role when instructing children in matters of human sexuality, the diocese would be well-advised to focus on instructing the parents, who in turn should be the ones to instruct their children. A classroom program might be appropriate for juniors and seniors in high school, and even then in a single-sex environment.

Now, can we talk about something besides sex? Like the Chinese New Year coming up next week?
"I read the news today, oh boy..."

From the wires of the Associated Press, and whatever is overheard at a coffee bar across the street from the White House:

• Recently, an item listed as the "Entire State of West Virginia" was actually being auctioned on eBay. By Tuesday, with five days left to go, "Item #2372779353" had 56 bids, at just under $100 million dollars, which was almost enough to cover a projected $120 million budget shortfall projected for FY 2005, before eBay called off the bidding. But the big question for yours truly, is whether this deal would have included access to the mineral rights, much of which were sold off by the ancestors of the current residents to out-of-state investors.

• And I thought this only happened on TV. A motorcycle cop in Arizona was offering to drop citations issued to female drivers, if they agreed to go out with him. Four women claim to have been propositioned. The officer is now on administrative leave.

• Get ready for your bank to change its name again. J P Morgan and Chase has announced plans to buy BankOne for about $58 billion. With a combined total of $1.1 trillion in assets, the merger would make them second only to Citigroup, which has assets of $1.19 trillion.

• James Carville, political consultant and die-hard Clinton apologist, is writing a children's book. "Lu and the Swamp" is based on a true story of Carville's mother, who grew up in rural Louisiana during the Depression. Maybe now he'll finally know what he's talking about. The book is to be published by Simon and Schuster, and should hit the streets this fall.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

"Mommy, what does 'fornicating' mean?"

I had that little quotation running through my head one Sunday morning a few years ago, after attending Mass at another parish. The priest-homilist had the right idea, I suppose, objecting to "young couples who fornicate before they are married." But he definitely picked the wrong setting.

My own psycho-sexual development was probably way behind the average kid in my neighborhood. I can remember as an eighth-grader, looking up the word "rape" in the dictionary, and still not being able to grasp the concept. But years before that, I knew from my catechism about what was called "purity in thought, word, and deed." That, and my parents' ability to discern how much I could handle and when, was enough to spare me from a close call when I was in high school ("My Charismatic Moment," August 1, 2002).

Alas, it's not going to be simple for the local Diocese of Arlington. No, they feel the need to implement a "Good Touch, Bad Touch" program to little children, because some pencil-pushing experts in Washington think that's going to solve the crisis of clerical sexual abuse. Of course, they could try introducing a program to the priests first, about dealing with their sexuality in the context of the celibate life. They would, unless they're convinced the children and their parents are the ones with the problem. But no, they have to do things the hard way. That's how a few diocesan officials appeared to have been asking for trouble at a presentation in Manassas last Monday night. An article in The Washington Times described the scene...

"In a four-hour hearing ending at 11 pm, a majority of the 230 people at All Saints Catholic Church hooted, booed and hurled catcalls at a handful of diocesan employees, who defended the program.... Parents complained that 'Good Touch, Bad Touch' was inappropriate for young children, that parents had little or no input in selecting the program and that the true problem was abusive clerics, not children."

Well, what in Sam Hill did "a handful of diocesan employees" expect? Some of their minions have tried ramming "family life education programs" down the throats of parents in the past, and refusing parents the option of pulling their kids out. Did the folks downtown think everybody was about to let them off the hook a few years later?

I still can't get over the fact that my son was in a co-ed gym class in the public schools as early as the seventh grade. Now, Paul has always been relatively ahead on the learning curve for this subject. But not all children are. Some who are not can be traumatized by the embarrassment of sharing of such information while among their peers, especially young girls, and MOST especially in a mixed audience.

If anybody in charge ever reads this (a long shot, if ever there was one), they might go out on a limb and try a little thing called COMMON SENSE. To begin with, a 1995 document from the Holy See entitled The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality specifies that parents "are the first and foremost educators of their children" on chastity. (What? In writing?? Do you realize what could happen if anybody with a sixth-grade reading level got a hold of this???) So why not introduce a program for the parents, and leave it to them to disseminate it to the children? The immediate answer, at least the one I've heard before, is that the parents don't always do the job of passing the information along, and (like a lot of other things) leave it to the schools to do it. One eighth-grade teacher of a Catholic school told me of parents who were actually relieved that the school was doing their job for them. Then there are those who put it off until just before their kids' wedding nights...

Whether parents like it or not, the pastors of the Church have a teaching role in this matter. But it's supposed to be directed at the parents first. (There I go, applying the Natural Law again. When will I ever learn?)

By the way, weren't we the generation that was supposed to be so open and honest about sex?

(Note to my friends at Catholic Lite: If certain representatives of the diocese hadn't already established a reputation for insulting the intelligence of those whom they serve, there wouldn't be a bunch of rosary-slinging yahoos raising hell in the first place. You sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.)
Random Thoughts at Midweek

• I was out sick yesterday, the sinus congestion having finally caught up with me. That and not enough sleep. The worst part was missing my Theology of the Body class on Monday night, and my swing dance class on Tuesday night. But I think my body was telling me I needed time to myself. So I took it.

• I'll be fifty years old at the end of the year. You know that old saying about when life begins? Now they're saying that "life begins at 50." They've got a point.

• I have an update on Friar Benedict Groeschel's condition from the superior of his order, Father Glenn Sudano. This is current as of yesterday. Besides being downright entertaining and not taking himself too seriously, Father Groeschel's writings and lectures have been an inspiration for many of us. But as the notice says, he's "not out of the woods yet," since he's 70 years old, and has a history of heart trouble, including (as I recall) a serious bypass operation some years ago.

• One of my favorite singer-songwriters, John Gorka, will be appearing at the Birchmere in Alexandria this Friday. I've gotta go see him again, as it's been over a year since the last time.

• Another item has appeared in the news about hotel heiress Paris Hilton. I keep tellling myself, this gal seems to have a lot of free time on her hands. Doesn't she have a job or something? If she's going to inherit a hotel chain, would it do her some good to learn something about how it all works? Her daddy could start her out at the reservations hotline, even move on to concierge. By then she could have her own office. Anything but all this goofing off. I mean, this reality TV show kick can't last forever.... can it?

• My son will graduate in five months. Then his mother will probably leave the area, and he will probably move in with some friends of his. I'm thinking about what I'm gonna do after all that happens, once the boy doesn't rely on my support as much as before. Maybe the time has come to live in more than one room. You know, have a separate room for "living" and "sleeping." Maybe even an extra room for "sleeping." I could call it a "guest room" or a "den." What a concept!

• I was going through some of my stuff (and one of the consequences of having a lot of interests, is that you accumulate a lot of stuff), and found a three-videotape series on "How to Play the Piano." I've got an electronic keyboard that I purchased on eBay last summer. I suppose I should learn to play it at some point.

• Speaking of playing, I'm falling behind on my guitar practice. I could lose my touch. Heaven forbid!!!

Friday, January 09, 2004

"Operator, Information, get me Jesus on the line!"

On a Saturday night several weeks ago, this pastor was working late, and decided to call his wife before he left for home. It was about 10:00 PM, but his wife didn't answer the phone.

The pastor let the phone ring many times. He thought it was odd that she didn't answer, but decided to wrap up a few things and try again in a few minutes. When he tried again she answered right away. He asked her why she hadn't answered before, and she said that it hadn't rung at their house. They brushed it off as a fluke and went on their merry ways.

The following Monday, the pastor received a call at the church office, which was the phone that he'd used that Saturday night. The man that he spoke with wanted to know why he'd called on Saturday night.

The pastor couldn't figure out what the man was talking about. Then the man said, "It rang and rang, but I didn't answer." The pastor remembered the mishap and apologized for disturbing him, explaining that he'd intended to call his wife.

The man said, "That's, OK. Let me tell you my story.

"You see, I was planning to commit suicide on Saturday night, but before I did, I prayed, 'God if you're there, and you don't want me to do this, give me a sign now.' At that point my phone started to ring. I looked at the caller ID, and it said, 'Almighty God.' I was afraid to answer!"

The reason why it showed on the man's caller ID that the call came from "Almighty God" is because the church that the pastor attends is called "Almighty God Tabernacle."

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

20 + C + M + B + 04

I have a few pleasant memories of the Christmas season from my childhood.

As a little boy, we would go to my maternal grandparent's farm, just south of Fayetteville, in Brown County, Ohio. There must have been fifteen or twenty of us at the time, making all sorts of havoc. One of my aunts (one of the bossier ones, to be sure) would spend most of the time corraling us and lining us up for one blasted thing or another. On the other hand, my cousin Donnie, four years older than me, was left alone since he was obviously too old for such relegating. I used to look forward to the day that such freedom would be granted to me. But when the four years came... yep, you guessed it.

Every year there was a birthday cake for Jesus. This venerable tradition of the Rosselot clan was composed of four layers of cake, colored or flavored to represent the four races of mankind. It was covered in white frosting. Atop the cake was a holly wreath made of those gummy sugar-coated spearmint leaves and little red hot candies. In the middle, laying in a nest of browned coconut "straw," was a little doll to represent Baby Jesus. At his head was a single candle, and around him were the words "Happy Birthday Jesus." We'd sing Happy Birthday to our Lord (duh!), and the youngest would blow out the candle and keep the little doll.

There were other constants on this grand occasion. Grandpa always got a new white dress shirt, the rest of us always got a bonus present to top off our treasures gained at home, and my cousin Donnie was always left alone.

Eventually the Rosselot clan got big enough, that the celebration had to be moved to the Sunday after Christmas. In time, it was moved to Uncle Bernard's farm just up the road. After Grandma and Grandpa got too old to manage the farm, it was sold to (who else?) my cousin Donnie, and the whole shindig was moved to the city, to Aunt Margie's place, where Grandma and Grandpa were cared for, and where they lived until they died.

There were other memories. Come the Sunday before Christmas, Santa Claus would make an early appearance through the town streets, courtesy of the fire department, giving bags of fruits, nuts, and candy to each of the chidren. Then on Twelfth Night, the town would have a "yule log burning," consisting of all the leftover Christmas trees that could be assembled in one place. The latter custom, for a town founded by and dominated to the present day by Methodists, was particularly remarkable in its "Catholic" character.

To this day, I wonder if they still celebrate Twelfth Night the way they used to. I doubt that most of the Catholics do, now that Epiphany has been moved to the nearest Sunday.

Of course, as far as I am concerned, The Epiphany is always on January 6 -- as it always is in Rome. Over the door of my home, I write in chalk the inscription that appears as the title to this entry.

"Christus Masionem Benedicat." (May Christ this dwelling bless.)

Monday, January 05, 2004

"On the tweflth day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- twelve drummers drumming."

The twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

"What are they which are but twelve?
Twelve are attending on God's son;
Twelve make our creed. The Dial's done."
"On the eleventh day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- eleven pipers piping."

The eleven faithful apostles, along with...

"What are they which are but eleven?
Eleven thousand virgins did partake
And suffered death for Jesus' sake."

Saturday, January 03, 2004

"On the tenth day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- ten lords a-leaping."

The ten commandments

"What are they which are but ten?
Ten statutes God to Moses gave
Which, kept or broke, do spill or save."

Friday, January 02, 2004

"On the ninth day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- nine ladies dancing."

The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit; or, there being ladies present...

"What are they which are but nine?
Nine Muses, like the heaven's nine spheres,
With sacred tunes entice our ears."

Thursday, January 01, 2004

"On the eighth day of Christmas..."

" true love gave to me -- eight maids a-milking."

The eight beatitudes

"What are they which are but eight?
Eight Beatitudes are there given
Use them right and go to heaven."