Simbang Gabi – Advent with our Filipino Neighbors

Today marks the start of the annual Filipino Advent novena, Simbang Gabi. In Parish C, hundreds of Filipino American Catholics gather at 5:30 a.m. for Mass, followed by a breakfast of traditional Filipino delicacies – all intended to wrap up by around 7:00, in accordance with a tradition base on the need for  the peasants to be back working the fields at dawn. Continue reading “Simbang Gabi – Advent with our Filipino Neighbors”

Church Music and Children

Here’s the lens through which I view church music:

When I was quite little – say, 1962-ish – my family attended a large parish church with a Sunday Mass schedule something like 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12:15 – and all but the first couple were standing room only. The 11:00, which we often attended, had the choir.

The Latin Mass is a blur, but I do remember the choir. It was big and sounded great to my little ears. They sang some motets, and lots of hymns with the organ, and some Mass settings.

I loved it.  It was the best part of Mass to me. When I got to high school, by which time the Novus Ordo as implemented in my parish had managed to cripple what was now called the ‘adult choir’, I signed up for the school choir, started taking piano lessons, and joined the ‘folk’ Mass group – all, I think now, in an attempt to recapture the rapture I felt as a little kid listening to a big choir sing at Mass.  As the years went by, I indulged my music jones more and more in non-church music – sang in some big community choirs, was in a series of (poor to OK) rock bands. Did a little choir directing here and there, too, but I’m not really a good enough musician to pull that off well.

Apart from a couple years when I sang with a really good polyphony and chant group, little of this was really the fix I was looking for.

In high school, I even joined the adult choir at our church. By then, it had been reduced to mostly a small group of more or less disgruntled old people (more on that in another post).  But it wasn’t the same. To be fair, in the early 60s a couple new parishes were founded within the boundaries of what used to be our parish, so some of the drop off had to do with people simply attending Mass closer to home. “Where do we put him to minimize the damage?” – I was that problem, so I know how that feels. (I eventually learned to sing OK, it has been reported.)

2 of our kids are singers now. They never had the week in, week out experience of hearing a good big choir at Mass. I’m agitating to get us all – the kids and me – to join one of the choirs at Parish C. We’ll see.

In a way, I suspect these experiences have made my expectations of music at Mass somewhat unrealistic. But I’ll cling to this truth: it is possible to have a bunch of parishioners sing great music pretty well. I’ve heard it done.

Music at Mass Review: 12/12/10

Parish C this week with the boys (girls had theater gig, went to early Mass with Mom).

It being both the Happy, Holy and Blessed feast of Our Lady of  Guadalupe as well as Gaudate Sunday, they had the Tagalog choir singing, in lovely rose (well, pink) shirts.  Some Jebbie or Jebbies seem to have written most or all of the hymns in Tagalog, in a curious style – a little pop, a little show tune, a little I don’t know what. The choir clearly loves to sing them. But as a non-Tagalog speaker, it was a little rough. Plus, they didn’t hand out the music – trying to sing words phonetically to tunes you don’t know – well, I can’t. But is sounded good, and was sung enthusiastically by the choir, at least. Hard to speak to its liturgical appropriateness, as I have little idea what they were singing about.

BUT – they not only did the simple Latin Agnus Dei, but they did it unaccompanied – cool. For some reason, most of the time it seems the pianist or organist just can’t sit out, and chant with accompaniment is just, well, lame. The people didn’t need it – in Spanish, English, and Tagalog the Latin is the same.

All in all, the Mass was beautiful, mostly because the people were beautiful. The Lord can work with questionable music and falderall provided we give him a chance. These are people doing the best they can for God, and it shows and is infectious.

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day – John Donne

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world’s whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring ;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness ;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death—things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have ;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all, that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two ; oft did we grow,
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else ; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death—which word wrongs her—
Of the first nothing the elixir grown ;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know ; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means ; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love ; all, all some properties invest.
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light, and body must be here.

But I am none ; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all,
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival.
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.

UPDATE: Final rewrite to make this a little more scholarly.

Continue reading “A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day – John Donne”

Too Big to Fail and Risk Compentsation

If you have anti-lock brakes, it is claimed that you will drive crazier than if you don’t. If you drive past a bicyclist wearing safety gear, you’ll give them less clearance than one who isn’t. In short, the existence of factors that mitigate risk tends to lead, not to reduced risk, but rather to increased risk-taking.*

Thus, the real problem with Goldman Sachs and other behemoths of world finance is not exactly that they make too much money – it’s that they believe, at least to some degree, that they and other huge financial institutions are too big to fail. They’ve got government-supplied anti-lock brakes, so to speak. The combination of huge potential profits and the belief that the government will step in to save them should anything go seriously wrong leads to risk compensation of the worst kind.

This is not theory in the case of Goldman – they knew, if anyone in the world did, that once the housing bubble burst (and they had billions riding on it bursting!) that AIG would fail (AIG had billions of exposure to a housing collapse, much of it to Goldman). So, had they not believed that AIG was too big to fail, the prudent business step, starting in about 2003 or so, would have been to refrain from buying credit default insurance on instruments (mortgage bundles) that they knew could not be paid off (AIG’s exposure dwarfed the actual value of these instruments in the market).

What did they do? They loaded up on credit default insurance, above and beyond any ‘insurance’ needs – Goldman didn’t even own the instruments they were buying insurance on! In other words, they made a huge investment in the collapse of the economy – an economic titan put itself in the position of winning if and only if everybody else loses, because they were firmly convinced that the bubble would burst. At the same time, they kept selling mortgaged backed securities to their investors, despite having invested billions that would pay off ONLY if the instruments they were simultaneously selling to their customers failed.

Got that?

The only risk in all this, apart from having angry mobs start stringing them up by their reversible Adam Smith/Karl Marx neckties, was that AIG would fail – which it would have within hours of the initial claims against its credit default insurance had the government not stepped in. A government, as it happens, with dozens of former (and future) Goldman Sachs employees in key positions. Quickly, the argument was made that AIG was simply too big to fail. The Fed effectively nationalized AIG at the cost of $85B – and Goldman’s ‘investment’ was paid off in full.

Note, at the same exact time Goldman was receiving 100% payout on its investments, the people to whom it had sold the exact same instruments whose failure triggered those billions of dollars were trying to sue Goldman for conflict of interest – and being told ‘hey, you’re big boys and girls – you should have known the risks. Don’t go crying to me.’ And the courts, so far, are backing them up.

The top goal for any meaningful financial reform should be the elimination of Too Big to Fail. Government bailouts of private industry should be strictly illegal. Any company that reaches a size where its failure would seriously damage the US economy should be considered by that fact alone subject to anti-trust break-up. The counter-arguments (usually from economic efficiency of some sort) simply wilt in comparison to the reality that our entire government and the tax-paying capacity of our children’s children has been put into the service of one extremely well connected bank.

* note: risk compensation takes place across populations, meaning that it’s not automatic that any one individual will fall prey to it. *I* don’t drive more recklessly because my car is safer! No, really!

Dr. Kelly and Small Meaninglessness

That NYT essay by Dr. Kelly, chair of Harvard’s Philosophy dept, keeps percolating up in my mind. I’ll take a crack at deciphering it over the next few days, time permitting. Sure, he’s writing for a popular audience, so he’s not going to get all technical, but at least we can hope for some level of clarity from somebody with a job as a professional thinker. Since he can’t very well plead ignorance, we must honor him by assuming he means what says and isn’t just confused. Until proven otherwise. So:

The discussion of nihilism ─ the sense that it is no longer obvious what our most fundamental commitments are, or what matters in a life of distinction and worth, the sense that the world is an abyss of meaning rather than its God-given preserve ─ finds no sustained treatment in the works that Nietzsche prepared for publication during his lifetime.

Rather than being a positive assertion – life is meaningless – Nihilism, in the hands of Kelly becomes, first, “a sense that it is no longer obvious what our most fundamental commitments are”.  So, right off the bat, we’re sensing instead of thinking. Then, “the sense that the world is an abyss of meaning rather than its God-given preserve”. Hmm.  I had sensed a certain terrible nobility in Nihilism, a certain motivating despair. Kelly’s nihilism seems more likely to make one pine and sigh than to curse the world, shake a fist at Destiny and remake the moral and social landscape by sheer force of Will. Or kill yourself, one or the other. I’ve sensed better of nihilism than Kelly senses. Continue reading “Dr. Kelly and Small Meaninglessness”

Happy, Holy and Blessed Feast Day That I Used to Not Understand At All!

Throughout the liturgical year, the Church presents us with mysteries for our enlightenment. The Immaculate Conception is one of a handful of Church teachings that, frankly, made no sense to me. (Humanae Vitae being another, one that I now see as spectacularly, dazzlingly right.  Maybe there’s something to this whole humble obedience thing…) I got over it.

Unlike other faiths, which seem to me to come up with mysteries ad hoc – for example, Sola Scriptura + ignore a bunch of explicit Scriptural stuff + add a whole laundry list of mandatory beliefs that are found only obliquely in Scripture, if at all – the Church’s mysteries seem well expressed, few and central. Salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus. The True Presence. The Communion of Saints.  You know? These are mysteries that  you can come back to again and again, think about, pray over, and never get to the end of while gaining a deeper and deeper understanding of reality and God’s Presence.

So, the Immaculate Conception used to baffle me – how does this mystery help us to understand God any better? That seems like a really dumb question, but I felt that way for years. So, in honor of our Blessed Mother, conceived, born and for ever Immaculate, let us pray this day for perfect humility and greater understanding.

Gotta run – taking the kids to Mass tonight.

Extending the ‘Tax Cuts’ – Bringing it All Home

OK, so I’ve blithered about the concepts surrounding ‘soak the rich’ and how futzing about with income tax rates doesn’t mean much to people who already have huge wealth. But what about this current round of tax manipulations?

Here is a description of what we’re talking about. Just look at the tables towards the bottom. Mostly, and ignoring the exact percentages,  this sort of structure looks about right to me – everybody (in theory) who makes any money has to pay *some* income tax – it’s important conceptually that *everybody* who isn’t totally destitute is a tax payer, at least nominally, as a small step toward countering the ‘them versus us’ of politics.

Now, for  specific examples – plain vanilla, net taxable income: Continue reading “Extending the ‘Tax Cuts’ – Bringing it All Home”