Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Overthinking Taylor Swift

In an article in People magazine, country-pop singer Taylor Swift claims she was bullied in junior high, on account of liking country music, and not being pretty enough for the "popular girls." Unless they stuffed her head in the toilet after gym class, that's not bullying. And only about five or ten percent of all kids in junior or senior high are not outsiders anyway. There's gotta be a study on it somewhere. But it makes her early years sound more romantic, I suppose. Still, I don't think she ever had a problem with the boys.

Especially not now.

Meanwhile, Overthinkingit.com explores the economic themes in one of her music videos. I kid you not.

[Blonde White Guy] is positioning himself for above-average socioeconomic achievement, but for now, he’s stuck waiting tables to presumably help pay his tuition and support himself. Granted, these two facts aren’t at odds with each other--countless others have gone this route--but presenting them together, along with the way he’s visually depicted as an everyman, speaks directly to Americans’ economic insecurities. He aspires to rise above his background, yet still struggles and lacks any sense of security.


Plug This: Creative Minority Report

Not that they need it.

Creative Minority Report announced that they had recently passed the four million visitor mark. More than that, this was after passing the one, two, and three million visitor mark JUST THIS YEAR!

In order to appreciate the significance of this, you have to go back to when they started.

Four years ago, the most popular sites in the Catholic blogosphere were generally those of people who were either a) priests, b) pre-established in the Catholic print media, c) authors of their own dramatic conversion story, or, in at least one case, d) playing on a gimmick. Matthew and Patrick Archbold were definitely none of the above. They did not originate the use of a headline summary block at the top of the page, but they were among the first to do it well. They pioneered the use of an auxiliary site, Creative Minority Reader, where links to the work of others can be found.

They are also just plain good, period! Matthew is an established journalist in the secular media, which is enough to apply a certain standard and consistency to their work. Patrick has --- I dunno, five, maybe ten kids? It's a perfect combination. No relying on cheap gimmicks and stupid (usually photoshopped) images of nuns playing roller derby in full habit. There are other places to go for that. People go to CMR for good writing, well presented.

Finally, rather than a major Catholic publisher using the web as an afterthought for pushing print material, the National Catholic Register came to them, and incorporated them as an integral part of a web-based product which stands on its own.

In nearly four years, the Archbold brothers, and their other occasional contributors, succeeded in heralding a paradigm shift in the Catholic blogosphere. The Catholic press has taken notice of the need to shift to a web-based marketing strategy, as one publication after another begins the transformation to a "web-option" or "web-only" product.

And in the eye of the storm, a "creative minority" of two brothers are the ultimate case in point. Keep it up.

(And return my phone calls already. Geeez!)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Drudge Did It ... Didn’t He?

This is just in from Infowars.com, on the role in the changing of events attributed to Matt Drudge and the Drudge Report, among others:

The big networks and the so-called progressive borg hive, who instantly tried to spin the lack of delays at airports over Thanksgiving as proof that the opt-out protest had failed, conveniently failed to mention the fact that major airports across the country had deliberately mothballed their naked body scanners in a crass PR ploy aimed at deflating the momentum behind the demonstration.

Early reports began to pour in from Twitter users who said that body scanner machines were roped off and out of use in airports such as LAX, Seattle, San Jose and Columbus ...

Let's see how this plays out. Meanwhile ... hey, Mrs Obama, now it's MY turn to be proud to be an American!

Advent @mwbh

I stole this Advent Wreath from Jeff "The Curt Jester" Miller, as well as his "Christmas Countdown" code. For the latter, I made it "more Catholic," by adding the word "fasting," and rendering the Christmas announcement in Latin. Jeff's a good sport; he doesn't mind. Click on his name for a piece of the action for yourselves.

There have been a number of ideas for alternate ways to celebrate the season authentically, but a comprehensive study by our Research Department indicates, that most Catholic blog readers prefer to bitch and moan about crass consumerism, and not enough "keeping Christ in Christmas" by everybody else. Our respondents, by and large, prefer to wait for "the Church" to do something about it, as soon as the American bishops finalize the latest proposal of mandatory x-ray scans and pat-downs for volunteer parish work.

Well, the laity are "the Church" in the public square, so guys, we've got a long wait.

But hey, no matter! We might be so moved as to dig into our archives for a few good nuggets anyway. Keep those readership stats up, kids, and we may devote a week in September next year to preparations (which in most parishes, do start that early). For now, we'll give the huddled masses, including the slew of new readers in the past year, a taste of what they've been missing. Stuff you will not find on any other Catholic blog.

Not even You Know Who! (gasp!)

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ADDENDUM: One of the common misconceptions is that, because Advent is a time of preparation (and traditionally, of self-mortification) in advance of the Great Feast, it is premature or otherwise improper to have "Christmas Parties" or otherwise enable a celebratory atmosphere. Stick around, dear reader, and you can learn about the real deal.

That's right, we're that good.

Leslie Nielsen (1926-2010)

This past weekend, we learned of the passing of Leslie Nielsen, the Canadian-born actor who died of pneumonia at the age of 84. Matthew Aldermann shared this favorite exchange on Facebook:

Frank: Well, when I see five weirdos, dressed in togas, stabbing a man in the middle of the park in full view of a hundred people, I shoot the bastards, that's *my* policy!

Mayor: That was a Shakespeare-In-The-Park production of "Julius Caesar," you moron! You killed five actors! Good ones!

Here we feature a clip from a 1991 interview with David Letterman. (CONTENT ADVISORY: Some mild bathroom humor, needless to say.)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent I: Hope

Psalm 23(24): To Thee have I lifted up my soul; in Thee, O my God, I put my trust, let me not be ashamed: neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on Thee shall be confounded.

Prayer: Stir up Thy power, we beseech Thee, O Lord, and come: that from the threatening dangers of our sins we may deserve to be rescued by Thy protection, and to be saved by Thy deliverance. Who livest and reignest, with God the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.

“Begin with the end in mind.”

Such is the manner in which the Western church has traditionally commenced the Year of Grace. The cycle begins with the foretaste of its completion -- the "adventus," the Advent, the coming of the Lord, both its first coming through the Incarnation, and His coming again in the Last Days.

This is a reflection by Father Robert Odom, of Saint Luke's Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

Dolan Reconsidered

We don't get many comments here at mwbh. At least two people tell me it's because "you say all that needs to be said." I'm sure they tell me that just to make me feel better. (It works, by the way.) In any case, our recent piece on Archbishop Dolan's remarks in a TV interview about Thanksgiving, and its analysis by Michael Voris on RealCatholicTV, brought this comment from a gentleman named “Stephen” which was of sufficient merit and detail, that it is reproduced here in its entirety.

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FWIW, while I think you're right that the archbishop is clearly speaking off the cuff, and while I agree that it's possible to criticize his choice of words, I think it's worth noting that there is a structure to his comments that suggests a deliberate strategy that is worth noting. Here are Dolan's words as excerpted by Voris:

"[Thanksgiving is] a time of the year when people are open to the Lord, and we don't think about ourselves. We're grateful to God. We're conscious that Somebody -- some call him or her or whatever you want -- Somebody beyond us is in charge, and we are immensely grateful, and it's not about ..." [cut off]

Note the structure of these brief lines. In the first sentence, he says "the Lord" -- a term with clear Judeo-Christian resonances, denoting the God of Israel revealed in Jesus Christ. In the second sentence, he uses the general term "God," a word shared with theists, deists and others. Finally, he goes on to include awareness of a vague "Somebody beyond us."

He's clearly winging it (the parenthesis is somewhat ungrammatical), and if you want to object to the words he chose in that moment, fine. But it seems clear to me that the terminological shift over these three sentences is connected to a progression of thought:

1. He begins by expressing himself in language that is overtly Christian: People are open to the Lord. This is language with roots in the Old and New Testaments, in the liturgy of the Church, in the idiomatic language of "Christian America."

2. He then expands the scope of his language to include also those who stand more or less at a distance from the Christian faith: Even people who do not know the Lord can still be touched at this time of the year by gratitude to God.

3. Finally, he suggests that the meaning of Thanksgiving can even reach those who may not recognize God as such, but may still be aware of our dependence on a higher power. They may not even be comfortable speaking of "him" -- they may say "him" or "her", or whatever they want -- but nevertheless even for them there can be a meaningful awareness of the reality of divine sovereignty and providence, and a corresponding gratitude to Somebody beyond us.

FWIW, similar strategies can be seen in the Good Friday petitions and in the Vatican II decree Lumen Gentium 14ff, i.e., starting with those closest to us and then gradually expanding the scope outward until we reach even those who do not believe in God.

Again, not to say that the archbishop's comments here are above criticism. But I'm disturbed and grieved by Voris's readiness to judge Dolan's heart and motivations as well as giving the worst possible construction to his actions: "knee-jerk pandering" to a "politically correct understanding of the faith," of being unable to "simply and sweetly" affirm the faith (as if Dolan were giving a homily or holding forth of the truth of the Faith, of "shuffling God off" amid "relativistic politically correct diversity," etc.).

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Discuss. (Wow, for once I write that and everybody actually does it. What's up with that?)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

“Michael, row your boat ashore ...”

I watch Michael Voris' production of "The Vortex" on RealCatholicTV periodically. Overall, I find it to be an excellent work, but occasionally it misses the mark ever so slightly. Michael takes exception to remarks made by New York Archbishop (and new President of the USCCB) Timothy Dolan, during a TV interview. Dolan referred to Thanksgiving as a time when people give thanks to God, who “... some call him or her, whatever you want, somebody beyond us ...”

Voris is outraged by Dolan's remarks on national television. He seems to find them inexplicable. That's okay, I'll explain.

Dolan was not referring solely to Catholics, or even solely to Christians, he was referring to everyone, not all of whom would be thanking God the Father or Jesus Christ for much of anything. They should, of course, but they don't. Was it carelessly spoken? Yes, it missed an opportunity to be authentic, refusing to apologize for oneself. Was Archbishop Dolan pandering? Maybe, maybe not. But it's more likely that he just did what a lot of people do when a camera's running, which is to say the first stupid thing that comes to their heads. (Hey, this is New York City. We've got an archbishop down the street. Let's go ask him what he thinks.)

It even happens to me when an answering machine or voicemail kicks in, which is why I rarely leave messages. But hey, that's just me.

Dolan was not a great choice for President of the bishops' conference, but he was a significant improvement over who almost won. And the fact that the bishops actually put some thought into the election, and broke with convention, indicates that they were awake for most of it. Always a good sign. But we got what we prayed for, and little more than that. It is up to the faithful to help a bishop be a better bishop. It is up to a bishop to listen. If he ever stops talking his fool head off, here's hoping the faithful know what to say.

UPDATE: By the way, a rabbi would make no reference to YHWH, as the name of God (or, as they write it, "G-d") is considered by Jews to be too holy even to pronounce.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Boy in the Bubble

For a number of years, I was the designer and producer of an annual performance report, for a government executive whom we will call "Dan." Now, Dan was a man on his way up the ladder, and this publication reported annually on data collected government-wide, the compilation of which significantly enhanced the mission of the agency for which I work. It was his claim to fame, and he and I understood its gravity.

As time went on, the farther Dan went up the latter, the more aloof he became, particularly towards me. It reached the point where he would call me into his office, and with his staff lined up next to the table looking like a cadet review, Dan would sit there with me, and pick at each typographic error in the proof one by one. I could go through it in two minutes, but no, he had to spend twenty minutes making a spectacle out of it. After all, how could I be so careless? Never mind that most of the goobers in the audience were too lazy to use a spell-checker.

Dan's real problem was his staff, most of whom were transfers from other specialties of policy, with little experience in this one. A project manager's incompetence could be excused easily; after all, he would be retiring soon. Why go to all that trouble, when there was always someone else to blame?

Dan couldn't exercise the luxury of stepping back and taking the long view of things. The report eventually outlived its usefulness, but I wonder how much difference it would have made, if a solution had been reached that was based on the problem? It would have required looking within, and challenging conventions, in the form of staff members who find comfort (and inevitable promotions) in their conventions.

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We've been pretty hard on Peggy Noonan around here, ever since she threw her own convictions to the wind back in 2008, and became an apologist for the current President. Since then, she probably learned that it wasn't necessarily a ticket to better cocktail parties for the next four years, and has thought the wiser of it. More power to her, in this case, so we'll give her credit where it's due, in this case with her latest column.

Presidents always get to the point where they want to escape Washington, and their lives, and their jobs. But they never can. ... Once you're in the bubble -- once you're in the midst of a huge apparatus, once you have the cars and the aides and the security and the staffers -- there is no getting out of it.

This tends to go on down the line, as people surround themselves with minions who tell them what they want their boss to hear. It is the curse of sheepish men who achieve authority, to check their common sense at the entrance to the building. An appointment by the President to direct a particular office in an agency, must rely on a deputy already on staff, generally a non-political career executive, to tell them how things work, to handle the internal minutiae. The deputy becomes the gatekeeper for access, the truth behind the director's oft-mentioned "open door" policy to his staff. It doesn't work out that way, of course, thus the appointee leaves his post at the end of his tenure, often unaware of how little he has accomplished, to say nothing of how much damage he has done.

It's not an inconvenience, it's a humiliation. In the new machine, and in the pat-downs, citizens are told to spread their feet and put their hands in the air. It's an attitude of submission -- the same one the cops make the perps assume on "America's Most Wanted." Then, while you stand there in public in the attitude of submission, strangers touch intimate areas of your body. It's a violation of privacy. It leaves people feeling reduced. It's like society has decided you're a meat sack and not a soul. Humans have a natural, untaught understanding of the apartness of their bodies, and they don't like it when their space is violated. They recoil, and protest.

For such a loss of reality in the Nation's highest office, Noonan provides a scenario of how things might well be. Having worked in the White House herself, she may be on to something.

FAMW: Lewis Black’s “Black Friday” Message

This man who appears regularly on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" is obscene, obnoxious, a raving maniac, and my personal hero, except when he doesn't ridicule both sides of a political argument equally. A chapter of the previous book by Lewis Black was devoted to religion, and he had an easy time ridiculing most major religions ... except one which proved difficult to ridicule (and I'll leave it to you as to which one it was).

For today, Black has a message about the excesses of consumerism. Fortunately, he dispenses with the potty mouth, so it can be shown here. Meanwhile, do yourself a favor; don't wait until one week before Christmas to go to the "big block" stores for anything. Shop early, and if you can, shop online. It will make it easier to enjoy this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks: The 2010 Remix

Ah, where to begin?

The late 1990s were the worst for me where this holiday is concerned. I was alone, there was no place to go, and I would often end up having Thanksgiving dinner at IHOP. Yeah, you heard me right. Recent years have been more promising, I am happy to report. Sal had to work from 8am to 1pm today (she's a free-lance home health care aide), and again from 4pm to 9pm. That gave us a two- to three-hour interregnum, at which time we went to the apartment of her brother's girlfriend, where the table was spread for whoever stopped by.

Paul and Lauren are in Atlanta tonight. Of course, I am always grateful to carry on text message debates with my son. I confessed to nurturing thoughts of anarchism. This began a discussion of the differences between individualist anarchism (which would be me, he maintains) and collectivist anarchism (which he claims would apply to him). I'm not sure I agree with such characterization, but such was how the exchange began. I urged him to read Rerum Novarum, as opposed to just reading about it, as well as eventually the writings of Belloc and Chesterton on distributism.

As of this writing, the conversation is concluding, each of us giving the other respective reading assignments. Mine is a long treatise at anarchosyndicalism.net. His is an almost-as-long visit with Pope Leo XIII. I'm always amazed by how well-read he is, although I probably shouldn't be. Wonder if he thinks the same.

“The idea of a worker friendly state is an illusion. It’s socialism without balls. ANYWAY ... Happy Thanksgiving.”

Isn't he terrific? Deo gratias!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

“Assume the position, and enjoy your flight.”

The rise of National Socialism in Germany did not begin with one great melodrama culminating in a victory parade. It happened one step at a time, exploiting the desperation of its citizens, who would have looked anywhere for relief. When victory finally came to the fascists, they turned a disaster into a prosperous nation within roughly a decade, a nation that very nearly took over much of the Western world.

What is important to consider here, is that no one saw it coming. No one was looking.

Several years ago, my four year-old daughter was pulled aside in one such screening because she happened to be the Nth person in the line to go through security. Though she was traveling with me, her mother, and sister, she was subjected to 40 minutes of terrifying interrogations and inspections of all her personal effects, though not a bodily patdown.

The startling part of it was the mindlessness of it all. The guards were simply being good Nazis. Today, it is no longer mindless. It is part of a sustained campaign to condition the American public to being humiliated by government officials in the name of national security.

Physical humiliation of the subject is the first act that an interrogator performs ...

In a nation of people who want to preserve the peace, who want to get along by going along -- the latest Gallup poll shows that 71 percent of Americans believe these measures are worth it to protect us from terrorism -- what has this brought us so far?

* Passenger John Tyner refused a pat-down in a videotaped encounter, famously telling security personnel "If you touch my junk I'm gonna have you arrested." (Joe Sharkey, Screening Protests Grow as Holiday Crunch Looms, New York Times, November 15, 2010.)

* A breast cancer survivor was forced to remove her prosthetic breast. (Grantham, Molly (November 19, 2010). "Cancer surviving flight attendant forced to remove prosthetic breast during pat-down". WBTV News. Retrieved November 22, 2010.)

* A bladder cancer survivor had his urostomy bag seal broken during a pat-down, leaving him soaked in urine. (Doig, Polly Davis (November 21, 2010). "TSA Pat-Down Soaks Man in Own Urine". Newser. Retrieved November 22, 2010.)

* A woman with a hip replacement was singled out for pat down. (Replacement hip singles out woman for new TSA pat-down, KATU.com, November 19, 2010)

* A rape survivor was distressed by a pat-down that she described as feeling like being sexually assaulted again. (Schulz, Cara (November 8, 2010). "Rape Survivor Devastated by TSA Enhanced Pat Down". Pagan Newswire Collective – Minnesota Bureau. Retrieved November 22, 2010.)

* A 3-year-old child was distressed by surrendering her teddy bear and being subject to a pat-down. (Graff, Amy (November 16, 2010). "TSA pats down a screaming toddler". SFGate – San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved November 22, 2010.)

* An eight year old boy was patted down on his genital area. (Leonard Greene, TSA pat-down of shirtless boy, 8, adds fuel to the ire, New York Post, November 22, 2010.)

* An adult male who stripped down to his shorts to avoid a pat down was arrested. (R. Stickney, Passenger Chooses Strip-Down Over Pat-Down, NBC San Diego, November 22, 2010.)

These are isolated incidents, and easy to ignore. As a result, it is less likely that they will decrease, and more likely that they will increase. We tell ourselves, these men in their blue uniforms, they mean well, they are trying to protect us. That is what Joe Carter, writing his apologia for the TSA as web-editor of First Things, would have us believe. A respondent by the name of Stuart Koehl begs to differ.

I've been a defense and security analyst for more than thirty years. I've studied terrorism and counterterrorism for a good many of those. My principal objection to TSA is not that its inspections are intrusive, but that their inspections are ineffective, amounting to--as George Will put it--"security theater". That is, nothing TSA does is likely to stop a determined terrorist plot, but does waste a lot of resources that could be applied better in other ways ...

Mr Koehl goes on at some length, and in considerable, and illuminating, detail. (He's not alone among his colleagues either.)

After thirty years in Washington, I can tell you that appearances, perceptions, are of such potency in the crafting of public opinion, and by extension any effective political strategy, that they can mean as much as the substance of accomplishments themselves. There will be outcries here and there. There will be some who even claim to beat the system. But a population that can be lulled into believing, that draconian methods will protect them from terrorists, is unlikely to stop and ask who will protect them from their protectors.

If that should happen, the terrorists will have already won.

Going Global With Gloria

The current edition of Gloria.TV News appears continually at the top of the blue sidebar to the right of this column. It is updated with each new edition. The one for today featured a story we did here a couple of weeks ago. They even got my name right. I do send clippings from this weblog from time to time, which might be of interest to such outlets as Gloria.TV. Still, it surprised me to see it right there in front of me. (The story in question begins at 1:45.)

I should add a couple of clarifications. The report that the young boy was five years old had to be corrected -- he was, in fact, only three years old -- both on my blog, and in an addendum sent with my material to them. This correction apparently did not make it to production. Also, my reference to "Muslim extremists" was changed for the webcast to "Muslim criminals." The producers of Gloria.TV reserve the right to make such changes. Then again, I also realize that the distinction would mean something to some of my audience, so I submit it here.

At the end of the day, and while awaiting the holiday tomorrow, it is one thing for which to be thankful. Not only am I able to bring public awareness to the persecution of Assyrian Christians in Iraq, whose forebears first heard the Gospel from the Apostle Thomas himself, but that such a fine outlet as Gloria.TV News would see its way to featuring my work.

Plus, you gotta love that pullquote at 2:15.

UPDATE: The embed code for the video clip has since been corrected, and should display the webcast for the day in question, as opposed to the current day. We regret the inconvenience.

Chris Christie’s Amazing World

(Sounds like a title for a low-budget cable series, doesn't it?)

In this clip from NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, we see the lighter side of the Governor of New Jersey, as well as learn how he got such a, well, redundant name. What we do NOT learn, is whether he'll ever run for President or Vice President. (He has a good comeback for the latter.) A lot of people will try to read something into what he says about being on the ticket with Sarah Palin, but really, there's nothing there to read.

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh — Revisited

I'd sure be curious as to why, but the following mwbh piece from June of 2008 has been getting an unusual amount of traffic in recent weeks:

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, Oh — Why Did I Ever Leave Ohio?

One thing our viewers won't find, is a video clip of the featured song from that musical, as an embeddable clip could not be obtained, until now. This one just hit YouTube last July, featuring Rosalind Russell and Jacqueline McKeever, in a CBS television production from 1958, with Russell in her original Broadway role as "Ruth." I just know all you folks wanting to hit the road for the Buckeye State have been asking yourselves this musical question.

After thirty years, I know I do.

Five Second Theatre: Stuffed

Time once again for our regular midday Wednesday feature.

Frank never really cared for the taste of turkey flesh. Not enough screaming. And with all the movies out about vampires and zombies, you can't be too careful which relative's house you visit tomorrow.

Have a safe Thanksgiving. Let's be careful out there.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

MIke Huckabee’s Message to the President

President Obama is defending the humiliating and unconstitutional electronic strip searches by machines that are making its manufacturers filthy rich and the flying public hopping mad. The President also says that there isn't a choice about the federal fondling and groping of the private parts of totally law-abiding citizens by government agents. Mr. President, I issue a challenge --- if you don't find anything wrong with these practices that presume the guilt of an American before he or she proves innocence, then I ask you to take your wife, your 2 daughters, and your mother in law to Reagan National Airport and have them go through the full body scanner and then be subjected to the same and full body grabbing grope by the government agents that you authorized to do it. Do it in public where all can see. When you do that, maybe some of the rest of us won't be as angry as watching our wives, daughters, and mothers humiliated and degraded like criminals just in order to fly on a plane.

(The above was taken directly from a page at huckpac.com. Its use here does not imply endorsement of the author's position on other issues, or toward aspirations for higher office. Further, its use is also without permission or shame.)

My Next Car?

My 2005 Scion XB has served me well. Historically, I run a car into the ground. I was thinking of another tactic this time. It's coming up on 65,000 miles. Maybe I could use it for a trade-in before there are any problems. The level of technology on the 2011 models -- okay, the extra gadgets -- is making the idea harder to pass up.

Here is one that I've been thinking about. Dornob shows this latest design from Christian Susana, a "modular motorhome hybrid camper car caravan combo." It's just the thing you need when you want to take your house with you to a destination, but don't want to lug it with you when you head into town. The two-seater car is great for short trips, and the shelter is inspired by the VW Microbus, as well as the classic Airstream trailers. This puppy is the perfect model for retirement.

Too bad it's not in production.

Monday, November 22, 2010

“I was only following orders.”

The continued disregard for the constitutional rights -- to say nothing of the human rights -- of air travelers, at the hands of Transportation Security Administration guards, is a developing story. There will be more on that in the next day or so. But I could not resist posting this tonight from Paul Mitchell via Matt Walker. A tip of the Black Hat to both of them.

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I have a hard time feeling sorry for how "demoralized" the agents who carry out oppressive government policies against the public get.

Those Chinese soldiers in the tank at Tienanmen Square? No sympathy? The angst felt by East German soldiers as they shot defectors trying to cross the Berlin Wall? I couldn't care less. The sleepless nights suffered by the SS guards at Auschwitz? I can't say it bothers me.

So when Americans are willing to accept a paycheck to do a thoroughly un-American thing, no, I don't have a lot of sympathy. These guys are in a union; they should act like it! Go on strike until this ridiculous policy is rescinded.

Until then, in the words of Gilbert & Sullivan, "a policeman's lot is not a happy one."

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... or, if anyone asks them, the guards can always avail themselves of the "Nuremburg defense." (See title, above.)

Mixed Blessings?

I picked up the Washington Post Express at the bus stop this morning. There it was, a photo of the Holy Father (not the one here, but we take what we can get), with the headline:

MIXED BLESSING: Pope's support of some condom use may mark a change in stance the church isn't ready for

I think it's the press that wasn't ready. Here's what was reported in the aforementioned periodical, in a piece by Victor L Simpson for the Associated Press:

Just a year after he said condoms could be making the AIDS crisis worse, Benedict said that for some people, such as male prostitutes, using them could represent a first step in assuming moral responsibility "in the intention of reducing the risk of infection." ... The pope says in his own writings that he takes personal responsibility for the remarks, meaning they are not official church teaching.

The “intention” of “assuming moral responsibility.” That is an important distinction here. In the case of a married couple with the husband infected by HIV, he might have a specifically informed intention NOT to impede nature through the use of a barrier method, but instead to prevent his wife from becoming infected. That does not change the objective moral error of using a barrier method, but it might possibly mitigate the degree of error for the husband. That said, to determine its moral objectivity requires complete honesty with oneself, and diligent recourse to one's confessor, so as to examine one's conscience more properly. Again, this is not the same as saying that using a condom is morally acceptable. The key here is the intention of the user, which is something that an empty suit on the evening news is in no position to determine.

Here's a quotation from the Pope, as it appeared in the actual Peter Seewald interview, courtesy of Father Z (with the good Father's trademark emphases preserved):

She [the Church] of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

Sounds a lot like what I said, doesn't it? And I didn't even look at his explanation for help with mine. "Great minds ..."

Meanwhile, in this clip from ITV News, writer Austin Ivereigy says using condoms as a contraception are still forbidden, but he manages to muddy the waters just the same. Despite the good intentions of those who attempt to explain the whys and the wherefores, there are two things that will be ignored in all the fuss over this.

1) For all the complaints that the Church has not shown sufficient compassion to HIV/AIDS victims, one-fourth of said victims throughout the world are being cared for in facilities under Catholic auspices. In some parts of Africa, they stand alone in this regard.

2) Most Catholics, including the real brainiacs here in the United States, will get their entire catechism lesson on this subject from newspapers like the Washington Post, and little else.

Here's where they should really go:

Jimmy Akin (for the National Catholic Register)
Simcha Fisher
Carol McKinley
Catholic World Report
Leticia Valesquez
Father John Zuhlsdorf (1, 2, or 3)

... and, of course, I'm always available right here, when my day job doesn't get in the way.

Sunday Mornings Elsewhere

You may remember this video from early this year, when the Archies over at Creative Minority Report posted it. The video was produced by North Point Media. It's a parody of those so-called "emerging churches." You know, the kind of "church for people who hate going to church." It's entertaining, it's enlightening, it's a warm fuzzy sort of thing. It only misses the one thing Christ actually told us to do under those circumstances: “Do this in memory of Me.”

Ricky Vines of Divine Ripples found this one over the weekend.

In this clip with over three million hits, Tamara Lowe does her little motivational rap at Christ Fellowship from last February. It's entertaining, it's enlightening, it's downright clever. Other than that ...

For a Catholic, there is little if anything with which to take issue here. It is less a case of what is here, than with what is not.

“Panem caelestem accipiam, et nomen Domini invocabo.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Paruparong Bukid

Today is "Sal's" birthday. I can't tell you her age, only that everyone says she looks ten years younger, and not just when I'm around. So this one's for her ...

Paruparong Bukid (Butterflies in the Field) is a humorous song comparing a butterfly to a Filipina dressed in her glamorous formal dress with tall butterfly sleeves, as she moves down the aisle of the church, swaying her hips as every one looks on. This recording in the first clip is performed by the Filipina singer and actress Nora Aunor.

Paru-parong bukid na lilipad-lipad
Sa tabi ng daan papaga-pagaspas
Isang bara ang tapis Isang dangkal ang manggas
Ang sayang de kola Isang piyesa ang sayad.

May payneta pa siya ... Uy!
May suklay pa mandin ... Uy!

Naguas de ojetes ang palalabasin
Haharap sa altar at mananalamin (mananalangin)1
At saka lalakad nang pakendeng-kendeng

The song is a popular staple of collegiate glee clubs, both in the Philippines and in the United States. In those settings, especially in the States, they tend to be embellished somewhat, often by starting out with a "paru-paru" sound, as if to emulate the butterfly's fluttering about. One of the most popular recordings on YouTube is by the Northwest Missouri State University Madraliers, as recently performed at the Liberty United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Missouri. By now, I'll bet you're curious as to what it means in English.

A butterfly from the fields; flitting and floating by;
waiting by the main trail, fluttering in the air.
Sari wrapped around her, sleeves as wide as my palm,
Skirt’s a trifle oversized,
2 ends dragging on the ground.

Hair held with a fancy pin. Oh!
Her hand twirling a comb. Oh!

Decorated half-slip, drawing others to peep.
She would face the altar, ogling her own image,
She would come and tease us, hips swaying like a duck.

"Swaying like a duck." Now fellas, THAT'S how you talk to a girl.

This third clip is an example of the folk dance associated with the song. It's cut off in a few places, but the others available were all little kids, so what can I say? Notice in this case, that the dresses are not the formal variety referred to earlier, but are known as the "Maria Clara" style more common to the provinces. I rather prefer them myself.

I also prefer when Sal performs this dance for me herself, which is really quite entertaining. She is that, and so much more. Happy birthday to my best friend. Mahal kita!

1 The term "mananalamin" appears in most versions, meaning "to gaze in the mirror. Some versions, however, apply the context of the reference to an altar, thus using "mananalangin," meaning "to pray."

2 Also translated as "shaped like a grand piano." Don't ask me why.

The Pope Said WHAT???

There are headlines out this weekend, that in a book soon to be published or just now published or whatever, Pope Benedict gave his approval to condoms -- and apparently, while he was on a roll, prostitution.

Just in time for the holidays. Nice.

To be a Catholic, is to believe that the Church, proclaiming the teaching of Christ through His Vicar (that would be the Pope; stay with me here), united with the teaching authority thereof (that would be the "Magisterium"), is not capable of error in matters of faith and morals. That's the short explanation. It'll do for now. Meanwhile, my Close and Personal Friends Jimmy Akin and Carol McKinley have both explained the situation already.

Akin explains not only what the Pope said, but what he did not say, and the distinction between authoritative teaching and private opinion. McKinley's presentation, while a bit dense in some places, is nonetheless comprehensive, and includes a link to the piece from Catholic World Report. Fortunately, it also includes a quote from CWR, since the link didn't work last time I checked.

UPDATE1: For all you Father Z fans, click here.

UPDATE2: Not to be outdone, Simcha Fisher tells us of how “it would be kind of weird not to acknowledge the brouhaha about the Pope’s comments that L’Osservatore Romano leaked, apparently following its mission to act as the poorly-informed, half-senile uncle who blurts out crazy stuff and makes things so awkward around the holidays.”

We'll probably have other updates as the day lingers on, when we're not celebrating Sal's birthday. (More on that later.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Scandals and Second Collections

Reform CCHD“If you want peace, work for justice.”

The quotation is attributed to the late Pope Paul VI. (It is also attributed to the American writer Henry Louis Mencken. Don't ask me why.)

But before the Mother Teresa quotation was my favorite and only bumper sticker, the decor of choice was this slogan of the American bishops' Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Not that I ever gave them any money, I just thought it was a cool bumper sticker. That, and the buttons.

But as we have learned in our earlier piece on bumper stickers, we cannot always expect a lot of depth to accompany the message. "elderj" of InterSection shares this discovery:

[A]s I thought about it, I realized that there are some assumptions buried deep within this seemingly innocuous statement. These assumptions are deeply and profoundly mistaken.

Unfortunately, the mistaken assumptions are not limited to slogans.

In this video clip, Bishop Roger Morin, chairman of the Subcommittee for CCHD, outlines the Review and Renewal of CCHD, explaining their aspiration to continue CCHD's work for the poor, and their resolution to strengthen it in the future. But will it be enough? Is this current endeavor on the level?

The mission of the CCHD has been “to address the root causes of poverty in America through promotion and support of community-controlled self-help organizations and through transformative social justice, education, and solidarity between poor and non-poor.” Since the program began in 1969 as the "National Catholic Crusade Against Poverty," the faithful have learned that money raised by the bishops every year, obtained through an annual second collection in the parishes, has gone in part to organizations and endeavors, which pursue causes in violation of Church teaching and practice.

This is most notable in participation in efforts which favor abortion and various "family planning" services such as contraception, as well as those groups which promote the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. No less explosive has been the recent discovery, that CCHD funds were being used to support the radical political group "Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now" (ACORN) sparked outrage among the faithful. That support was recently and resolutely terminated. But the problems aren't over yet.

This year, LifeSiteNews has reported that as many as ten American bishops have disassociated themsevles from the annual collection. In addition, Sofia Guerra of Always Catholic has done significant research into the scandalous use of CCHD funds. (Sofia once told me: “I just go to their own website, and follow the money.”)

This weekend, Catholics in the United States will be called upon to give generously to the annual collection for the CCHD. But until this problem is solved, the sincerity of appeals for "helping the poor" would surely ring hollow. Many priests will be placed in a position to promote that which they know to be cooperation in morally objectionable activity. It is they, not the CCHD, who are worthy of our support.

This weekend, form your conscience according to the mind of your Mother the Church, not a bunch of damage-control-obsessed paper-hangers. DO NOT CONTRIBUTE TO THE CATHOLIC CAMPAIGN FOR HUMAN DEVELOPMENT! Tell your pastor of this refusal, and tell him why. Tell your bishop of this refusal, and tell him why. Instead of enabling the outrage, give directly to those charities and programs which are authentically Catholic.

Again, tell them of this, and tell them why.

FAMW: Can This “Be” Mongolia?

Mongolia is the most sparsely populated independent country in the world, and those who do live there don't all live in yurts, as this will show. Anyway, it seems the "flash mob" phenomenon has reached them. Of course, rock and roll was introduced in the 1960s, despite the Communist government's efforts to prevent it. The 90s brought hip-hop, rap, and techno, and the "boy band" and "girl band" phenomenon has been seen this past decade.

It was only a matter of time ...

This episode happened just last week, to celebrate the 2nd birthday of a company or product called “Be.” The best information that we can get, is that it's either a wireless service provider. Either that or they're just imitating the T-Mobile ads by BE-ing on their cellphones. It doesn't exactly look as though the crowd was caught off-guard, but we gotta hand it to these kids for working so hard to spread joy in their part of world -- and for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

When Worlds Collide:
Pop Culture in the Late 60s and Early 70s

David “Iowahawk” Burke is the mad genius of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, and one of the most hilarious blogger-pundits in the known universe. The Iowa native and vintage car buff brought this little number to Facebook, which I myself had actually found a few years ago. It was from the "polyester era" of The Lawrence Welk Show (the early 70s would be my guess). When you hear these two kids singing Brewer and Shipley's "One Toke Over The Line," you have to wonder what got into the "Champagne Music Maker." Especially when he closes out the episode by announcing: “There you've heard a modern spiritual by Gail and Dale.”

It was here that the "Greatest Generation" was confronted with its own demon spawn, and the juxtposition manifested itself in the strangest ways in the late 60s, even on into the early 70s. This was the substance of a Facebook conversation involving several of us aging Boomers. One guy pulled out this November 1976 segment of The Mike Douglas Show. Frank Zappa appeared to promote his then-new album "Black Napkins." Here he performs a selection from the album, "Black Napkins." Notice he has to use the studio band instead of his own. The musicians union kicked some serious @$$ in those days.

From there ensues a conversation about musical influences and eclectic musical tastes, with an august panel of experts consisting of Douglas, Zappa, obligatory hip black dude Jimmie Walker, and Kenny Rogers, looking ever so sharp in his bell-bottomed zoot suit, still going through his post-sychedelic-early-disco phase. They get to see a claymation film that Zappa had produced. He may have been obscene and obnoxious, definitely controversial, but Zappa was probably one of the most astute and intelligent guys in rock at the time, even as his life was cut short from prostate cancer in 1993, at the age of 52.

“What a long strange trip it's been,” don't you think?

Or don't you?

The Lost Diocese

Dear Person Who Read My Other Post:

Hey, there, thanks for stopping by.

There was a great deal of interest generated by the piece entitled “Santo Subito!” which briefly touched on recent tragedy in Baghdad. The account of the little five-year old boy named Adam has obviously touched many hearts. Indeed, the entire episode should be of concern to all Catholics, especially the Syriac Catholic community, which includes Syriac Catholics living in the United States.

That's why I'm looking for their bishop.

A visit to the closest thing to a website, for the Diocese of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark (New Jersey), listed a number in that city that is disconnected. I called the office of the Roman Archdiocese of Newark (also in New Jersey), and they gave me a number in Bayonne (Bayonne???). The voice mail picked up, with the name of a man with (no offense) a rather thick accent, whose name I therefore could not discern.

Then the nice lady at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called me back, with a third number, one with a secretary. She told me it would ring a lot, and then the voice mail would probably pick up anyway. Well, I called, and it did. I'm pretty sure it was the same guy. Not the bishop, mind you, just some other guy.

Honest, people. All I want is an e-mail address. Then I can send the link, and you can get back to figuring out whether a yutz like me who can bring this much attention to your plight, is of any use to you.

You know where to find me. Right here.

Very truly yours,

David L Alexander

Guitar Workshop: Percussive Guitar
(Lessons 4 & 5: Left & Right Hand Independence)

Long title, huh?

Well, it's a mouth full, because this week's lesson is a hand full. TWO hands full, to be more precise, because this week, the left and right hands declare their independence.

You'll notice from the beginning how the hammering-on and pulling-off of notes with the left hand, is a prominent feature in percussive guitar. Not only is it a percussive action in its own right (or left, actually), but it frees the right hand to act more on its own in that whole slapping-and-taping thing.

You'll also notice that this week's video clips are equipped with the option of closed captioning. Those in our American audience who find the British accent too hard to follow, or anyone who finds it easier to follow regardless, may want to avail themselves of this option. And, as usual, there is more information about the artist and his work, both at his website, and his MySpace page.

Our next lesson will be in two weeks, due to the Thanksgiving holiday. When we return, our series on percussive guitar will conclude with a Dale Campbell original composition.

Anatomy of a Bumper Sticker

This bumper sticker to the left, with a quotation from Mother Teresa, is the only one I ever put on my car. No one could possibly argue with it, even those who want free abortions for everybody. The result is an image that actually stands for something, yet alienates no one, at least if the viewer is at all honest with himself. Be that as it may, most bumper stickers are not too deep when it comes to expressing significant truths. If that isn't bad enough, most people base their "convictions" on little more than that which is expressed on bumper stickers.

Someone sent me an explanation of this other one; you know, the one with the seven symbols cleverly spelling something. I don't know who wrote this. It explains the letters, as well as what would be more likely to happen than "coexisting." Now, the explanation does not take into account the more moderate adherents of certain belief systems. Then again, those are obviously not the ones with which one has to contend in this scenario, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Five Second Theatre:
Not Just Older, But Cooler Too

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.

Launched in the wake of Joe Camel, this ad campaign was intended to rebrand cigarettes for a new era. One where they're totally awesome and you'll look like Steve McQueen jumping over ten flaming alligators in a 1988 Kawasaki ZX-10. It worked so well, you have emphysema. What's that? You don't smoke? You did when you saw this ad. You just don't even remember, from all the smoking you did.

Santo Subito!

They were among the first civilizations of the world, and one of the oldest cultures to survive to the present. The were the first of the Gentiles to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. During the First World War, roughly half a million Assyrian Christians shared the mortal fate of the Armenian and Greek Christians, at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Today, the Christians of Assyria, in a land which is now the northern part of Iraq, are a small minority in the Middle East, a region dominated by Islam.

On Sunday, October 31, the eve of All Saints Day, seventy Assyrian Christians were massacred while attending Divine Liturgy in Baghdad. Amidst the horror, a [three]-year-old boy named Adam shouted against the Islamic extremists to stop the shooting. One of them responded by putting a gun into his mouth, and pulling the trigger. His courage for the sake of the Gospel, and the innocence of his tender years, by themselves would surely warrant the declaration, that he is even now raised to the Altar of God.

Saint Adam, pray for us.

(H/T to The Crescat.)

UPDATE: Are you a Syriac Catholic, or do you know someone who is? Click here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dolan Revisited

A good many Catholics are happy about the appointment of Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the presidency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Some believe it represents a fundamental shift in the overall leadership of the conference, but in case anyone didn't notice ...

Progressive Catholics were actually divided on the prospect of Kicanas getting the job. Some intellectuals looked forward to what they envisioned as an enlightened thinker at the helm -- Jesuit Father Thomas Reese has called Kicanas "the leading liberal hope" -- who was not only considered sympathetic to "gay rights," but who was said to have done effective damage control with certain clerical sex abuse cases in his diocese. But it wasn't enough for leaders of Survivors Network Abused by Priests (SNAP). And Co-Director Anne Barrett Doyle of Bishop-Accountability.org says that "Bishop Kicanas has failed to account honestly for his role in one of the most catastrophic abuse cases in recent years."

Even among those who preferred Dolan as president had reservations. There is sufficient internet chatter about his tendency to compromise too much (except on abortion, where he has openly taken "Catholic" politicians to task for infidelity). It is also worth noting that it took three ballots to elect him, after being second to Kicanas on the first. Was this a true vote of confidence, or just a wish by the body of the conference to avoid embarrassment?

Personally, I'm not impressed with Rocco Palmo's I-coulda-seen-this-coming schtick, but he does provide some decent post-mortem.

Either way, there is one more opportunity for American Catholics to send a message to their bishops. We'll hear about that Friday. Now then, I've got ten more decades of the Rosary to finish. A deal's a deal.


I'm quoting Rocco Palmo word for word here, albeit with one minor embellishment:

"For the first time in the history of the US bishops, a vice-president standing for the presidency has been denied the top post, losing a stunning election to the archbishop of New York.

"By a 128-111 vote, Archbishop Timothy Dolan bested Bishop Gerald 'I Didn't Know The Guy Was A Perv' Kicanas of Tucson on the third ballot at this morning's elections in Baltimore."

Thanks to all who participated in our “Big-@$$ Spiritual Bouquet” this morning. There is no doubt that prayer ensured this victory over the tired old status quo. If you're not finished with the Bouquet, keep going. Dolan could use it. (Note to CMK: Now you owe ME dinner.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

The (So-Called) Kicanas Conundrum

Years ago, when I (occasionally) wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald, I suggested to the editor, that an interesting feature could be written of our bishop at the annual bishops' conference meeting, then held every November in Washington; what the role of the conference was, our own bishop's role while there, including committee meetings and other appointments. The idea never went anywhere. One can only speculate; either he didn't like being followed around, or he was afraid of what we'd find out. I dunno.

They moved the meeting to Baltimore a few years ago, ostensibly as Baltimore was what would otherwise be known as "the primatial see" -- that is, the original seat of a diocese in what is now the United States of America. (Actually, it was more likely a cost-cutting measure.) Whatever the reason, the meeting started today. Among the items on the agenda tomorrow, is the election of executive officers for the next three years. It has long been the practice, that the incumbent vice-president of the bishops' conference is the one elected to be president.

And that, quoth the Bard, is the rub.

The Most Reverend Gerald Kicanas is the bishop of Tucson, Arizona. According to the National Catholic Register, while seminary rector of Mundelein in Chicago, he enabled the ordination of Daniel McCormack, a young man with a known history of homosexual encounters, who went on to become a serial sex abuser. And what did our heir apparent have to say for himself? Look no further than his deposition, as quoted in the Register:

It would have been grossly unfair not to have ordained [McCormack]. There was a sense that his activity was part of the developmental process and that he had learned from the experience. I was more concerned about his drinking. We sent him to counseling for that. I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently.

This despite a 1961 Vatican document, warning against ordaining men with same-sex attraction, and which has gained considerably more attention in recent years. Further, his taking exception to the Register's coverage, as well as CatholicCulture.org's analysis of his legalistic finagling, casts even more doubt on his judgment and (uh, sorry, Your Immenseness, but it really comes down to your) character.

Over the last several weeks, faithful Catholics on the internet have mobilized to urge their bishops not to elect Kicanas to the top position, citing the potential for scandal that would be caused by such imprudent decisions as those which he has made. Their effort is an important one, one which the bishops would be wise to heed. Such an appointment to the presidency would be the worst decision they could possibly make, one that will bite them all in the hindquarters for years to come.

So, here's why they're tempted to do it anyway.

It could probably be shown that more than one third of the nation's bishops should be charged with aiding and abetting of felons, once they run out of excuses, or lawyers, or both. Placed against that standard, Kicanas isn't exactly smelling like a rose. But he realizes he has plenty of company, and that the vice-president of the bishops' conference is a shoe-in for the presidency, after three years as number two. For his confreres to suddenly listen to the faithful, and do the right thing at his expense, would not go over well with him. He just might not take it very well.

And what then? Possibly what this writer predicted earlier this year.

Sooner or later, they will run out of whipping boys. I predict that in the coming decade, bishops will no longer limit themselves to turning on their priests, but will begin to turn on one another.

What better catalyst for such a collective hissy-fit than for such a visible appointment to slip from one's grasp?

It is difficult enough for most of us to do the right thing. How much more so, in that venue where the Evil One is working overtime, and can do the most damage? That is why we are calling upon all readers of man with black hat in our first-time-ever, very special “Big-@$$ Spiritual Bouquet” initiative. Over the course of tomorrow morning, while at his day job, and trying not to look too obvious, yours truly will be praying the entire Rosary, all fifteen decades of it (and, no, there are not twenty, I'll explain later), to help in the spiritual fortification of the nation's shepherds, especially his own. Let others among the vast mwbh readership do the same tomorrow morning, especially for their own. Together, we just might be able to rally the Communion of Angels and Saints, to knock some sense into those guys' heads.

Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, pray for them.

UPDATE: CNN reports that Kicanas "rejected allegations he allowed the ordination of a priest who went on to abuse children." In other words, what he said in the deposition. Meanwhile, in a suprisingly balanced piece (because somebody had to, right?), NPR gives both sides of the man's story.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The “Other” Botafumeiro

The Botafumeiro is a famous thurible found in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral in Spain. During his recent visit to that country, the Holy Father had the opportunity to see it in action.

One of the largest censers in the world, weighing nearly 180 pounds, the Botafumeiro is suspended from a pulley mechanism in the dome on the roof of the church. The current pulley mechanism was installed in 1604. Shovels are used to fill it with almost 90 pounds of charcoal and incense. It is pushed initially to start its motion. Eight red-robed tiraboleiros (meaning literally "incense carriers") pull the ropes, producing increasingly large oscillations of the censer. It can reach speeds of over forty miles per hour.

Meanwhile, at St John the Beloved in McLean, we have a replica of the Botafumeiro, which yours truly is displaying here (and which can be viewed better by clicking on the image). The vessel itself is about one foot high and eight inches wide, which is quite large for any thurible devoted to parish use, hence it is not used very often. But we dragged it out of mothballs, and persuaded the sacristan to act as photographer, for this occasion. If you want to read more about the genuine article, go to Gloria.TV.