Redwoods & Moss – Year End Getaway

Elim Grove is a B&B in Cazadero, a tiny town along Austin Creek among the redwoods, ferns, and moss about 6 miles from the Russian River and the coastal town of Jenner. 

My wife and I come back here whenever we can get away because it feels like another world even though it’s only 2 hours from the Moore Compound/House of Lost Play.

There are a couple of 1,000 year old redwoods on the property that the loggers somehow missed, but even the second growth pups are huge – it’s been maybe 75-100 years since the redwoods were logged in this area, they’ve had time to grow back. 

The only day we could get away this year was yesterday, and Mark, the innkeeper, had one cabin with exactly that night free – otherwise, booked up in either temporal direction. 

It was lovely:

Ancient redwoods out front

Moss-covered bridge over Austin Creek

Not uncommon in tourist areas to find a small church building with a larger outdoor arrangement – the crowds come when the weather is nice anyway, so you don’t need to heat a big building when the weather turns colder.

Had a lovely time. Now doing the California yuppie tourist thing and stopping at boutique bakery and cheese shop to pay ridiculous prices for some snacks. They are very yummy, though. 

Happy St Sylvester Day and Feast of Fools! Still 6 days of Christmas to go! 

Merry Christmas! 

May God bless you and yours with good cheer and peace on this holy day! 

Preparing a feast for 35-odd people (insert obligatory in laws joke here) and, having been on my feet for pretty much 3 days straight of shopping, prepping and cooking (40 lbs of pork butt and about 60-70 ciabatta rolls for pulled pork sandwiches, among other things), taking a break before rallying once more into the breach. 

Something like that. 

So, midnight mass, then Home to put the pork in the oven and bake the last couple batches of rolls, and in bed by 3:00. My beloved, who is part vampire or at least can get by on remarkably small amounts of sleep, maybe came to bed later – I wouldn’t know, as I was out cold and she was already up by the time I woke. 

We made coffee and tea, and the 8 of us – 4 kids, g-ma, aunt Clare in from Baltimore, my wife and I – gathered round the table to see what we got in our stockings.

My beloved commanded that I take pictures. She wasn’t any more specific. 

A rag I grabbed to wipe up some coffee I’d spilt on my laptop and shirt. It’s kind of like shorthand for all of Dickens
A close up of the water picture immediately in front of me. What may at first appear to be a lack of focus is, instead, an ironic existential cry of terminal ennui. That’s my story.
Still life with butter knives.

Some people are so hard to please.

Leet Leet Skilz: The Parish Ale

Mentioned last post that I’d whiled away a little too much time clicking links and doing the whole ‘hmmm – that looks interesting’ thing while digging a bit into the history of ‘quiet enjoyment’. The internet is like having a drug dealer in your home – as a child, I’d have to go to a physical library to waste this kind of time, wandering through the stacks, pulling books that looked interesting, sitting on the floor skimming them until my legs fell asleep.

Now? That kind of high is just a click away! WEEEEEE!

Ahem. Anyway, quiet enjoyment lead to courts leet, which it turns out were a flavor of courts baron, or manorial courts, which lead to parish ale. No, really. A ‘leet’ seems to be an area that comprised the lands governed by a baron, so that a court leet was a manorial court for that area. English law, growing from feudal, ecclesiastical and tribal roots, as well as a heavy dose of Danish and Norman influence, had a variety of courts with equally varied jurisdictions. Courts leet generally handled criminal cases up to a certain level of seriousness, with the most serious cases kicked up to aristocratic or royal courts. There was also a sense of group responsibility in the subgroups within the leet. Hundreds and tithes would be responsible for the duties and crimes of those within them. Like all things feudal, layers and layers of relationships, duties and rights.

There’s some relationship between a parish and a leet, but it’s not clear exactly how that worked, unless the lord in the manor house had an area of rule that happened to correspond to a single parish – easy to imagine that being the case at least some of the time, but I don’t know.

File:Teniers Elder Village Feast.jpg
Village Feast by David Teniers the Elder circa 1640.   Panel Accademia Carrara, Bergamo     Source: Paineted a century or so after the Middle Ages are supposed to have ended. Like the barrels – we will conclusively assume they are ale barrels for the purposes of this post.  

Among the layers of relationships, rights and responsibilities (hey – a feudal 3 R’s! Wouldn’t it be nice if our current comparatively trivial 3 R’s took place within those medieval ones? Might even work better…) was a responsibility for upkeep of the parish church. One way this was handled was with parish ale. The word ‘ale’ when tacked onto the end of another word tended to mean party or feast, as ale is of the class of substances known to bring joy, and a readiness to party, to a man’s heart.

A parish ale was a generally annual feast or party celebrated with ale, as a fundraiser for the parish. Food, music, dancing held in the parish yard or a nearby barn. Money was charged for the ale, at least, with the proceeds going to church maintenance and the poor box. All in all, a charming example of local people taking care of local issues in the most Catholic way possible – duty, charity, and a party all rolled into one!

The oracle Wikipedia has this to say:

These parish festivals were of much ecclesiastical and social importance in medieval England. The chief purpose of the church-ale (which was originally instituted to honour the church saint) and the clerk-ale, was to facilitate the collection of parish dues and to make a profit for the church from the sale of ale by the church wardens.[3] These profits kept the parish church in repair, or were distributed as alms to the poor.

The churches must owe, as we all do know,
For when they be drooping and ready to fall,
By a Whitsun or Church-ale up again they shall go
And owe their repairing to a pot of good ale

— “Exaltation of Ale”, by Francis Beaumont[3]

In the gallery of the tower arch of St Agnes, Cawston in Norfolk is inscribed:

God speed the plough
And give us good ale enow …
Be merry and glade,
With good ale was this work made.[4]

On the beam of a screen in the church of Thorpe-le-SokenEssex, is the following inscription in raised blackletter on a scroll held by two angels: “This cost is the bachelers made by ales thesn be ther med.” The date is about 1480.

The parish ale being local, fun, and traditional, the English Reformation was of course opposed to them. Over time, they were restricted and largely faded away, but a few persist to this day.

No other reason for this post than that I found the idea of the parish ale delightful.

Inspector of Nuisances

Taking deep breath. Just coming up for air after a plunge down the rabbit hole discovered by googling “quiet enjoyment”.  English common law, “hundreds”

Image result for Inspector of Nuisances
An inspector of nuisances. Nice beard! 

and Wapentake, frankpledge, court leet, and, among a dozen more fascinating tidbits, the inspector of nuisances.

The issue that triggered my research is this: the idea that people have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their lives. English common law recognized that right, breaking it into two parts: common, where some activity or failure to act impairs the ability of the people in general to quietly enjoy their lives in public, and private, where some private persons are deprived of the quiet enjoyment of something, such as leased property, to which they have specific, privately contracted rights.

Thus, the office of Inspector of Nuisances. Somebody has got to check out claims that, for example, somebody is making too much of a racket in the commons or that the neighbors are burning trash upwind.

Inspectors of nuisances eventually became public health inspectors, charged with dealing with sewage and slums and trash. Wonder if this delightfully named office could be resurrected and repurposed to deal with the messes people make when they dump their personal garbage on the intellectual and moral landscape?

Image result for inspector of nuisances
Evidently, problems with cat ladies can be a nuisance, and go way back. The guy on the left looks like a bobby, so I’m guessing guy on the right is the Inspector of Nuisances. 

That the modern intellectual and moral landscape more and more is a dump and open sewer only becomes an issue for our newly-commissioned Inspector of Nuisances if it infringes on our quiet enjoyment. While it is still conceivable that a private person might simply ignore what goes on in public, never opening a browser or newspaper or turning on a TV, the situation is such that that they’d need to shield their eyes whenever out and about. If one were generous and dedicated enough, that might work, for now.

But, we are told, politics is everything. Part of the dumpster fire we’d be attempting to ignore is the claim that we can’t ignore it, that there’s no such thing as a private life. Thus, even if we were determined to not let the garbage into our private lives, there are demonstrably those unwilling to let us do so, that even our claim to have a private life is wrong and must be crushed.

Examples: Private businesses are now subject to the rules of modern intolerance; social media are increasingly censored for politically unacceptable speech; schools are used (as designed) for inculcation of the latest, most modern ideas, and attempts to free our kids from this outrage are treated as practically treason, which, under the rules of the champions of  education, they are.

(This gets back to the problem of toleration discussed briefly in the last post – a ‘consensus’ that includes the idea that the state always knows better than the parents cannot tolerate dissention, while the old pseudo-convention could. The Supreme Court in Pierce v. Society of Sisters agreed that, while parents have the ultimate duty and consequent right to educate their own children, the state also has a duty and right to see to it that those children are educated. I fear it is not in the nature of things for the state to settle for having shared rights whenever it could have sole rights.)

If my business, my conversations and my decisions on how to educate my children are not private, the sphere of ‘private’ has shrunk drastically.

Chesterton repeatedly makes the point that the only place one can truly be free is with family and friends. In public, you are only free to conform. Even protests are conventional. By trying to make all things political, victims of post-modern ideas insist on public and private (because those are the same thing!) acceptance of those ideas. The very idea of quiet enjoyment, where what I do is my own business for my own pleasure but only on the condition that I honor the same rights in others, is an outrage, and in any event cannot be tolerated – it is a threat to the whole post-modern house of cards.

Putting Up With the Modern World

There is no such thing as complete tolerance. It’s not that complete tolerance, however defined, is desirable but difficult, or impossible in practice but a worthy ideal to measure our efforts against. Rather, it is a thing like sola scriptura, contradicted and revealed as impossible by the simple act of stating it. (1)

For toleration exists when a consensus on certain foundational matters allows people and ultimately a culture to put up with behaviors that that same consensus considers wrong. If they did not consider the tolerated behaviors to be wrong, what we’d have isn’t tolerance, but acceptance – conformity to the consensus. Acceptance and tolerance are mutually exclusive.

What we had here in America was something like a consensus around what C.S. Lewis infelicitously called ‘mere Christianity’ – an imagined (and imaginary) agreement on certain fundamental principles rooted in the stories and teachings found in the Bible.

Once came across a letter from the early part of the 19th century, wherein a Presbyterian Calvinist (I think – the exact denominations of the people involved isn’t important to the point) wrote expressing his despair over the impending marriage of a family member to a Methodist. Didn’t they realize that was the road to perdition? Today, it is somewhat startling to think there were people who didn’t think that the grey goo that runs from liberal Catholicism through Episcopalians and Lutherans and then on down through Presbyterians and Methodists all the way to the higher-church (if that’s the right term) Baptists and ending in Universalist Unitarians isn’t one big happy, if terminally vague, family. Outside this pale in either direction lie the Catholics, readily identified by their failure to reflexively buy into all liberal positions as a matter of identity, and the Evangelicals, identifiable by their insistence that there are things one must simply believe that precede and supercede politics. (It was in highschool that it dawned on me that Evangelicals and Catholics have way more in common than either has with mainline Protestants. It’s gotten more pronounced since.)

Along the way are the occasional reformed this and orthodox that flavors of mainline Protestantism, which tend to be sort of wannabe Catholics or Evangelicals or some mix. And, of course, the Jews, Muslims, and Orthodox don’t exactly fit anywhere here, let alone Hindus and atheists. This is all very rough, but I think it roughly true.

What we had at our country’s founding were, generally, Calvinists in New England  and Anglicans in much of the rest of the 13 Colonies, with some Catholics in Maryland and other oddball sects spread liberally all around. Later, after the Revolution, we had the mushrooming of more or less uniquely American varieties of Christianity from the Burned Over District (making them morel mushrooms, I suppose), but those new sects were not part of the consensus except accidentally, but rather more often a challenge to it.

All these sects at the nation’s founding shared a couple things. Perhaps most important and certainly the most persistent, was that the Catholic Church was the wrongest wrong ever wronged. Right behind that was the idea, greatly to their credit, that Christians of whatever non-Catholic flavor should live together in peace, using a sort of 10 Commandments + Christ’s Commandments as a baseline. Quibbling over what, exactly, Christ commanded was bad form, at least during the Revolution, Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention. Insofar as a consensus existed, that was it – that some sort of ‘mere’ anti-Catholic Christianity, based on the Bible and a moral tradition defended from scripture was the baseline from which what qualified as tolerable dissent could be defined.

Image result for american country church
An American church, out standing in its field.

The idea of tolerable dissent is key. Dissent which threatened the consensus could not be tolerated. We have little problem when the violation of the consensus is, say, murder. Action must be taken. We have more problems when the dissent is sexual. We want to think sex a merely private matter, but it’s very nearly true to say that all of morality is about sex. We have property rights – thou shalt not steal – because we need to hold property to fulfill our duties to our families, which were always understood as the fullest expression of human sexuality. Family life, and thus culture and society, are built on Commandments 4 – 10, and express our moral duties to our brothers and sisters. Thinking we can unhitch sex from moral duty is starting a brush fire in high winds. Lies? False witness? Coveting spouses?  Have these these not become characteristic of our age?

I mention all this, which is basic logic and American history, because, today, as the Protestant churches dissolve all around us and the Sexual Revolution assumes its intended place as the moral foundation of all that is right and just, the pseudo-consensus that could tolerate, for example, the Sexual Revolution, is being replaced by one that cannot tolerate opposition to the Sexual Revolution.

The consensus upon which cultural (and, by extension, political and legal) toleration can be built must also be able to say what cannot be tolerated. The ‘mere Christianity’ consensus was never quite real, sustained as it was by good intentions where logic failed, and in any event waged intermittent war against Catholics, who were never fully embraced as Americans. (JFK taught the still-valid lesson that a Catholic can be an American as long as he’s not much of a Catholic.)

The thought that won’t go away today: we can’t hope and long for the reinstatement of some past ideas of tolerance under which Catholics would be free to practice our faith without state interference or surveillance. That ship has sailed, and in any event was more illusion than reality. Broadly-supported anti-Catholic movements include the public schools, ‘no Irish need apply’, the Klan, the Masons – these all lie close to the core of American history, and have not so much gone away as changed form. The tight-laced Puritan who hated Catholics has been replaced in stages by the broad-minded Unitarian who hated Catholics and finally the secular atheist who hates Catholics. And, I suppose it should be noted, the secular liberal Catholic who hates Catholics.

I can’t help but think it’s not going to be pretty. We Catholics strongly suspect and see evidence all around us that the currently forming consensus is imploding as its internal contradictions cause structural failure. At the same time, our enemies have long been able to rally around their shared hatred of the Church, postponing their own purges and civil wars long enough to beat Catholics down. These times are far too interesting.

The historic rise of a strong man (and, no, Trump is only that guy in the fantasies of the losers. I’m thinking a Napoleon) can in some ways be seen as the inescapable imposition of a standard plugged into the lacuna left by a failed consensus.

Let’s hope we don’t go there. I fear, however, that we can’t go back to the way things were, that the illusion of a consensus under which we lived for 200+ years has been shattered into too many pieces.

  1. Not to beat a dead horse, instead I direct you to the hundreds of comments in this post on Ed Fesser’s blog, and the hundreds more on the followup posts. Dr. Fesser summarizes the state of the argument occasionally over the course of the series, if your eyes start getting crossed trying to follow the comments. The gist is that those who put their faith in sola scriptura, if serious,  will, when pressed with interpretations that contradict their own, eventually whittle down the true hermeneutic to ‘agrees with me and my friends’. That’s certainly what Luther meant by the term. That plowboy in the field, let alone the Jehovah’s Witness at the door? They’ve got it all wrong, somehow, although how they came to have gotten it so wrong seems to require a bit of extra-scriptural magic. It is breathtaking to see how often Luther lies at the root of poor habits of mind in the modern world.

Freak Leeks

I don’t cook with leeks a lot, but I’ve cut up at least dozens of leeks in my life – this is the first time I’ve come across this:


Setting aside the immediate thought: are leeks evolving into or devolving from onions RIGHT BEFORE MY VERY EYES? was struck by the beauty of it all. Details of this, and the next also fascinating if less dramatic leek I cut into:

leek details 1

Leek details 2

After stopping to admire and photograph these beautiful vegetables, chopped them into bite-size pieces, mixed with halved Brussels sprouts, added a little olive oil, liberally salted and peppered them, spread them on a baking sheet, as roasted them in the oven. Earlier, had done the same to potatoes, yams, beets, and carrots, added whole garlic cloves, added thyme and rosemary and roasted separately – they take longer. Then mixed them all together and brought them to a post-caroling pot luck.

Several older couples attended -older than me, even. Imagine. A couple of people told me to tell my wife (who was off at the airport picking up incoming offspring) how good the vegetables were.

I smiled, and said I surely would.

Simbang Gabi 2017, Baby!

Today begins the delightful Advent novena of Simbang Gabi, a tradition from the Philippines, where Mass is celebrated in the darkness before dawn for the nine days leading to Christmas.

Image result for simbang gabi
By Patpat nava (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
Over the years, I’ve read a number of explanations of the origin of Simbang Gabi, with slight variations. This seems a good one:

Different Christian cultures have adapted a way in celebrating the season of Advent. In the Roman Catholic tradition, it is the time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. For Filipino Roman Catholics, the Simbang Gabi (literally means night worship) is a typical way of preparing for the great feast of Christmas. This religious tradition was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish evangelizers through Mexico. Originally, it was popularly known as Misa Aguinaldo. The “Aguinaldo” means gift, which is peculiar to Christmas. That is why, the faithful wake up early morning for nine days before Christmas to join in the celebration of the dawn Mass. The faithful make this their “Aguinaldo” to God for the great gift of Jesus. The practice can also be understood as the preparation of the faithful to receive from God the great gift or “Aguinaldo” of Christmas, Jesus, the Savior of the world. Simbang Gabi is also called Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster based on the time of day it is celebrated; at dawn, at cockcrow.

Liturgically, the practice of Simbang Gabi had its origin in the Rorate Masses  (Gaudencio B. Cardinal Rosales, D.D., Archbishop of Manila. Guidelines on the Celebration of Simbang Gabi in the Archdiocese of Manila, 2010)  which takes its name from the first word of its introit (Entrance Hymn): “Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant iustum,” or “Drop down dew, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness.” It is a Mass  celebrated early in the morning in honor of the Virgin Mary in which the interplay of light and darkness convey the meaning of Advent.

This leaves out the part about shared breakfast, which, based on my tiny sample, is an important part of the tradition.

And so, today, the first day of the novena, the boys and I got up at 5:00 a.m. and headed over to St. Francis of Assisi Church together with a few hundred of our Filipino brothers and sister in the dark for Mass and an always interesting Filipino breakfast: chicken soup seems to be the one mandatory item, followed closely by hard-boiled eggs, white rolls and individually wrapped slices of American cheese. There can be and usually are other items, but these seem invariant.

The chicken soup is usually pretty tasty. Since various parishes and other Filipino groups take turns doing breakfast, one is never quite sure what one will get. Today’s soup was thick with rice and had saffron in it along with little bits of chicken – delicious. Sometimes, we get what I suppose is authentic chicken soup, wherein, it seems, entire chickens with bare minimal amount of prep are boiled until they fall apart – tastes OK, but beware the bones and gristle. Fried sausages and ham, sometimes cooked in sugar or honey, and various gelatinous sweet regular solids rounds out the options.

Since we’ve been doing this for a number of years now even though we are not Filipino nor part of any of the sponsoring organizations, we are recognized, greeted by name, any missing family members (not all of us make it every time – 5:00 a.m.!) asked after. It’s a very welcoming group.

The mass, complete with songs and mass parts in Tagalog, is of course the high point. To see several hundred people up at that hour and filled with good cheer as they prepare a straight way for the Lord is a great comfort and inspiration.

Advent: St. Lucy’s Day

As we rapidly approach the Winter Solstice, the day of the year with the least sunlight, the Church calendar and readings stick to the theme of light. This coming Sunday’s Gospel opens with John 1:6

A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.

The ‘O’ Antiphon for December 21:

O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.

And today is the Feast of St. Lucy, whose name means ‘Light’.

virgin and martyr of Syracuse in Sicily, whose feast is celebrated by Latins and Greeks alike on 13 December.

According to the traditional story, she was born of rich and noble parents about the year 283. Her father was of Roman origin, but his early death left her dependent upon her mother, whose name, Eutychia, seems to indicate that she came of Greek stock.

Like so many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor. Her mother was not so single-minded, but an occasion offered itself when Lucy could carry out her generous resolutions. The fame of the virgin-martyr Agatha, who had been executed fifty-two years before in the Decian persecution, was attracting numerous visitors to her relics at Catania, not fifty miles from Syracuse, and many miracles had been wrought through her intercession. Eutychia was therefore persuaded to make a pilgrimage to Catania, in the hope of being cured of a hæmorrhage, from which she had been suffering for several years. There she was in fact cured, and Lucy, availing herself of the opportunity, persuaded her mother to allow her to distribute a great part of her riches among the poor.

The largess stirred the greed of the unworthy youth to whom Lucy had been unwillingly betrothed, and he denounced her to Paschasius, the Governor of Sicily. It was in the year 303, during the fierce persecution of Diocletian. She was first of all condemned to suffer the shame of prostitution; but in the strength of God she stood immovable, so that they could not drag her away to the place of shame. Bundles of wood were then heaped about her and set on fire, and again God saved her. Finally, she met her death by the sword. But before she died she foretold the punishment of Paschasius and the speedy termination of the persecution, adding that Diocletian would reign no more, and Maximian would meet his end. So, strengthened with the Bread of Life, she won her crown of virginity and martyrdom.


Lucy’s legend did not end with her death. According to later accounts, Lucy warned Paschasius he would be punished. When the governor heard this he ordered the guards to gouge out her eyes; however, in another telling, it was Lucy who removed her eyes in an attempt to discourage a persistent suitor who greatly admired them.

When her body was being prepared for burial, they discovered her eyes had been restored.

Quotes Catholic Saint Lucia. QuotesGram
St. Lucy. Here’s looking at you! 

Before you dismiss this as sheer pious fantasy, you might want to read this David Warren essay. I’m inclined to believe that the bare bones of the story as factually correct, and that there’s something behind the more legendary claims, even if they might have suffered some embellishment in pious hands. The Church has long held that there’s little harm in pious legends, and much good if they inspire us to greater holiness.

Be that as it may, the feast of St. Lucy has some interesting history and traditions around it. Due to the subtle inaccuracies of the Julian Calendar, the Winter Solstice had slowly crept earlier over the 15 centuries since that calendar’s promulgation. Pope Gregory’s team proposed an equally subtle correction in 1582. That’s the calendar we use today.

Even though the Gregorian Calendar is a better calendar in all practical senses, keeping the days of the solstices and thus the seasons more or less fixed for millennia to come, the Pope had no authority to enforce this change. He could only appeal to reason. We know how far that will get you in a politically charged (to say the least!) environment. Plus, there was a correction needed: the papal bull specified that Thursday, October 4, 1582 under the Julian calendar be followed by Friday, October 15, 1582 in the Gregorian calendar. Tough break if your birthday falls into those now-vanished days!

In the end, Catholic countries pretty much got on the bandwagon pretty fast, while Protestant countries, being Enlightened and all, resisted doing the logical, practical thing for a long, long time.

When John Donne wrote A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day around 1627,  the British were still using the Julian calendar (better to get one’s calendar from a pagan emperor than a pope!), according to which the Winter Solstice had crept forward to indeed fall on (or very near) St. Lucy’s Day. As mentioned in this earlier post, our European ancestors were much less bent out of shape by claims that coincidences showed the hand of God, in fact, they expected God to work through accidents. Thus, that the feast of the saint named Light would fall on the day with the least light would seem appropriate cause for contemplation, portentous, even, to a man of Donne’s time.

St LucyThus has St. Lucy been remembered since the 6th century on. More recently, as in the last 1,000 years or so, Scandinavians have celebrated St. Lucy’s Day as part of the Christmas celebration in this manner: eldest daughter wears white that day, and wears a crown of candles. She is charged with serving food to the family, in commemoration with a legend that has it that St. Lucy did this to have both hands free to serve the poor.

There is a procession, and, in church, appropriate hymns are sung.

The love of Scandinavians for St. Lucy, a Sicilian, is explained by how her feast fell close to the pagan Norse celebration of the Winter Solstice. Those Norsemen would build big bonfires during the longest winter night to drive off the darkness and invite back the light. Lucy’s Day timing, name and story seemed a good segue from pagan to Christian.

And who doesn’t like setting stuff on fire?

Science!: One *Million* Dollars!

A newspaper is a device for making the ignorant more ignorant and the crazy crazier.

H. L. Mencken

(WordPress formatting Hell – unlocked!)

We will not here pile on to the current avalanche precipitated by political news proving Mencken’s point. Instead, let’s do Science!

I’d never heard of these folks before, just saw the headline and had to take it on. This is who they say they are:

About The Western Journal 

The Western Journal is a news company that drives positive cultural change by equipping readers with truth. Every day, publishes conservative, libertarian, free market and pro-family writers and broadcasters.

As Americans — and indeed, readers around the world — continue to lose trust in traditional newspapers and broadcast networks and their claims of objectivity and impartiality, The Western Journal is rapidly filling the gap as a trusted source of news and information. The Western Journal is staffed by an experienced team of editors, journalists and media experts who both recognize the stories that matter to everyday readers and provide a truthful and unfiltered view of current events.

Now, I would often give a pass to stories of the quality of the one we’ll be discussing below, not because such are not egregious examples of the Mencken quotation above, but rather because they are Legion and comparatively harmless. Not absolutely harmless, because they perpetuate the mindless Pavlovian expectation that we salivate ooh and aah at impressive sounding numbers and speculations passed off as facts as long as they’re associated, however tenuously, with Science!

The headline to the article, NASA Admits Valuable Asteroid Would Crash Entire Economy, Still Sending Retrieval Rocket, is so egregiously stupid that it’s hard not to laugh. The “experienced team of editors, journalists and media experts” have got to be kidding, right? NASA, collective bureaucratic feet no doubt to the fire, admit to the truth they’d been hiding: that an asteroid of all but immeasurable value would “crash entire economy” somehow – but they are nefariously sending a “retrieval rocket” nonetheless – unless, I suppose, we, the faithful readers of the Western Journal somehow can stop them! At this point, I think we need to appeal to the imperial senate to send Jedi to break the trade embargo. Or something. It’s only prudent.

But the ‘About’ quoted above says either ‘no, they’re serious’ or ‘deep meta-humor going on here’,  and I’m not quite buying the meta humor angle. One supposes there’s also the ‘false flag’ angle, where somebody’s goal is to discredit “conservative, libertarian, free market and pro-family” people by claiming to be on their side, then repeating Science! so stupid that only the appallingly ignorant would fall for it. Tempting to believe, but that’s a little hard to buy, as I’ve seen worse in, oh, Scientific American. So:

“NASA admits” – admits?

“valuable asteroid” – ya know, there are supposedly diamond stars out there, too – do we refer to them as ‘valuable stars’? Without, oh, factoring in the effectively infinite retrieval costs? Just curious. Now, an article on how technology is even now driving down retrieval costs for asteroids to some level where either they can be economically redirected to some more convenient orbit or mining operations could be set up on the asteroid in its current orbit AND we’ve got some plausible ideas on how we get stuff from the asteroid to the surface of the earth economically and safely – well, I’d eagerly read that article.

This is not that article.

“would crash entire economy”  – sure! Movies have been made on that topic – a 130 mile diameter asteroid could crash a lot more than just the economy! Perhaps the word ‘crash’ is infelicitous in this context?

“still sending retrieval rocket” – the nerve! Don’t those NASA people even watch the show?The scene: the dedicated and “experienced team of editors, journalists and media experts” have gotten NASA dead to rights, but just as they admit this asteroid they’ll be retrieving is a real threat to destroy The Economy, they cackle maniacally and declare: “and we’re sending the retrieval rocket anyway! MUAHAHAHA!”This is point where I’d like to say some headline writer got out of hand, the real article isn’t nearly this bad.But it is:

NASA has officially set a date for a trip to an asteroid that is so valuable it could collapse the world’s economy.

The mission is set to launch in the summer of 2022, and is planned to arrive at the main asteroid belt where the asteroid is located in the year 2026.

The asteroid named “16 Psyche” measures about 130 miles in diameter and is made entirely of nickel and iron.

Psyche is worth approximately $10,000 quadrillion, according to Daily Star. To put that in perspective, the world’s economy is currently worth $73.7 trillion dollars.

And so on. So: NASA is somehow going to ‘retrieve’ a 130 mile diameter chunk of nickle and iron from the asteroid belt, which, last I checked, is over a hundred million miles away at the closest. This chunk of nickle and iron is worth the staggering sum of $10,000 quadrillion, which is, let’s see, pulling out the calculator here, A LOT!!!

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Luke: Listen, if you were to rescue her, the reward would be…more than you can imagine.  Han: I don’t know. I can imagine quite a bit.

I recently watched a little video about traditional African iron smelting. The team made the video to capture the techniques before the last people who knew how to smelt iron from ore died off. They mention in passing that about 60 years ago, a ship was driven aground and abandoned on the shore, and the Africans, being not stupid, started right in stripping the wreck and stopped smelting their own iron. Then, Japanese and Chinese showed up, and would sell them all the iron they could use. So, rather than draft the entire village to work their behinds off digging and hauling ore, chopping down a small forest for charcoal, hauling clay and water to build a furnace, then burning, pounding, fanning and sweating for hours on end all to get enough iron to make a couple hoes, hoes they could swap a piglet for – they stopped. Economics and all that.

Iron and nickel are quite valuable – when you have to make them yourself. Thanks to the miracle of the free market system, you don’t. You just buy them from companies that, through applied science and a couple centuries of effort, are willing to sell you nickel for under $5 a pound and iron for much less than that.But if you take those numbers, apply them to however much iron and nickel you calculate a 130 mile diameter sphere would hold, and – WOW! One *million* dollars! Or, it might as well be, given how well readers of the Western Journal (including me) are able to imagine $10,000,000,000,000.

Let us assume – dangerous, I know – that somehow NASA retrieves this asteroid so that the there’s so much nickel and iron on earth that it is effectively all but free. This will destroy the economy – how? Like how gravel pits have destroyed the economy? You know that virtually all you’re paying for when you buy gravel is the equipment and manpower needed to get it out of the ground, sorted and delivered. The rock ain’t worth much.

Unless all my money was in mineral rights to iron and nickel mines, I fail to see how this could possibly be a bad thing.The remainder of the article is untethered speculation, some by NASA scientists, among which are the idea that you could corner markets or solve all the world’s metal needs for ever. You need to squint a bit and cock your head just right to get anything like the click-bait headline out of it.Followed some of the links in the article to other equally confidence-inspiring sources, until the interesting stuff came up: it is not assumed that this asteroid is only iron and nickel, but rather that, as a possible planetary core (mentioned without comment in the Western Journal article) it would be rich in rare and valuable metals. That’s the interest: getting stuff that’s really rare and valuable on earth. What exactly ‘retrieve’ means wasn’t spelled out, but one would assume samples, if anything.

This introduction to the Western Journal has made it a trusted source for goofball click bait headlines. Science, not so much.

Ave Fit Ex Eva

Happy, holy and blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

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Immaculate Conception, El Greco, 1610. You can count on El Greco for weird and arresting colors and composition, and also for unusual insights into the emotions of the scene depicted. For example, study Mary’s face in the painting. 

This is a lovely and evocative feast. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a wonderful expression of faith understood through tradition and logic.

I was a little disappointed at mass this morning when the homilist stuck to a Sunday school level exposition of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. He first spent a couple minutes making clear that we’re talking about Mary being preserves from original sin, not Jesus’s divine conception or virgin birth, then explained how Mary needed to be kept free of sin in order to be the Mother of the sinless God – well and good.  But we left it there.

It was completely orthodox, something for which I suppose I should be thankful, especially given some of the homilies I’ve heard at this particular church (recently retired: a Jesuit, and a super-duper spirit of V-II priest.) But my mind went back to this little ditty, the sources of the text for which dates to the Middle Ages:

(Not the exact text Williametta Spencer used – I couldn’t find it – but close)

1. Gabriel of high degree,
He came down from the Trinity
From Nazareth to Galilee,
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

2. He met a maiden in a place;
He kneeled down before her face;
He said: “Hail, Mary, full of grace!”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

3. When the maiden saw all this,
She was sore abashed, ywis,
Lest that she had done amiss.
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

4. Then said the angel: “Dread not you,
Ye shall conceive in all virtue
A child whose name shall be Jesu.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

5. Then said the maid: “How may this be,
God’s Son to be born of me?
I know not of man’s carnality.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

6. Then said the angel anon right:
“The Holy Ghost is on thee alight;
There is no thing unpossible to God Almight.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

7. Then said the angel anon:
“It is not fully six months agone,
Since Saint Elizabeth conceived Saint John.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

8. Then said the maid anon quickly:
“I am God’s own truly,
Ecce ancilla Domini.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

It seems those poor ignorant medieval peasants were getting markedly deeper theology in popular songs than one can nowadays expect from the pulpit.

The refrain is the key: Ave, the first word of the angel’s greeting of Mary, is made from (fit ex) Eve’s sin. The medievals loved the little accidental palindrome of Ave – Eva. In fact, they didn’t really believe in coincidences like this – they thought that the all-loving God would quite naturally use little associations like this to make His Love known.

For the Ave really is made by reversing the Eva. Mary is not the only Immaculate Conception, in the sense of the only person born without Original Sin. There are 4: Mary, her Divine Son, Adam – and Eve.

Eve, sinless and blessed with a personal knowledge of God, who walked with them in the cool of the evening, nonetheless chose to reject His will. By means of her ‘No’ to the will of God, all her children inherited a darkness of intellect, a weakening of the will, and a tendency to choose evil. And we all thus die.

Mary, also sinless and blessed – full of grace, even – and free of those curses, is thus able to respond to God’s call with complete freedom. By means of her ‘Yes’ all her children inherit the grace of salvation, and are likewise free to chose to do God’s will.

Eve, the mother of mankind, and Mary, the Mother of God and the mother of the all who follow her Son, are set in parallel for our contemplation. One chose hard but well, the other chose poorly. One was faced with a simple prohibition – don’t eat the fruit! – and could not trust God enough to obey. The other was faced with a huge unknown, and chose to trust God’s will anyway. Neither knew what would happen, but Eve hoped to become a god herself but becomes instead the mother of sin, while Mary loses herself in God and becomes the queen of heaven and earth.

When it comes to revealed truths, Thomists have from the beginning loved to argue from appropriateness – we may not be able to reason our way to a particular truth (that’s why it is revealed) but we can see that the revelation is meet and just. And thus it is with the Immaculate Conception: it is meet and just that, since sin entered the world through the choice of the woman Eve, that salvation should enter the world through the choice of the woman Mary; that, as Eve was sinless and thus perfectly free to choose, Mary must needs be sinless and perfectly free to choose; that, just as the result of Eve’s poor choice was death for her children, the result of Mary’s good choice is life for her children. As brothers and sisters of Christ, we are children of Mary.

The Immaculate Conception is celebrated as a great feast of Advent, because Mary’s preparation for the coming of Our Lord, and embrace and acceptance of the consequences of that coming, are meant to inspire and inform our own preparations and our own acceptance of the Lord. Our salvation is and has always been an unmerited gift. We must, like Mary, say ‘yes’ and be prepared to live out the implications of that yes in our lives.

The Harrowing of Hell, depicted in the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, 14th-century illuminated manuscript By Anonimous – from, Public Domain,

The final punchline is something often portrayed in medieval art: the Harrowing of Hell. Christ, during His time in the Tomb, is portrayed opening the gates of Hell and freeing those souls who had yearned for His coming but were not yet saved because he had not yet come.

The first two people out are always Adam and Eve. Thus, even Eve, our mother in sin, is saved by means of the ‘Yes’ of Mary, our mother through our being the brothers and sisters of Christ. To the medieval mind, the symmetry and beauty of such a resolution and such mercy was indeed meet and just, a magnum mysterium to be contemplated in awe.