Monday, September 27, 2004


There's a lot to report after this past week. It's getting near the end of the fiscal year in the USA government, as everybody scrambles to commit previously uncommitted funds before the end of September 30. Lest anyone think that wasteful, bear in mind that if it's not spent, it's gone on October 1, and offices are penalized the following fiscal year for unused funds from before.

Besides, every bureau in the Feds has a "wish list." I got mine. On October 6, this old man is going back to college.

I will begin my part-time studies at the Art Institute of Washington, toward an Associate of Arts degree in Multimedia and Web Design (or Interactive Media Design, or whatever it's being changed into...). My transcript from Cincinnati (University of) will cover about one-third of the requirements. No sense taking "Color and Design" again, never mind "English 101." I also assured them I could probably teach the class in "Typography."

More on this next week. Stay tuned...

Friday night we watched "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow." Not much on plot, but brilliantly executed. Saturday we went zydeco dancing. My first time in Baltimore in awhile. Seems like I've been away forever.

My parish had its annual picnic on Sunday. "Sal" and I sat with some other Filipinos, so she felt right at home, while we got a free meal. They even had pancit.

One of the big issues lately has been looking for a new home. After fourteen years of living in basement apartments (the last ten in one place), it's time to go above ground and own something. I'm looking at two-bedroom townhouses, hoping to stay in Arlington, preferably north of US 50. But crossing over to South Arlington saves about $50-100K, depending on the size of the home. We'll see.

Don Jim has found a piece from the eXile, Moscow's biweekly alt-rag in English, on what various European countries think of one another -- including a comprehensive listing of charts by region, country, and particular stereotype.

Obviously they wouldn't be much help in Iraq. This explains a lot.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

"I only want to be a poor friar who prays."

Today, the Church commemorates Saint Pius of Pietrelcina, known to most Catholics as "Padre Pio" -- so well by this name of endearment, in fact, that he is usually listed in English as "Saint Pio." After all, we've had twelve popes named Pius, and we're all so easily confused, aren't we?

Pio (let's humor ourselves and just call him that for now, okay?) was born in 1887 in the little Italian village of Pietrelcina. At 16, he joined the Capuchin Friars. At 23, he was ordained a priest.

At some point, he was discovered to bear the stigmata -- that is, the wounds on Christ on his hands and feet. Those few so called to this outward sign pay a price for it, and Pio suffered physical discomfort from the wounds throughout his life, and his bandages needed to be changed frequently. Between that, and his subsequent fame as a confessor and spiritual guide, the Holy See became concerned over all the fuss. As a result, he was virtually under house arrest for most of his fifty years at the monastery of San Giovanni Rotundo.

That did not stop the many thousands of pilgrims who sought him out to hear their confession. (As it was with the Curé of Ars, Pio would hear confessions from dawn until dusk, pausing only to celebrate Mass or for meals.) Nor did it stop him from bilocating (appearing to be in two places at once), according to some accounts.

He was known for being short on temperment and long on personal humility, attributed mostly to an awareness of his own sinfullness, combined with a priestly zeal for souls. At one point, a transfer was arranged for him. Pio refused to leave, citing the many souls who had come to depend on him. Pio stayed where he was.

He celebrated his last Mass on the 22nd of September, 1968. Seeing that his end was near, he called for a confrere to hear his last confession. As the doctor was called, he was heard to say softly to himself: "Jesus... Mary..."

He passed into eternity before dawn on the 23rd.

"In the months preceding his death, the wounds of the stigmata had begun to close, and had slowly stopped bleeding. As his body was being prepared for the wake, the friars and Dr. Sala observed that the lesions on his hands, feet and chest were now completely healed. The skin over the spots where the stigmata had been open and bleeding for fifty years, was now as smooth as a baby's, without even a trace of a scar. Deep, open wounds that had been bleeding for fifty years, had perfectly healed! Dr Sala concluded that this was a miracle in itself, and even greater than the stigmata, because it meant that dead tissue had been regenerated..."
Hey, Cat, guess who's being followed by a moon shadow!

"After the singer formerly known as Cat Stevens (TSFKACS) was detained by federal agents in Bangor, Maine, as he attempted to enter the United States, other 1970s pop stars lobbied to get their names included on the Department of Homeland Security's terrorist watch list.

"'Cat Stevens shouldn't be grabbing all the glory and the royalties,' said Terry Jacks, whose hit 'Seasons in the Sun' captivated the nation in 1974. 'There are others out there you know -- T. Rex, Helen Reddy, Rick Derringer -- many of them are still alive...'"

(Courtesy of ScrappleFace -- so it's a joke, okay?)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

This Nation: A Gathering of Nations?

Father "Don Jim" Tucker discovered an interesting piece recently:

"The notion of sovereignty is something of a sacred cow. An interesting article questions why that should be and invites a new philosophical discussion of just what precisely sovereignty is, where its authority comes from, and whether it should be considered as sacrosanct as it generally is today. It's good to remember that the concept of a sovereign nation-state as we have today is a very modern notion, and the world is quite imaginable without it."

The article, which appears in a recent edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education, refers to the struggles for self-determination among various ethnic peoples in the world in recent years, particularly those freed by the breakup of the former Soviet Union. But it also speaks at length about an essay written by a now-deceased Congressman:

"That Alan Cranston (1914-2000), the four-term Democratic senator from California, left among his papers an important essay defying the disconnect between fuzzy jurisprudential idea and volatile real-world catalyst makes perfect sense... [His] posthumously published essay, recently issued as The Sovereignty Revolution (Stanford University Press), begins dramatically: 'It is worshiped like a god, and as little understood. It is the cause of untold strife and bloodshed. Genocide is perpetrated in its sacred name. It is at once a source of power and of power's abuse, of order and of anarchy. It can be noble and it can be shameful. It is sovereignty...'

"[Cranston] argues that when people understand sovereignty as the absolute power of a government over its own territory and citizens, a shield against the intervention of other governments, nongovernmental organizations, and outside powers, it is an illegitimate and dangerous medieval idea. At best, sovereignty should be understood as the right of people to determine their own destinies..."

The concept of sovereignty was surely on the minds of many who visited our Nation's capital yesterday, as thousands of Native Americans from the USA, Canada, and elsewhere in this hemisphere gathered to herald the opening of the Smithsonian Institution's newest site:

"The 250,000-square-foot National Museum of the American Indian was built on the last open space on the National Mall. The 4.25-acre site islandscaped to depict treasured habitats...The museum was 15 years in the making. Clad in textured, wheat-colored Kasota limestone from Minnesota, the five-story building's curved lines are reminiscent of rocks shaped by wind and water over thousands of years... About 20,000 American Indians representing more than 515 tribes signed up for the Native Nations Procession along the National Mall."

What most of us know as the Iroquois (a name given to them by the French) are known among themselves as the Haudenosaunee (a name which means "people of the long house"), otherwise known as the Six Nation Confederacy. Originating and still present in what is now upstate New York and southern Ontario, they are comprised of the Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations. They can rightly claim to be the world's oldest participatory democracy, with a history dating back eight centuries (although the Tuscarora were not admitted until 1715). Research has shown that their own system of laws may have even influenced the US Constitution!

"Feuding and warfare were endemic in the land of the Mohawks which was located on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. A mother Kahetoktha ('End of the Field') takes her daughter Kahetehsuk ('She Walks Ahead') to live in a remote area of bush in order to protect her child. After living there a considerable amount of time the daughter becomes pregnant and the Mother accuses her daughter of wrongdoing. The Mother then has a dream from the messenger of the Great Spirit which reveals her daughter and not been with a man and will have a divine birth and the boy child to be born will be called Tekanawita and his life will be devoted to promoting peace among men. After the dream message is received the Mother and daughter reconcile and the son is born as prophesied. The boy grows quickly and when he is a young man Tekanawita returns to his mother's and grandmother's former settlement to announce to their people the Good Message (kaihwiyoh), the Power (katshatstehsae) and the Peace (shenu) which are the three concepts that together spell out the call to unify the separate nations of the Iriquois..."

I first read the full story of this Nation about twenty years ago, in a piece about them in National Geographic, which also decribed the Six Nations as having their own passports, and diplomatic relations with a number of other countries, and indigenous peoples in Central and South America.

When approaching the subject with an open mind, it calls into question the very notion of what makes a nation... a nation. Does any people have the right to tell another people that they are or are not a people unto themselves? Can the notion of self-determination among the "first nations" of North America continue to flourish (in addition to running their own casinos and the like) within the confines of the USA as it is currently established, whether or not we sell Manhattan back to them?

The answer may contribute to the redemption of this nation, faced with the consequences of empire over this past century. Perhaps it is time to learn from the mistakes made by ancient Rome, and return to the notion of America as a republic. We have made of ourselves a beacon of freedom and liberty which is the envy of all. Shall other nations assume the responsibility of learning from that example, without us acting as a "world police"?

Our efforts turning inward, we can then help to rekindle the fires of those councils that have long awaited a return to their meeting-place, attaining a new level of virtue as a free people -- by freeing those unjustly bound among ourselves.

With the establishment of this new center of learning in Washington, perhaps that transformation can allow for the self-determination of those who preceeded us to this land.

Maybe then it can truly be "the land of the free."
A "Crisis" Becomes a "Deal" Breaker

Last night, Deal Hudson submitted his resignation as publisher of Crisis magazine, on the heels of a recent exposé in the National "Catholic" Reporter, that he had engaged in inappropriate behavior with a female student ten years ago while teaching at Fordham University.

Hudson maintains that the decision to resign was his own, but the Washington Times reports otherwise:

"...five of his most influential columnists pressured the board to get rid of him... [i]in addition, specific accusations of more recent sexual misconduct had come to the board's attention."

Among those who pressured Hudson to resign are Michael Novak and Ralph McInerney, two guys who started the magazine about twenty years ago and couldn't keep it going, until Hudson took over and made it into the success it is today.

There's a lesson in there somewhere.

Included in the Times article is a sample of McInerney's reasoning: "He withdrew from being an adviser to the White House, so one could conclude he should leave Crisis. If his presence had a negative effect on a Catholic campaign effort, certainly it'd affect a Catholic magazine."

Well, Doc, it might, if the Catholic Church were also a political entity like the Republican Party. But -- brace yourselves, everybody -- it's not, which reduces your comparison to apples and oranges. (Yeah, I know, I'm having to explain this to a Thomist, and one who's work I have long admired.)

Hudson will continue heading the Morley Institute, part of the Morley Publishing Group that owns Crisis. Meanwhile, he gets to find out who his real friends are:

"Advisory board member Peggy Noonan, a speechwriter for President Reagan who is volunteering her time with the Bush re-election effort, quickly canceled a speech she had agreed to give at the magazine's $250-a-plate fund-raiser last Friday night at the Willard Hotel.

"Many of Washington's best-known Catholics also boycotted the dinner, and there were many empty seats at the gathering of 330 people. Miss Noonan also turned down an annual award given by the magazine.

"Crisis then offered the award to the Rev James V Schall, a Georgetown University professor, and Mr McInerny, both of whom turned it down. The Rev Benedict Groeschel, 71, a widely known Franciscan author and lecturer, eventually agreed to receive it."

Wow, if I could only be one of "Washington's best-known Catholics," maybe I could have gotten that award. Then I'd get to make a speech. I could tell a stupid Irish joke, string together a few pious platitudes, take a few shots at well-known "lberals," and top it off with a rousing call to victory over the infidels. That would bring the house down. Or... I'd remind them that we were a gathering of sinners, and tell them why there shouldn't even be a head table. Then they could all get up and boycott me too.

Then, after they were gone, "Sal" and I would get out a few microwave containers and start scarfing up leftovers.

Now, to be fair (somebody has to), there is a case to be made for avoiding an association with scandal. Then again, I don't remember Hudson bragging about any of this. I wonder how many of those high-fallutin' cake-eaters in pinstripes and sequins* would stand tall, in the face of half as much scrutiny into their personal lives, as has Mr Hudson.

I can promise you, as I am writing this, that I couldn't.

You got a problem with that???

In his Confessions, St Augustine admits to having sex with his lover in a church before his eventual conversion. You suppose they'd boycott him too? After all, these are the jokers who think they've got it all figured out what's wrong in the Church and in the world today. When asked by a local newspaper to submit his answer to a similar question, Chesterton put it plainly:

"I am."

And so, Mr Hudson, if you're reading this, listen up! The biggest difference between you and half those clowns is... you got caught! Sooner or later, everybody does. If not in this life, certainly the next.

Look on the bright side; if you were as low on the food chain as the rest of us, you wouldn't still have a job!!!

So hang in there. It ain't over till it's over.

*This refers to those who boycotted the event, as opposed to the genuine human beings who showed up anyway.

Monday, September 20, 2004

From our bulging "Fact Is Stranger Than Truth" files...

(The following was passed along on a listserv of mine.)

ONE - Recently, when I went to McDonald's I saw on the menu that you could have an order of six, nine, or twelve Chicken McNuggets so I asked for a half dozen nuggets.

"We don't have half dozen nuggets," said the teenager at the counter. "You don't?" I replied. "We only have six, nine, or twelve," was the reply. "So, I can't order a half dozen nuggets, but I can order six?" "That's right." So I shook my head and ordered six McNuggets.

TWO - The paragraph above doesn't amaze me because of what happened a couple of months ago. I was checking out at the local Wal-Mart with just a few items and the lady behind me put her things on the belt close to mine.

I picked up one of those "dividers" that they keep by the cash register and placed it between our things so they wouldn't get mixed. After the girl had scanned all of my items, she picked up the "divider" looking it all over for the bar code so she could scan it. Not finding the bar code she said to me, "Do you know how much this is?" I said to her "I've changed my mind; I don't think I'll buy that today." She said "OK" and I paid her for the things and left. She had no clue to what had just happened.

THREE - A lady at work was seen putting a credit card into her floppy drive and pulling it out very quickly. When I inquired as to what she was doing, she said she was shopping on the Internet and they kept asking for a credit card number, so she was using the ATM "thingy."

FOUR - I recently saw a distraught young lady weeping beside her car. "Do you need some help?" I asked. She replied, "I knew I should have replaced the battery to this remote door unlocker. Now I can't get into my car. Do you think they (pointing to a distant convenience store) would have a battery to fit this?" "Hmmm, I dunno. Do you have an alarm too?" I asked. "No, just this remote thingy," she answered, handing it and the car keys to me.

As I took the key and manually unlocked the door, I replied, "Why don't you drive over there and check about the batteries. It's a long walk."

FIVE - Several years ago, we had an Intern who was none too swift. One day she was typing and turned to a secretary and said, "I'm almost out of typing paper."What do I do?" "Just use copier machine paper," the secretary told her. With that, the intern took her last remaining blank piece of paper, put it on the photocopier and proceeded to make five "blank" copies.

SIX - I was in a car dealership a while ago, when a large motor home was towed into the garage. The front of the vehicle was in dire need of repair and the whole thing generally looked like an extra in Twister." I asked the manager what had happened. He told me that the driver had set the "cruise control" and then went in the back to make a sandwich.

SEVEN - My neighbor works in the operations department in the central office of a large bank. Employees in the field call him when they have problems with their computers. One night he got a call from a woman in one of the branch banks who had this question: I've got smoke coming from the back of my terminal. Do you guys have a fire downtown?"

EIGHT - Police in Radnor, Pennsylvania, interrogated a suspect by placing a metal colander on his head and connecting it with wires to a photocopy machine. The message "He's lying" was placed in the copier, and police pressed the copy button each time they thought the suspect wasn't telling the truth. Believing the "lie detector" was working, the suspect confessed.

Friday, September 17, 2004

It's another day at the office in Boston...

...and Archbishop Sean O'Malley is having a tough go of it. What with being up to his mitre in legal and pastoral crises, all those settlements to settle, all those reporters hanging around in front of the building. And now he's got parishioners staging 24/7 sit-ins at parishes slated for closing.

But all that is nothing, compared to the prospect that a priest like THIS GUY may be running around loose.

Unless Kelly is making this whole thing up. Ah, that girl Kelly, what a madcap, what a hoot! (By the way, isn't Father Coyne a spokesman for the archdiocese or something like that?)
In the good old days, politicians would kiss babies.

Now we get this:

"A guy and his three-year-old daughter are at the airport where Kerry is showing up. The girl is holding a Bush-Cheney sign. What do the Kerry supporters do? They rip the sign out of her signs and tear it up, making her cry..."

Thursday, September 16, 2004

St Blog's "Buzz of the Day"

Yesterday's edition of the Washington Times reported thus:

"At issue locally is the Diocese of Arlington's new policy mandating the fingerprinting of priests, seminarians, nuns, church employees and lay volunteers who work with children. Half of the 394,000-member diocese may be Hispanic, including thousands of undocumented immigrants... Many immigrant volunteers affected by the new policy work in a range of church duties, such as nursery care and chaperoning high school youths, at the 29 churches in the diocese that offer Spanish-language Masses... On Aug 12, Bishop Paul Loverde published a directive mandating up to 15,000 people in 72 parishes and mission churches be fingerprinted and submit to police background checks..."

I attended my first BSA Commissioners meeting last night. A "unit commissioner" typically has one to three units under his wing, to provide a liaison for guidance and support from the local district, which is part of the metro-wide jurisdiction of a council. One of my units (well, okay, right now it's my only unit, 'cuz I'm in training) is sponsored by my parish. That means I will eventually have regular contact with the boys, so I've been told "you've got 180 days" to complete the background check/training procedure.

What's gonna happen when the 180 days run out, I'm not sure. But I'm confident the Vatican doesn't post any Swiss Guards outside of Rome.

I don't have anything to hide, really. For my own part, it's like Father "Dom Jim" Tucker says: "Despite my own dislike of the thing, I have no interest in putting up a fight to keep the bishop from having my fingerprints. He can also have my DNA and a stool sample, for all I care. But what does worry me greatly is the effect that all this is going to have on volunteers." That goes ditto for me, albeit in addition to my impatience with the cabal of chancery paper-pushers who still don't #@$%ing get it. (Note to Father Tucker: I'm almost hoping they ask me for a... well, you know.)

According to Dom at, "Does your 80-year-old Aunt Gertrude teach CCD to toddlers? Fingerprint her like any felon down at the county jail."

But the root of the problem is being sought on the wrong side of the altar rail. Aunt Gertie's not the problem, Father, your clerical colleagues are. That's what's already cost over a billion dollars in legal and other settlement fees. I'll bet you wouldn't have spent the last twenty years transferring Joe Sixpack from one parish to another to deal with "his little problem," now, would you? In all my years of doing volunteer work, I've learned a few lessons. One of them is, when the people who ask for your spare time treat you like they (those who ask) are doing you (those being asked) a favor, it's time to find something else to do with your spare time. If I didn't love Scouting as much as I do, I'd already be out the door.

So I will complete the training -- like the good little obedient, boot-licking, biretta-buffing, ring-kissing Roman Catholic poster boy that I am. But if they've got any ideas about insulting my intelligence, they'd better hope I'm in uniform that day. Can't disgrace the uniform, you know?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: "Several priests in the diocese are refusing to be fingerprinted for privacy reasons and have asked the Vatican for clarification on why they must do so under canon law."

They're lucky nobody in the pews has thought of that -- yet. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

The Usual Rumblings at St Blog's Coffee Hour

Rod Dreher of the National Review has been quoted thus in the comments section of

"Of course it’s a lie. And as Diogenes points out on the blog, the Pope’s asking for Krenn’s resignation 'for reasons of health' is also a form of lying. They lie to maintain the great facade. They lie by habit. They lie 'for the good of the Church.' They lie. I don’t believe a thing they say anymore, about anything. If the Pope said tomorrow that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, I’d double-check that too, or at least wonder what kind of angle he was pushing."

Gerard Serafin of A Catholic Blog for Lovers takes exception:

"It really isn't surprising to read words like these on another blog. The progression is almost inevitable. From obsessive criticism to bile and cynicism. And to expressions of an almost total dismissal of the integrity of others, including eventually even the Pope."

What is surprising, really, is that an experienced journalist would assume that every utterance from out of the Vatican is from the mouth of the Pope himself. When I hear all the confusion of how American Catholics should vote, whether Jews should be evangelized, whether or not Islam is a threat to Christendom, I'd hate to be the guy in the Vatican press office who has to handle all the phone calls asking dumb-@$$ questions about who said what to whom over whatever.

Unlike some who reacted to Dreher's comments, I'm hardly one to question his faith or whether he should remain Catholic. But I certainly identify with his cynicism over the constant attempts at face-saving. Witness the comments of the Holy Father after viewing Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ: "It is as it was." Five little words were enough for all hell to break loose in the press office; His Holiness didn't really say that, you see he never comments on commercial products, okay maybe he did this time, but what he meant was...

Then there was the decision to assign Cardinal Law to a major bascilica in Rome. People thought he was being rewarded. Maybe when they find out how old the plumbing is in that place and who's gotta call the repair service, they'll think twice about that. Even so, they should have put him some place out of the way. If only for some penance. Not to mention some peace and quiet.

Somehow "the good of the Church" demands that we put a little spin on everything that goes slightly awry, as if that's going to fool anyone. It doesn't. It only makes the operatives within the Holy See look stupid.

It comes down to this: The "good of the Church" is never served by a sinful act. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either a liar or a fool. Or both. Those with a secure sense of Church history, and the role of their own faith in the midst of it, are unlikely to be dissuaded by any of this. After all, even the Twelve Apostles went running scared at the first sign of trouble.

Their successors have been running scared ever since. This too shall pass.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Just when you thought you had me figured out...

...I got this letter today, from "Jeanne," who has news for me. She writes:

"I have news for you. The Bush administration is interested in fear fear fear. NOTHING ELSE. HE HAS DONE NOTHING FOR THE PRO LIFE AGENDA. War is not prolife, but anti life. He is doing terrorism against the middle eastern people. God loves them just as much as HE DOES US. He even loves Bin Laden."

First of all, sweetheart, the term "news" implies a message of substance. There is little here. At least Bush has yet to bomb an embassy in Eastern Europe using an outdated map. (That would be Clinton --- you know, Mr Cool who played the saxophone on MTV and didn't inhale.)

Oh, and God also loved Hitler, dear. But Hitler was surrounded by guys too clever to merely commandeer a jetliner and drive it into a tall building -- something Bin Laden won't stop bragging about. Big tip-off.

And another thing, Jeannie. Do you really think terrorism in the middle east wouldn't still be big business whether we stuck our nose in it or not? I'm the one with news for YOU, babe! It will keep right on going, as long as the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael have to be next-door neighbors. Jerusalem -- "the city of peace" -- has known little throughout most of its history.

Nobody likes war, least of all those who risk their lives defending something worth dying for. If you're an American, that would include you. Even if it didn't, a war is a far cry from the murder of innocent unborn children. You see, guys in wars tend to shoot back at one another. That doesn't make it right, but sometimes it makes it even. Onthe other hand, unborn babies just scream while their skulls are being pinched with a surgical tool -- something your boy Kerry won't lose much sleep over.

I don't know where people get the idea that I'm an unqualified fan of President Bush, but he's certainly more sympathetic to the plight of the unborn than Kerry. This despite the long history of the Bush family's support of Planned Parenthood. (Didn't think I knew about that, huh?) This goes back to his granddaddy Prescott. Oh, by the way, real Texans don't name their boys Prescott. Not if they don't want the crap beat out of them in school. That's how you can tell that the Bush family is no more Texan than... well, me!

But that's another story. Keep those cards and letters coming, kids. I read every single one of them.
Getting There From Here

"Sal" has been getting calls from work ever since the Labor Day weekend ended. All those jokers who said they had a domestic or caregiving assignment for her, then wouldn't return her calls for a follow-up, are coming out of the woodwork.

Welcome to America, hon.

Even people on the job take a mental vacation at their desks during August. Those who do leave for the beach or the mountains or wherever, make for a quieter subway ride in the morning. But now they're back, blocking the subway doors with their open newspapers and their expanding behinds, while the rest of us try to get in.

By the time I get to my desk, I realize that the summer was too short. Just like when I was a kid.

There haven't been many entries for MWBH of late. Not that I don't have an opinion about things. A couple of things are in the works, and a series a started but never finished this past summer, has to be started again, so I can finish it right. (Yeah, that one.) While I am grateful for the loyal readers I have, it seems to me that "the usual suspects" in the Catholic blogosphere tend to get more of the readership. That wouldn't surprise me so much, except that most of them say the same thing over and over. Am I correct in understanding that people go for that?

I've also been considering a move. Not only from my basement apartment to something I would actually own, but from Blogger to another weblog service. I haven't been able to archive properly for over a year (which is why everything is still on the same page, going back two and a half years), and lately new entries have been impossible to load without getting unexplainable error messages. On top of that, those clowns in tech support added a "navbar" to the top which blocks my title bar in some browsers. Guess who they expect to fix it? Guess how much help they are?

I will probably make a final decision by the end of the month.

Tonight, I attend another BSA Roundtable. In scouting, that's a monthly meeting of adult volunteers, combining a dog-and-pony-show-of-the-month with breakout sessions for the various programs. Next week I have my first Commissioner staff meeting, and shortly after that, my first Basic Commissioner Training class. There are some weekend camping events in the fall. I look forward to hitting the trail again.

I've also been thinking about Christmas vacation already. I will turn 50 on the 28th of December, which calls for something special. Right now, it's either southwestern Louisiana, or Seattle.

But we'll have lots to cover till then, as long as Blogger still lets me publish it. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

At least Noah saw a rainbow when his flood was over.

It was a good weekend. "Sal" and I traveled to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for the annual Johnstown FolkFest.

The annual event began on Labor Day weekend in 1989, as an "ethnic festival" in the Cambria City neighborhood, part of the centennial commemoration of the 1889 Flood. For three years after that, the National Folk Festival was held there. The idea was to leave a local event in its wake, and that's what happened.

But tensions developed between the sponsoring organization, the Johnstown Area Heritage Association -- JAHA -- and the various church groups that comprised the old neighborhood. The use of "scrip" to pay for food and other items ensured that JAHA would receive a percentage to cover general operating costs. This didn't sit well with the old parishes, who saw this event as their only major fundraising opportunity. As the years went by, most would move their events onto church property, beyond JAHA's reach. Some parishes complained of beer-drinking in their churches. Others resented JAHA as outsiders, coming in and taking over their neighborhood.

Finally, this year saw the first FolkFest at the new permanent site on the edge of downtown. But less than a mile away, the "Cambria City Ethnic Festival" survived -- scaled down from the "official" event of previous years.

I've been going to Johnstown on Labor Day weekend, almost every year from the beginning. This year there was some lingering animosity over the split. The parishes in Cambria City could be seen as being a bit greedy, oblivious to the need for an overall plan, and the reality of operating costs to bring large-scale talent to the various stages. With a new permanent festival site for this and other annual events (including a biker's convention and a polka festival), JAHA would appear to have won the upper hand.

Except for one thing.

The "Johnstown FolkFest" is neither a folk festival (as one would understand the term damn near anywhere else), nor does it have much of anything to do with Johnstown or its heritage. The music is great, and makes for a memorable weekend. But roughly two-thirds of the acts this year were brought in from outside the region of Western Pennsylvania (although practically all of them could generally be defined as "ethnic").

At the "unofficial" event in Cambria City (which proceeded despite initial resistance from the city itself), we had less trouble parking than ever before. The "Johnstown Area Button Box Club" played polkas and waltzes at the Croatian parish, in an atmosphere conducive to a neighborhood festival. But down the street, three guys banged out Eagles tunes on guitars. (Is "redneck" an ethnic group now?) Meanwhile, at the Bottle Works museum, there was an exhibition of folk dancing -- something that may or may not have occured to JAHA as a part of the local "heritage."

The "official" event has the cooperation of the city, and more extensive corporate sponsorship. It draws a bigger crowd (although the "other" event wasn't too shabby as the weekend went on), and is better orgainized logistically. So JAHA won't know the difference. Neither will anyone from out of town.

And that's the problem.

It's sort of an occupational hazard in the "business" of folklore; sooner or later you have to associate with the subjects of your "field work." Differences in class, petty bickering between various factions, old grudges that remain unhealed -- in time, a certain disdain of the subject matter breeds an ongoing love/hate relationship.

But if they're smart, JAHA will never give up on building bridges amongst those with whom they would disagree, and the people of the old neighborhood will not hesitate to receive them. Cambria City is a unique phenomenon in the present day. Besides being a National Historic District, there are nearly a dozen churches -- most of them Catholic and each serving a different ethnic group -- surviving despite the exodus to the suburbs and pressures from their bishop to close down or merge. A street festival of the scale of past years at the original site may never be possible, but nothing is stopping the operation of shuttle buses for the less-than-one-mile stretch between the events.

Like I said... if they're smart.

But it's easier to rest on one's pedestal when one holds all the cards. Meanwhile, JAHA runs a very impressive Heritage Discover Center on the edge of Cambria City. After a visit to the interactive exhibit (which I highly recommend), one is left with the impression that African-Americans did not have a part in Johnstown's history.

Somebody's gonna get knocked off the pedestal soon enough.