Saturday, March 31, 2012

Obligatory “Obamacare Meets SCOTUS” Post-Mortem

We are accustomed to looking to Reason.TV for good solid analysis of current events. With the past week of the government's presentation before the High Court for the health care mandate, Senior editor Damon Root gives a rundown from the end of each day's proceedings.

It does not bode well for the government's case at this point.

For the most part, the judges' reactions have been predictable, at least in terms of a general leaning. The liberal justices of the Court -- Brayer, Ginsberg, Kagan, and Sotomayor -- have considered the prospect of the uninsured being an unnecessary drain on the insured, and the subsequent rise in costs, something which may be covered under the constitutional power of the Federal government to regulate interstate commerce (the so-called "commerce clause").

On the other hand, three of the more conservative justices -- Alito, Roberts, and Scalia -- have challenged the very notion of how an affirmative ruling would affect individual rights, and violate the role of the Constitution in limiting the power of central government, as opposed to expanding it. While Justice Thomas has remained silent at this phase, as he usually does, he will undoubtedly not rule favorably.

But it is the "swing vote" of Justice Kennedy that may prove the biggest surprise, as his questions have been the most blistering.

Finally, we present Hot Air's Ed Morrissey, who interviewed Professor Randy Barnett of the Georgetown University Law Center. What is at stake here for the government's case, may not just be the mandate, but the entire law, taking the President's signature cause back to the drawing board. We can expect a ruling from the Supreme Court by the first of June.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The sacred time draws near ...

Readers of man with black hat will notice that there are certain times of the year, each and every year, when our "normal programming" is put aside. There is a reason, one that has underscored our mission for nearly a decade:

We’re on a mission from God.

With the end of Vespers this evening, the Eastern churches in communion with Rome end the Great Fast (what the West refers to as "Lent"), in anticipation of "Lazarus Saturday," when the Gospel account is read of Our Lord raising his friend from the dead, a prelude to His own resurrection. For the West, this coming Sunday begins Holy Week (known as "Great Week" in the East), as we follow Our Lord entering Jerusalem, and the terrible fate that awaits Him. The following Thursday evening will begin the Sacred Triduum, the most sacred three days in the Christian year, which culminate in the Paschal Feast on the following Sunday.

We here at mwbh invite you to follow us on this sojourn beginning this Sunday. Stay tuned, and stay in touch.

FAMW: One in 176 Million

Actually, make that SEVEN in 176 million, which are the odds of yours truly not having to come in on Monday. This pertains to having broken down and purchasing seven tickets for the “Mega Millions” lottery, now worth 540 million dollars (at last count). As fortune would have it, we developed contingency plans back in December of 2009, so we will not be so easily swayed by someone else's ideas of what to do next.

And yet, just knowing how quickly our rich uncle -- Sam, maybe you know him -- could go through it, is this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy. (By the way, if Uncle Sam won the jackpot, it would settle 1/250 of one percent of the national debt.)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Earl Scruggs (1924-2012)

The banjo man who co-wrote the instrumental “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” cannot be credited with inventing bluegrass music. That prize goes to the late mandolinist and singer of the "high lonesome sound" by the name of Bill Monroe. But Scruggs can be thanked in large part for bringing it to mainstream audiences, if only for his cameo appearances on "The Beverly Hillbillies" in the early 1960s, after having written its theme song, "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." And while other banjoists in the southern mountains played in a three-finger style, it was Scruggs who gave it a new complexity, one which helped define the signature of the bluegrass sound.

After joining with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys in 1945, he left in 1948 with guitarist Lester Flatt to form "The Foggy Mountain Boys," later known simply as "Flatt and Scruggs." Unlike many folk musicians, Scruggs remained conspicuously non-political. And unlike other country musicians of the old school, Scruggs spent a lifetime redefining himself to successive generations of enthusiasts.

Earl Scruggs died on Wednesday morning of natural causes. He was 88 years old.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Boyz in the Hoodies

We have been reading of events in Florida, where a Latino man on a neighborhood watch shot a young black man, ostensibly in self-defense. Americans are outraged by this form of vigilantism, which is why filmmaker Spike Lee sent to his 200,000 followers on Twitter, the home address of the responsible party.

Or so he thought.

However, the Edgewater Circle address Mr. Lee re-tweeted out is not part of the gated Retreat at Twin Lakes where the shooting took place and where Mr. Zimmerman lives. The area is not even a gated community ... Elaine McClain told [The Smoking Gun] that she and her husband were “afraid” due to the online linking of her address to Zimmerman. “We’re keeping everything locked,” she said. McClain added that the couple was particularly unnerved by a letter mailed to them at their home. On the envelope, she said, were printed the words “Taste The Rainbow,” the slogan for Skittles. Martin was carrying a pack of Skittles and a can of ice tea when he was gunned down by Zimmerman.

At last report, the McClains were staying at an undisclosed hotel. Wanna guess where they should send the bill?

Even the President himself is indignant that this entire affair has become overly political, if he doesn't include the Congressional Black Caucus members standing up in front of the podium the other day wearing hoodies and carrying signs.

It is wrong for parents to have to bury their children; children should have to bury their parents. That's the way it should work, and when it doesn't, we are left wondering how this could be. Sadly, getting his name copyrighted will not bring him back. Further, and as a rule, neighborhood watch volunteers should never, NEVER be armed, no matter what the guns laws in their state allow. They effectively give up those rights when they take on such duties, especially when the 911 operator tells them not to pursue a subject. Last but not least, it would benefit an entire generation of young men of color, if they were to lose the romance over the "gangsta" look, pull up their pants to their natural waistline, wear a belt, and lose the bad-@$$ attitude. You're living in the suburbs now, junior. Your parents have "overcome," and you're on your way to college, reaping the benefits for which they have worked so hard, and for which your grandparents suffered in ways you could not begin to fathom. Deal with it.

All that said ...

Until the investigation is over, we really don't know the whole story. It won't stop guys like the Reverend Al Sharpton, who make a living by sticking their noses wherever there's a race card to be played. But if the press is going to use five-plus-year-old images of the two parties involved, to make one look more scruffy and the other more young and cherubic than either has been lately, we probably can't count on them to tell us anyway, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: Margot Leverett and the Klezmer Mountain Boys

Time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature.

There was a time when, as a young man, yours truly would dance the hora, a type of circle dance originating in the Balkans, and popular among Jews both in Israel and the diaspora. The music accompanying the dance was a lot like this, only ... well, let it suffice to say that jazz does not have a monopoly on fusion.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Greetings from Tipton, Kansas

It sits in north central Kansas, about thirty miles north of I-70, with a population of 275 (up from the 2010 Census count of 210). With so many stories of the death of small towns in America, at least one in the heart of America clings to life, with a story of its own, including the local Catholic church. Some of the credit for the present state of the town belongs to one man, Fred Smith, a former classmate of yours truly from high school in Ohio.

There are reports that the local restaurant is in need of someone to manage the place and be the head cook. Dear reader, could this be your Lake Woebegon?

POSTSCRIPT: If I didn't live in the city, I'd live in a place like this. Never in the suburbs; never again.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Judica me, Deus ...

“Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab homine iniquo et doloso eripe me: quia tu es Deus meus et fortitudo mea.”

“Judge me, O God, and distinguish my cause against an ungodly nation: O deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man: for Thou art my God and my strength.”

Today the Roman church celebrated the beginning of a season within the Lenten fast known as "Passiontide." The Introit (Entrance Antiphon) for the Mass of the day -- in both the traditional and reformed usage -- begins with the prayer which is traditionally prayed by the priests and his ministers at the foot of the altar. It is taken from Psalm 42(43), which was composed to inspire during a time of tribulation for the Chosen People. Not only does the Psalmist plead with God for justice upon himself, but against his enemies.

Amidst the cry for help, there is more. There is a longing.

“Emitte lucem tuam et veritatem tuam: ipsa me deduxerunt et adduxerunt in montem sanctum tuum et in tabernacula tua.”

“Send out Thy light and Thy truth: they have led me and brought me unto Thy holy hill, even unto Thy tabernacles.”

Just as Elijah would climb the heights to await the still small voice, just as Christ led the Three to the height of Mount Tabor for a glimpse of His majesty, just as the priest would begin at the first step of his pilgrimage to sacrifice -- so too the Psalmist prayed to be led up to the mountain of God, that he might dwell with Him in His holy place.

Such was the prayer of the Church today, as Her faithful children are beleaguered by persecution in the public square.

+    +    +

We should have seen this coming.

As we have predicted here for the last three years, it will get worse before it gets better. In the aftermath of the most recent Presidential elections, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (then of Denver) rendered a sad appraisal of our state of affairs:

November [of 2008] showed us that 40 years of American Catholic complacency and poor formation are bearing exactly the fruit we should have expected. Or to put it more discreetly, the November elections confirmed a trend, rather than created a new moment, in American culture ...

Some Catholics in both political parties are deeply troubled by these issues. But too many Catholics just don’t really care. That’s the truth of it. If they cared, our political environment would be different. If 65 million Catholics really cared about their faith and cared about what it teaches, neither political party could ignore what we believe about justice for the poor, or the homeless, or immigrants, or the unborn child. If 65 million American Catholics really understood their faith, we wouldn’t need to waste each other’s time arguing about whether the legalized killing of an unborn child is somehow ‘balanced out’ or excused by three other good social policies ...

We need to stop over-counting our numbers, our influence, our institutions and our resources, because they’re not real. We can’t talk about following St Paul and converting our culture until we sober up and get honest about what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We need to stop lying to each other, to ourselves and to God by claiming to “personally oppose” some homicidal evil — but then allowing it to be legal at the same time.

We went in the space of one week from “Laetare Sunday” as a respite of rejoicing during the Great Fast, to “Judica Sunday” a call for the verdict of a Just Judge. Have the sins of a nation come to visit her inhabitants? How would her children respond?

“Judge me, O God ...”

VIDEO: Inspired by the Antiphon for the Magnificat of Second Vespers: “Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see My day; he saw it, and was glad.” (John 8:56)

“Mad Men” Is (Are?) Returning

The four-time Emmy winning chain-smoker about life on Madison Avenue in the 1960s is back. But does the on-screen sexism, drinking, and smoking capture the office culture of the early part of that decade? According to a Newsweek secretary-turned-correspondent, it does. Here we see a glimpse of the musings of Eleanor Clift, as elaborated upon in a recent piece in The Daily Beast.

The mature themes of marital infidelity and latent moral depravity which are treated in this saga, do not make for family fare. It should even be viewed by adolescents only with parental guidance, as its authenticity is that much in need of careful navigation. And it begs the question: did the "summer of love" and subsequent liberation of sexual mores throughout the 1970s with a new generation, find its inspiration in the early 1960s with a previous generation?

The latest season of Mad Men premieres tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern on AMC.

Friday, March 23, 2012

FAMW: Meet the “new spirit,” same as the old spirit.

Alicia Huntley writes: “The story of how the U.S. wound up with the income tax is the story of two wars, a Supreme Court justice on his death bed, and Donald Duck.” This 1943 propaganda film, approved for the war effort by the Treasury Department and winner of an Academy Award, could probably be dusted off and used today to remind us all, of the duty to pay for things we elected someone else to authorize, whether we wanted them to or not. Until that happens, it will be sufficient for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Month’s Mind

By the Middle Ages, the first thirty days after the departing of a soul were known as the "minding days," at which time one remembered the deceased; that is to say, "had them in mind." One could have a Requiem Mass said on the third and seventh days after, or even have a series of "Gregorian Masses" said, one Requiem Mass each day for the thirty days, usually by an order or institute dedicated to such work. The thirtieth day after one's passing marked the end of the "minding days," and so its Mass was known as a “Month’s Mind.” During penitential seasons such as Lent, these Masses, or one to mark the anniversary, were the only ones permitted other than the Mass designated in the Ordo for that day.

So tonight, in the chapel of a local rectory, thirty days after entering into Eternity, Dad will get the Mass he would have wanted for much of his life, as a private Low Requiem Mass (the traditional form, in Latin) will be said in his memory. “Missa Defunctorum In Die Trigesimo” is its official name. In attendance will be only a priest, assisted by an acolyte in the form of yours truly, both joined by the choirs of Angels and Saints.

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: Ruin

Time once again for our midday (midafternoon, whatever) Wednesday feature.

We know how much you all love talking about zombies, vampires, and the end of the world as we know it. Here is an eight-minute animated short film set in a post-apocalyptic universe. Wes Ball spent two years making this out of his Los Angeles-based Oddball Animation studio. And while there are aspirations for making it into a longer piece, it does the job as it is. Read more about it here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Romney: “Vote for the other guy.”

This forty seconds of comedy gold played in, of all places, Peoria, Illinois. Mitt Romney addressed a woman who insisted (apparently) that her "pursuit of happiness" required free birth control.

What is it about birth control that so many people need to have it for free? What about a chicken in every pot? What about season tickets to the Chicago Bears' home games? Come on, America, we deserve to set our sights a bit higher!

Wait, I've got it: free public school educa ... oh, that's right, we already get that. Never mind.

Obligatory Bristol Palin Retrospective

Personally, I am somewhat ambivalent about Bristol Palin, the eldest daughter of former Alaska governor and former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Yes, there are Hollywood celebrities who have said some very terrible things about her, and this does bring her a certain unwanted notoriety. On the other hand, the unwanted notoriety has given her a reason for some WANTED notoriety, in the form of an autobiography, after having done little more in life than being her mother's daughter. As a result, she'll never have to see a dime from the father of her child. (What was his name again?) She will continue to earn a livelihood for the foreseeable future, by doing little more than ... you guessed it.

So, in a completely shameless attempt to get on the bandwagon, we here at mwbh decided to do a search of past works which included her name. Here is what we found:

August 2008: True Hearts

February 2009: Beyond the Palin

August 2009: (Not So) Alarming News

December 2010: Another (Fair and Balanced) Sarah Palin Moment

Sometimes certain traits of character rub off on the children, and sometimes they really, totally ... don't! For now, we may never now, but did you know that her mom's appearance on NBC's Saturday Night Live in 2008 drew the show's highest overnight rating in 14 years? And as you can observe in this clip, she was a real class act about it, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Stan Lee Explains It All For You

In the issue of TIME magazine dated today, the regular "10 Questions" column features comic book maestro Stan Lee.

Which are you personally more afraid of: mutants, zombies or space aliens?

I don't understand zombies, because it seems to me that somebody who is dead and comes back to life should be so grateful that he's here living again -- why would he want to eat up other people? I think the first thing he'd do is get a nice apartment and figure out how he can make a living and get a girlfriend. I'm personally more afraid of what's really going on with nuclear weapons and things like that.

In underscoring the lack of forethought on the part of zombies, he fails to mention that most human characters aren't much smarter. A case in point is virtually every horror flick ever made. You just know that something wicked is behind that door, but you can't help but open it anyway without a crucifix or a wooden stake in hand, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Random Thoughts: An Über-Celtic Postscript

The site of an old-fashioned hardware store in southern Arlington is now the home of P Brennan's Irish Pub. We went there for the first time, Sal and I. She had the Wexford Lamb Stew; I had the Corned Beef and Cabbage. We both washed it down with hard cider. It was noisy, to be sure, but it was Saint Paddy's Day, and more noise than usual at a public house would be the norm. There were an awful lot of people wearing Kelly green tee shirts, which by Irish standards is a little garish, which is to say, American.

Afterwards, we headed across town (that is to say, across the river) to attend a lecture at The Avalon School given by my friend, Elizabeth Kantor, concerning her new book, "The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After." Many women have felt the need to settle for less when it comes to men, relationships, sex, and marriage. Dr Kantor believes otherwise, and maintains that the works of the English author Jane Austen can show them the way. Sal was so impressed that she bought a copy for a young Filipina of her acquaintance. In talking about the book on the way home, we discussed how much of this dilemma facing girls in America today, is not as much of a problem in the Philippines, where even in the present day, courtship is a more civilized ritual, and a family's blessing of the proceedings is still de rigueur in polite society.

I can still remember when I first heard Van Morrison's album featuring The Chieftains entitled "Irish Heartbeat." Paul was just a wee lad in those days, and he and I would sing along with it. In this video clip from the late 1990s, Morrison performs the first track on the album in its usual 4/4 time, rather than as a waltz as is traditional to the melody.

The Emerald Isle currently suffers from the same economic challenges as do we, despite a boom in the late 2000s when it was found to be a source of cheap labor for the tech industries. The price of real estate went through the roof. If you live in the States, you can guess what happened next. And yet it remains a source of artistic inspiration around the world, where the feast of Saint Patrick is celebrated even in Russia.

Today I stopped in again at P Brennan's on my way home from church for their Sunday brunch. They have local musicians stop in for an informal jam session from noon to three. There were about eight of them this time around; I don't know the usual number. It's been a long time since I did anything like this, I'd probably show up one day with my mandolin and sort of stay in the background, hoping not to cause any trouble.

We'll end this with a verse from Chesterton:

From the great Gales of Ireland
Are the men that God made mad,
for all their wars are merry
And all their songs are sad.

And so it goes.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My Annual Über-Celtic Moment

Longtime readers of man with black hat have read most of this before, but we have some new people in our audience.

So the rest of you, humor me.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Patrick (387-493), the patron saint of Ireland. It is on the Emerald Isle that the day was traditionally a religious holiday, when the bars would close and the churches would be full out of obligation. Only in recent years has the Irish feast seen a more rebellious spirit, complete with parades and green beer, which is definitely an American influence.

Growing up in a postwar Catholic environment, we were taught that there were two kinds of people; those who were Irish, and those who wish they were. There were the Irish nuns who favored the Irish kids, including the unforgettable Sister Mary Mel, who wasn't above calling some miscreant a "jackass." My own family fell into neither category. I came to dismiss the whole notion of St Paddy's Day -- indeed, the whole notion of being Irish -- as a license for certain people to be more arrogant and obnoxious than they already were.

Then I went to college, where I discovered Irish music. I mean the real thing, not the over-romanticized "Christmas-in-Killarney-on-St-Patrick's-in-June" that passed itself off as genuine the whole time. I simply could not get enough of it. I used to watch the Saint Patrick's Day parade in Cincinnati, which included the carrying of the statue of the Saint, which the local chapter of the Ancient Order of Hibernians would "steal" in the middle of night, from what was once the German parish in Mount Adams. (Long story.) There was also the local Irish dance school, with boys and girls who never imagined that, a quarter century later, they could do it for fame and fortune in shows like "Riverdance."

Who knew?

By the end of the 1970s I spent Sunday evenings working at a coffeehouse, and I helped broker a deal that brought Clannad to Cincinnati on their first American tour. I even gave harpist/vocalist Máire Brennan (pronounced MOY-uh) a ride back to where she was staying. Otherwise shy and aloof, she managed to laugh at my jokes. That seemed to matter at the time.

I saw Máire again in 1987, in a music video on VH1, for a song entitled "Something to Believe In." She was also the haunting voice in the Volkswagen commercials. Naturally she's world-famous now, and probably wouldn't return my calls. Although she did write me a long and possibly heartfelt note when she autographed my copy of their album. I say "possibly" because it was in Gaelic, so I'll never know for sure, especially since it was among my collection that was stolen from my apartment in Georgetown back in '94. (Bob, if you're reading this, tell your rich white trash buddies that I'd really like to have it back. And before you get defensive, the neighbors all thought YOU did it!) Máire also came out with a book in 2001 entitled "The Other Side of the Rainbow." She continues to tour and so on, but I knew her when.

(Sigh ...) Anyway, back to the '70s.

While the whole world (including "Sal") was going bonkers over disco, the feast became an annual ritual, of spending most of the accompanying weekend hanging out at Hap's Irish Pub in the Hyde Park section of Cincinnati, or at Arnold's Bar and Grill downtown. Even when I moved to Washington in 1980, I learned Irish dancing (if not quite what appears in the above video), Irish folk tales, and the like. But the upscale bars in the Nation's capital weren't as quaint as the neighborhood pubs in my old hometown. I was under no illusions that this heritage was one that I could claim for my own.

VIDEO: The extraordinary scene and the music in O'Connor Square, Tullamore at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann 2007 when 2,700 musicians converged to establish a World Record for the largest session. Here we have a variety of traditional Irish music played by musicians of many nationalities, followed by the reaction of Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, Director-General of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

In 1982, that claim became even more elusive. I married a girl whose grandparents came over from Slovakia, and who grew up hearing Slovak around the house. This pretty much killed any enthusiasm for all things Irish around our house. You see, I learned a piece of American Catholic history that the mostly Irish-American church historians didn't exactly wear on their sleeves.

By the time eastern Europeans came to America in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Irish were already the big fish in the little blue-collar pond, and didn't mind letting the "hunkies" in the coal towns and factory neighborhoods know it. Going up the food chain, it got worse. Catholics of Eastern Rites -- with customs and liturgy similar to the Orthodox, but in communion with Rome -- had married priests. The mostly-Irish bishops assumed they were either schismatics, or worse. Their wives couldn't be treated in Catholic hospitals, and their children were barred from Catholic schools. Confused as these bishops were, they concluded that the faithful would be even more confused by the presence of married Catholic priests. Thus, by the 1920s, The (Irish-)American bishops pressured Rome to bar the (legitimately) married priests from coming to America, let alone ministering. It has been shown that most of the growth of Eastern Orthodoxy in North America can be attributed to the stubbornness and downright ignorance of the (Irish-)American bishops of the time. (Hey, guys, nice work!)

This latency towards all things Irish got a reprieve when the marriage tanked in 1990. Then one night -- it was about 1998, as I remember -- I was interviewed for a writing job by a priest who edited a major Catholic periodical. A native of Dublin, he reminded me of what really mattered:

“Patrick was not Irish, and on his Feast Day, we do not celebrate being Irish; we celebrate being Catholic.”

VIDEO: When a film crew arrives at an inner city Dublin National School to record the children, the result is a warm, funny and spontaneous animated documentary, featuring young children telling the story of John the Baptist, The birth of Jesus, the Crucifixion, Saint Patrick and others. Give Up Yer Aul Sins combines simple humour with clever animation to create films with a timeless quality and appeal to a family audience.

I always knew that the Alexanders came from a small town near Verdun, in the Lorraine province of France. But in recent years, we learned that before the 18th century, the Alexandre line was expatriated from Scotland, a result of the Rebellion when England overtook them. I was later to find out, that the man known by the Roman name of Maganus Sucatus (Maewyn Succat in Gaelic) was of a Roman family, born in Kilpatrick, near Dumbarton, in that part of Great Britain that is now Scotland. Sooooo ... if not being Irish were not enough, Patrick -- as he was known in later years, being of the Roman "patrician" class, and a "patriarch" to his spiritual charges -- might well be claimed by the Scots as one of their own.

For years, one highlight of the day would be the Annual Irish Poetry Reading. This was when I'd call my folks in Ohio on this day every year, and with their speakerphone on, recite the following piece by Benjamin Hapgood Burt in a very bad Irish brogue:

One evening in October, when I was one-third sober,
    An' taking home a "load" with manly pride;
My poor feet began to stutter, so I lay down in the gutter,
    And a pig came up an' lay down by my side;
Then we sang "It's all fair weather when good fellows get together,"
    Till a lady passing by was heard to say:
"You can tell a man who 'boozes' by the company he chooses"
    And the pig got up and slowly walked away.

Alas, it won't be the same now that the old man has passed on.

Today, those who are Irish, or who wish they were, will dine on Irish lamb stew. When I can ever find it amidst my stuff, I use this occasion to wear a button with the words of William Butler Yeats: “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.” I will listen to Celtic music the entire day. At an opportune time and place, I will dine on corned beef and cabbage. This is admittedly an American innovation for the Irish, as poor immigrants from the "auld sod" found corned beef (a substitute used by their Jewish neighbors in place of bacon) to be much cheaper than lamb. Anyway, unless I'm out on the town that evening, I'll probably watch Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Who cares if William Wallace was Scottish? No one cares if Patrick isn't Irish, do they?

After all, "The Apostle of Ireland" is properly claimed by Catholics everywhere, whether those "micks" like it or not.

“Agus fagaimid siud mar ata se.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Obligatory “President Picks NCAA Final Four” Video

If you guessed that we voted for "the other guy" four years ago, you'd be right. Still, we just love to sit back and watch him talk basketball. All the President's men (and women) appear to have noticed this on the part of the American public, so they've placed the completed scenario at But why stop there, when you can sit back and watch the process from the beginning? Let's all pick up a few pointers from a guy who puts his pants on one leg at a time just like the rest of us (who wear pants).


FAMW: Dollar Shave Club

In the past year, ABC News has featured products made in America, and the people and companies that make domestic production a reality. Then there's another innovation, one that involves the services as much as it does the goods. And with that, the Dollar Shave Club enters the scene. Find out the method behind this madness.

And don't get all sanctimonious over the single bleeped-out expletive. You're the same bunch of yahoos who got behind a write-in campaign and fundraiser, to help whoever brought the words "bat$#!t crazy" to the Catholic blogosphere, to finesse their way to a soireé in Rome. Just be content with this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy, and don't come b!†©#ing to us here at mwbh.

... which reminds us: [MILD CONTENT WARNING.]

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Guitar Workshop: Speaking of Pi ...

Our semi-regular midday Thursday feature does not always amount to a "guitar lesson," but will on occasion delve into areas which the practicing guitarist will encounter at one time or another.

We rarely get the opportunity to discuss the relationship between mathematics and music, but there really is one. Most would associate this relationship with the division of whole notes into half notes, quarter notes, and so on, combined with varying degrees of complexity to form a whole equal to the sum of its parts. But it is more than the sum of its parts, as seen here in this video commemorating yesterday's Pi Day.

If nothing else, it shows how the left and right sides of the brain can work together.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Today is Pi Day, as it is the fourteenth day of the third month of the year (rendered as 3/14 here in the States).

"Pi" of course, is the mathematical constant whose value is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, one that appears in many mathematical expressions. In other words, diameter (d) times pi (π) equals circumference (c). It is rendered as 3.14, or to be more exact, 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884 ...

Well, that's the other thing. Not only has it never been rendered exactly to the last decimal point, but such rendering shows no discernible pattern (in other words, a repeating series of numbers). This means, if you asked a computer right now, to calculate the exact number, it would continue as long as the computer is left on, and the hard drive doesn't crash.

It can come in handy, too, like in that episode of Star Trek, where Mister Spock kept a renegade computer totally preoccupied, by instructing it to calculate the value of pi, thus giving Captain Kirk the time he needed to once again save the universe. Or something.

Archimedes of Syracuse (287 - 212 BC) was the Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, astronomer, and all-around geek (shown here in a 1620 painting by Domenico Fetti baking his first pi), who first approximated the value of pi, using what is known as the "method of exhaustion," which means he kept working on it until he was exhausted, and he still didn't finish.

Today, we remember his achievement every year, according to New Scientist magazine, by actually -- you guessed it -- baking a pie.

Well, I think we have all learned something here.

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: NRBQ and “Captain Lou”

It's a little early for our usual midday Wednesday feature. Nevertheless ...

Remember that gnarly bearded guy who played the big daddy-oh in Cyndi Lauper's video the other day? Well, yours truly recognized him right away. That was “Captain Lou” Albano. He started out as a professional wrestler in 1953, at a time when "big time wrestling" was a big time chunk of early television programming (facing stiff competition from pro bowling, if memory serves). In fact, it was Lauper herself who teamed up with Albano in bringing professional wrestling to mainstream audiences, resulting in the "WWE Raw" craze of the present day.

Albano retired from active performing in 1969 and turned to the managerial side, also trying his hand at acting. He died in his sleep of a heart attack in 2009, at the age of 76.

Rest in peace, Captain Lou.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Three Things Revisited

Oh wait, I remember now. I've never been asked to serve on ... a parish council (or pastoral council, to use the canonical term).

I've seen elections where people tout their administrative and managerial experience, when in fact the role is not legislative, but consultative (in other words, not concilium, but consilium). That alone should disqualify them. I've seen people put on committees armed only with good intentions, but a limited knowledge on the subject. (A gift for flower arrangements on the altar does not qualify you to chair the liturgy committee, whereas a masters degree in sacred music just might.) A pastoral council and finance council, together, are the main consultative body for the parish priest, on matters spiritual and temporal, respectively.

It seems to me that the majority of parish councils are either popularity contests (if elected), which I never seem to win, or a rubber stamp for the pastor (if appointed), which I never seem to pull off. My current position with a parish, where I am a liturgical master of ceremonies, is as close as I've ever come to being on a parish council. At the end of the day, I could not be more content. But you won't see my name on a parish masthead, not in this lifetime.

Maybe I know too much, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Three Things You’d Never Guess About ... Moi

I just got a text from a friend of mine. She's with her sponsor at RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, the catechumate process in the Roman church), and can't get away. Sounds reasonable to me.

But did you know that I have never, EVER been asked to serve as someone's sponsor for RCIA?

Geez, I can talk about religion at a party and people think I have a masters in theology or something. (Are you kidding? I work for a living.) Famous people get on national television and mistake me for a deacon. (It's not my fault. Really.) It boggles the mind.

There's more. I've never been asked to be an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

Wait, I take that back. I was made one once, twenty years ago at the parish in Georgetown where I was a sacristan. It was mostly to coincide with my regular duties, as I was not expected to actually be one. Occasionally I'd get asked to do so provisionally -- like I always say, never argue with an archbishop from out of town when you're his emcee -- as in just for the occasion. Not that I'm chomping at the bit for a task which I believe should be practically eliminated anyway. (So does Rome, but no one's listening.)

Okay, that's two things. There is also a third, but not even I can guess what it is.

UPDATE: Oh wait, I remember now. I've never been asked to serve on ... (click here)

Girl Scouts

One hundred years ago today (tonight, actually), a woman by the name of Juliette Gordon Low returned to her home in Savannah, Georgia, having been in the UK to meet with Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scouting movement. It was then that she made a phone call to a distant cousin, saying:

“I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!”

At least that's what they say led to the founding of the Girl Scouts of the USA, but it reminds me of a spoken line in a Broadway musical, the one right before someone bursts into song. It didn't happen in this case.

As we enter into the cookie-selling season, I am going to find it hard to say no, even as I may presently have a good reason. People are taking exception to the affiliation in recent years of the GSUSA with Planned Parenthood, which is apparently all to eager to assist the organization with teaching girls about womanhood. (Maybe I should just slip a twenty to one of the adults and say, "Here, keep it to yourselves and don't go buying birth-control for these little tykes, okay?" Just a thought.) One of the local parishes in Virginia recently disassociated itself from the Girl Scout troop it was sponsoring. Maybe that was the right thing to do, I don't know. But I do know, in the words of one seasoned veteran of my acquaintance, that "all Scouting is local." If Scout units, boy or girl, want to raise the bar on its value system, as long as they don't clash with the front office, it's not a problem.

You have to wonder what the girls themselves make of all this. [Cue video at left.]

One answer may lie in that the older youth programs of the GSUSA are failing miserably, and teenaged girls are flocking to the high school-college age program in the BSA known as Venturing, where they tend to dominate in the youth leadership. That's right, girls leading the way in Boy Scouting.

Fact is stranger than truth. And girls just wanna, they just wanna ...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Russell Meets Romans

I went to my psychiatrist
    to be psychoanalyzed
To find out why I killed the cat
    and blacked my husband's eyes.
He laid me on a downy couch
    to see what he could find,
And here is what he dredged up
    from my subconscious mind:

When I was one, my mommie hid
    my dolly in a trunk,
And so it follows naturally
    that I am always drunk.
When I was two, I saw my father
    kiss the maid one day,
And that is why I suffer now
    from klepto-ma-ni-a.

At three, I had the feeling
    of ambivalence toward my brothers,
And so it follows naturally
    I poison all my lovers.
But I am happy now I've learned
    the lesson this has taught;
That everything I do that's wrong
    is someone else's fault.

-- Anna Russell (1911-2006)

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

-- Saint Paul (Romans 7:9-13)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

So, the whole thing was just ... a “fluke,” right?

From the National Review:

Sandra Fluke is a young coed who attends Georgetown Law, and recently testified before Congress. ... Oh, wait, no. Update: It wasn’t a congressional hearing; the Democrats just got it up to look like one ... Oh, and the “young coed” turns out to be 30 ... The brave middle-aged schoolgirl had the courage to stand up in public and demand that someone else pay for her sex life.

Remember, we're just getting caught up here.

Of Tornadoes and Teddy Bears

IMAGE: Damaged farm buildings in Ripley County, Indiana. From the Osgood, IN website.

Earlier this month, several states in the Midwest where hit by dozens of tornadoes. Many small towns in states like Ohio and Indiana have been virtually wiped off the map. Some may never be the same, much less rebuilt. One in this writer's home county was the subject of an earlier piece. Moscow, Ohio, is attempting to defy the odds and rebuild. Donations can be sent to:

Zumba For Moscow
Vickie Dietrich
7184 Lakewood Drive
Unit E
Cincinnati OH 45241

Make the check payable to Summer Rackley, with "Zumba for Moscow" in the memo line.

IMAGE: A scene in downtown Osgood, Indiana. Yes, there really is a theater with that name.

Meanwhile, across the border into southeastern Indiana, where many German and Swiss Catholics settled in the 19th century, Father Zuhlsdorf “had an UPDATE from Fr. Shaun Wittington of St. John’s Catholic Church, in Osgood, IN which was devastated by a recent storm.” Heading to Osgood as this is written, are three boxes of toiletry articles, medicine cabinet supplies, and ... stuffed animals. In a phone conversation with Father Whittington yesterday, it was acknowledged that young children who have lost all of their toys might do well with a little comfort, once the initial recovery is well underway. So one of the boxes is stuffed with seventeen small bunny rabbits and teddy bears, including one squirrel.

IMAGE: Photo by Paul McClure. Used without permission or shame.

They didn't ask for aspirin or antibiotic ointment either, but we knew that this would be a headache for some of the people there, and cut and scrapes are not unheard of when cleaning up at a disaster site. If you want to help, please check the link above to learn what they need and don't need. Three places worth checking for supplies are giant thrift stores, so-called "dollar stores," and the trial size aisles of big-chain drug stores. If you can send money, by all means do so, to:

St John’s Catholic Church
331 S Buckeye St
Osgood IN 47037

Be sure and write "tornado" in the memo line. And remember, anything they cannot use will be sent to other little towns in the area, several of which were hit no less severely. This includes both Henryville and Marysville, located not far from Osgood, both of which have been featured on the evening news in the wake of the disaster.

Friday, March 09, 2012

FAMW: Joe Dolce “Shaddup You Face”

When this writer read of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie getting into an argument with a Rutgers student over a planned merger with Rowan University, we were tempted to show another Christie video, but he doesn't come off so well in this one. Still, it doesn't matter. One of the commenters at brought our attention to this Italian-American favorite. Dolce was born in Painesville, Ohio, but has made his fortune in Australia. This is a clip from a television show he hosted in 1980, the year this song made number one on the pop charts in The Land Down Under.

What’sa matta you? (Hey!)
Got a no respect
What do you think you do?
Why you looka so sad
It’s a not so bad
It’s a nice a place
Ah, shaddapa you face.

We couldn't have said it better, at least not for this week's Friday Afternoon Moment of Whimsy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Much Ado About Mayans

This is what happens when you read too much. A correspondent from this writer's locality has passed along the following.

There have been about 514 leap years since Caesar originated the idea in 45 BC. Without the extra day every four years, today would be -- this could be just a rough guess now -- July 30, 2013. And since the Mayan calendar did not account for the leap year, the world should have ended about seven months ago. On top of that, the Mayan calendar never technically ends. So if we were to assume that it would end on the 21st of December, it would simply start over again the next day. And you would never have to throw it away and get a new one.

On the other hand, the world could end as this is being written, for “thou knowest neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13) And yet, until the 21st of December of this year, comedic films and witty marketing campaigns will make as much of this as they can.

Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow ...

Art-For-Art’s-Sake Theatre: Taps - The Bugler’s Cry

Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the lake,
From the hills,
From the sky.
All is well,
Safely rest;
God is nigh.

Now that we are back to our regularly scheduled programming, it is time once again for our usual midday Wednesday feature. Taps Historian and bugler Jari Villanueva explains the origins of America's most famous bugle call.

Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.

The old Troop 120 in Milford had an official “Troop Bugler” which was a ceremonial role still listed for BSA units. Ours would sound the wake-up call, the call to meals, the raising and lowering of the flag, and, of course, this call for the end of the day. And even though they recently merged the requirements of the Bugling Merit Badge (one of the BSA's oldest, dating to the beginning) with the Musician Merit Badge, the sight of a young man marking the day at camp, as others did before him, can still move the heart of many an old Scout.

Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.

More information at or

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Bill Maher Wrote Something (Probably) Worth Reading!

... but before panic ensues in the streets of major American cities, we here at mwbh wanted you to be ready.

The great thing about having been poor is how liberated it makes you if you eventually become rich. There's nothing like the knowledge that you don't need money to survive. That the money cushion you lie on every night doesn't have to be three feet thick, and you can still get to sleep.

If you can ignore that hogwash at the end about Republicans being the "party of the rich," there is a lesson in the piece (even coming from a man who can call a conservative woman a "slut" or similar term and not have to make a public apology) about going from being poor to being rich. Naturally, rich is better. But to read of his account, it depends.

Men of a Certain Age

So I'm sitting at home right now, recovering from a fever due to -- uh, I don't wanna talk about it -- when I stumbled on this page from some guy's Facebook album. Click here and feast your eyes on thirty-two then-and-now comparisons of aging rockers. The best case scenario is featured here, namely Michael Lee Aday, better known as Meat Loaf. Others who improved with time, or at least aged gracefully, include Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and James Hetfield from Metallica.

Things happen to men when they reach their fifties, don't you think?

Or don't you?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Random Thoughts on a Requiem

Dad left us two weeks ago today. I have yet to complete the adjustment to normal life, having come down with a fever over the weekend. I sleep most of the day.

After the burial, we finalized the design for the grave marker. We were told we could add a maximum of four words.

“I will go to the altar of God.” Psalm 42(43) is inspired by a people who long to be delivered from exile among the wicked, to enter the temple of Jerusalem, to ascend God's holy mountain. In the traditional form of the Roman Mass, it forms the opening antiphon of the private prayers of the priest and his attendants, the "prayers at the foot of the altar." In its Latin form, it was agreed to be most fitting.

Mom has moved into her new apartment in the Assisted Living wing, and the siblings are ever so gradually winding down the extent of their attention. But not entirely. Someone will be around every day to see her. On my last night in Cincinnati, I accompanied her to a concert in the main lounge area, one last visit before leaving town. I've been back in Arlington for a few days now.

I admit I was surprised by how well the Funeral Mass went, and that I harbored suspicions at first as to how accommodating the parish would be. In the past three decades, between a rather disingenuous method of introducing female altar servers a decade before they were licit, an obsession with hand-holding across the aisle at the Lord's Prayer, and a few other liturgical irregularities over the years (like that one in the photograph, a definite no-no which appears in the parish photo gallery), I expected much resistance from a pseudo-intellectual cadre composed of veterans of weekend liturgy workshops, not unlike what I experienced at Georgetown.

However rarely it happens, I was wrong.

What I found was a community of faith that aspired to liturgical correctness, at least when it came to our family. We got their best servers -- all male, per my father's wishes, and my request -- and listened to a homily from the pastor that was judiciously navigated, avoiding a glossing-over of the human foibles of the deceased, while underscoring the need for redemption and forgiveness of sin, and consolation to those left behind. They also agreed with me with respect to eulogies, namely not to have one, as they are not really permitted. Not that this stops anyone elsewhere. Even in the Excruciatingly Orthodox Diocese of Arlington, a priest or an accomplished layman can rate a semi-canonization.

I also just knew that the parish could overcome their doubts and rise to the occasion, with Cesar Franck's "Panis Angelicus." Not to mention the "In paradisum" for the recession. Speaking of chant, they made generous use of it for this occasion. Good for them. (Everybody thinks Gregorian chant is SOOOO HAAAAARD ...)

We didn't get dark vestments, but it's just as well, since the multi-shaded violet ensemble in the sacristy couldn't hold a candle to the white "coronation" chasuble and dalmatic with the matching funeral pall.

I simply hate to break up a matched set.

The word on the street for the last couple of years, was that things at the parish were in "a state of flux." Perhaps it has been the implementation of the newly-translated Roman Missal, and sporadic winds of change in the Archdiocese with the passing of the ancien régime. Whatever the cause, at the end of the day, I would rate it one of most reverent funerals in the "ordinary form" that I have attended in a long time. It was impossible not to take the Deacon's advice; just "sit back and enjoy the prayer." And even if we sell the house, I will still have a home at the parish church along Main Street.

I don't have much in the way of family, at least not within arm's reach. It has been my destiny, as Dad would say, to "march to a different drummer," a path that was set in motion from when I was five years old. My son appears to have taken it further, having grown up with little sense of what a family is at all. And yet he finds camaraderie among his Alexander cousins.

From where I sit, I can't complain; things could be a lot worse. I have my memories, like this video from the parish Oktoberfest in 2010. And I have a long walk ahead.

“Further along we’ll understand why ...”

+    +    +

POSTSCRIPT: One more thing; the pastor has been very good to my Mom. Kudos for that.

Sunday, March 04, 2012


He said,
    write down the vision that you had,
    and I wrote what I saw.

I saw the world
    kissing its own darkness.

It happened thus:
    I rose to meet the sunrise
    and suddenly over the hill
    a horde appeared
    dragging a huge tarpaulin.
They covered unwary land
    and hapless city
    and all sweet water and fields.
And there was no sunrise.

I strained my eyes for a path
    and there was no path.
I bumped into trees and the bushes hissed at me,
    and the long-armed brambles cried in a strident voice:
    never through here!
But I struggled on, fumbling my beads of no.

I came to a dark city where nobody knew
    that there was darkness.
And strange! though there was no light I still coud see
    what I did not want to see:
    people who moved to the loveless embrace of folly.
They ate her gourmet foods; they drank her wine,
    danced to her music that was crazed with rhythm,
    were themselves discord though they knew it not,
    or if they knew, cared less.

Outside the city wall I stood in thought,
    parried a moment with a frieghtening urge
    to court the darkness;
    but I held back, fearing the face of love.

Crossing a field I wandered through a desert
    when suddenly behind a rock I found
    a little sagebrush where a fire was burning,
    shining and dancing. After my first amazed
    worship of silence I was loud with praise.

I watched with fear the darkness circling it.
    lunging against it, swirling a black cloak
    to suffocate the light,
    until the shades broke loose and one by one
    in terror fled.

The flame burned on, innocent, unimperiled.
There was no darkness that could put it out.

--Jessica Powers, aka Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Ode to Moscow

In the aftermath of a devastating tornado this past week, this was the scene in Moscow, Ohio, a little hamlet thirty miles upstream (east) from Cincinnati, along the Ohio River, with a population of less than three hundred. It is also just south of where I grew up. As one county sheriff said, "It's amazing we didn't lose more." (Video courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer.)