Divorce: Lying Starts at Home

Image result for henry viii
At least he didn’t kill his own children. But the divorces did – how do you say ? negatively impact a whole lot of people. (BTW – doesn’t his face look like a code monkey’s? The beady eyes and beard?)  

Divorce is like having both your legs amputated. It might be necessary in some extreme cases, but only a madman would make it anything other than a desperate last resort. And, afterwards, you can never walk unaided again.

Via some Twitter feed or other, I was made aware of this testament to our culture’s love affair with comforting self-deception and willingness, almost eagerness, to make someone else suffer for our sins, a currently popular song called When You Love SomeoneContinue reading “Divorce: Lying Starts at Home”


Let me say this about that:

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
As suicide remarks are torn
From the fool’s gold mouthpiece the hollow horn

Plays wasted words that proved to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

When I was 15, I went through a Dylan phase. That’s about the right age to do it. My older siblings had left a small pile of Dylan LPs, and I’d listen to them for hours on end.

Then, one day, listening to ‘It’s Alright, Ma‘ I had a revelation: it’s all doggerel. Now, I’m cool with doggerel as pop lyrics, and as pop lyrics, Dylan’s stuff is outstanding. But if the idea is that Dylan ranks higher than a middling 2nd rate *poet* – nah. The jokes Tom Leher makes about folk music – e.g., “The reason folk music is so bad is that it’s written by the people.” and, from his masterpiece Folk Song Army:

The tune don’t have to be clever,
And it don’t matter if you put a coupla extra syllables into a line.
It sounds more “ethnic” if it ain’t good English,
And it don’t even gotta rhyme —
Excuse me — “rhyne.”

were, it seems to me, written with Dylan clearly in mind.

It’s Alright, Ma is often cited as one of Dylan’s poetic masterpieces. The lyrics are dark, with accusations of hypocrisy thrown around liberally. Things are bad, man. The thing about hypocrisy is that, before throwing it around at others, one should take a good, long critical look in the mirror – an act to which that 1960s generation seemed disinclined or incapable of. When I hear these lyrics, I tend to see all those brats raised by the Greatest Generation ™, whose parents had suffered through a terrible depression and a horrible war and so spoiled their children insufferably. Or at least enough of them did to provide fodder for a movement.

The whole hippy scene thing was just too lame. And yet, that’s what Dylan lyrics are: hippy scene poetry that relies for whatever power it has on seeing the world as hippies like to think they did. The flower children seemed to think they were the first generation to notice that war is bad and life isn’t fair, and, in their innocence, they also seemed to believe that all it was going to take to fix it all was some pointed songs and lots of sex and drugs.

That that whole sex and drugs thing might also cause war (at least, on the very local level) and injustice (ask all those love children how that justice thing worked out for them) seems to have honestly never occurred to them.

Since the world didn’t reform itself even when they asked nicely, a number of hippies took one of two paths: the cynical – the Age of Greed people were just those same hippies hitting their working primes – or the ‘idealistic’ along the lines of Alinsky. Saul’s arguments that honesty was for suckers, that real revolutionaries only judge their actions by the intended results, found a ready audience, an audience of kids with bruised feelings. It also never seemed to occur to them that, if all that matters is the goal, then all Alinsky was telling them was designed solely to achieve his goals, which, insofar as he was to be believed, meant, circularly enough, that he could never be believed. Perhaps all he wanted was to see the world burn – that’s certainly a much more likely result than the magic fairies of History delivering a Worker’s Paradise on a bed of fresh greens right on top of the smoldering wreckage of culture Alinsky’s tactics are designed to create.

I digress. Dylan is cool as a pop singer, and does deliver the occasional zinger lyric (and just as often or more often a tin-eared shoe-horn job: “He hears the ticking of the clocks/And walks along with a parrot that talks” – suuuuure….). And, frankly, if Gore and Obama are deserving of Nobels, give Dylan 3 or 4 at least.

Now I want to go listen to Tangled Up In Blue, perhaps Dylan’s least political song (unless one counts the largely incoherent lyrics in the penultimate stanza – they seem more atmospheric than carrying any real political weight). It’s remained my favorite, because it’s all atmosphere and feelings, which, IMHO, is where Dylan is at his best.



Being Rash for Christ

When reading the lives of the saints, it’s common to see both a relentless practical disposition and utter spontaneity side by side in the same person. This is that whole Catholic both/and thing Chesterton among others likes to go on about. Thus, great saints will typically devote themselves to a rigorous, no excuses life of prayer and discipline AND run off to convert the Saracens at the drop of a biretta. Or kiss the leper, give somebody the clothes off their backs, take a condemned man’s place – that sort of thing.

A certain tiny rash act on my part, not remotely in the league of anything an actual saint would do reflects,  I hope, a tiny bit of the spirit of the thing: I will, it seems, be in charge of a bit of continuing Catholic education at our parish. Because the director said I could do a class, and so I submitted an outline and that was that.

Here’s what I’ll be trying to do. First note my abiding hatred of the graded classroom model, so imagine this as being done in a way to defeat that model (which lurks, after 12+ years of Pavlovian training, in our minds despite our dislike of it and despite even efforts to root it out) so as to allow actual personal relationships to be formed – which is by far my most obvious weakness as a ‘teacher’. People are just so much more demanding than living in my own head! Anyway:

Feasts and Faith: Continuing Catholic Education Continue reading “Being Rash for Christ”

Tuesday Mish-Mash

(Sort of clearing the tabs in my head – what could be any more Yard Sale of the Mind than that?)

Staying away from the news, which reports on our wretched hive of scum and villainy, and instead getting all domestic:

A. Freight and Salvage is a music venue in Berkeley that does a lot of folk/ethnic music. They also run a summer Fiddlekids day camp that our youngest attended this year – hang with the fiddlers, learn new tunes, some folk dancing and do a little art. Sounds like fun.

IMG_2841While there for the end-of-camp concert, we picked up tickets to see the Savoy Family Cajun Band last week, who were a lot of fun. Nice folks, good musicians, great tunes.

When we entered the venue, the manager, a woman who recognized us from Fiddlekids, came over and was very friendly and solicitous. She has the right job for her personality. Later, once the show began and I looked around, another possible (if less generous) reason sprang to mind: I, just under 60, was one of the younger people there. We were one of maybe 3 families with kids, there were a few folks in the 20 – 40 age range, but the majority were, frankly, aging hippies. This observation was confirmed by the slight wiff of the weed one got in the lobby during intermission.

We (even I!) might well represent the future of Freight and Salvage, as the existing clientele is largely north of 70, some quite a bit north.

I really like the venue, I wish it well. Not sure how often I’ll be able to make it over to Berkeley, though.

B. Money puts the ‘fun’ into ‘fungible’. Just wanted to say that.

C. Younger daughter, who bakes up a storm (we’re a family of cooks and bakers – tough break, I know) decided to make Baked Alaska for 4th of July dinner:


This entailed making ice cream (a vanilla-raspberry swirl), cake from scratch and the meringue topping (I don’t care for meringue, but this was yummy).

Where do my kids get this crazy overboard enthusiasm for DIY stuff? Oh, yea:

D. Since I’ve only got a million books to read, a bunch of reviews to write, a short story to finish by week after next (more on that later) along with all the duties entailed by being the Dad Incumbent, I decided to build this:


This is sort of the larval stage of a wood-fired pizza oven. I was testing out the arch support frame when I stopped for the day and took this shot. This is just the base – the actual oven will go on top, after I finish the decorative brickwork (arches are fun!) and pour the oven slab (8 cubic’ of concrete with rebar suspended 32″ off the ground  on top of those cinder blocks – piece of cake! I’m insane!)

Why would any sane man pushing 60, with semi-bad knees and a standard-issue back willingly start a project that consists of 1. lifting numerous heavy things over and over; 2. spending lots of time on one’s hands and knees; 3. several MONTHS to complete?

Someone asked me: why are you building a pizza oven? I was brought up short: I have no idea. Must have sounded like fun at the time.

But it is cute, right?

E. Home Improvement Project Gone Bad: I don’t have a picture, and I probably won’t take one, but, in the annals of DIY projects, I think I may have hit Pointlessly Complex Bottom. Background: we compost. Out back by the shed is a plastic stackable compost bin we’ve had for years. However, rats have long found our compost bin. In the past, using traps and poison (not in the compost, obviously, but near enough by), I’ve managed to keep them under control.

Not any more. These are either smarter, tougher rats, or they’ve grown immune to poison, or something, because they don’t die and they’ve gnawed their way through the plastic and into the bin, they are increasing in number to the point where putting out compost tends to produce an audible and often visible scramble (yuck!) in the surrounding bushes.

So, DIY me decides: I’ll build a rodent-proof compost bin! I’ve got piles of junk lying around – I’ll just wing it! So, I go survey the material lying up against the shed for Candidates.

Aha! thinkest me – there’s an old slatted oak futon frame just moldering back there! I’ll repurpose it, thereby removing an eyesore and repurposing a stupid hippie piece of garble garble in a poetically fulfilling way.

It gets worse. Instead of grabbing a couple pieces of plywood and throwing together a box, maybe put some wire mesh on it to blunt any nasty little teeth that might attempt to chew through, and soaking the thing in water proof sealer AND BEING DONE WITH IT, I took dozens of little oak slats and assembled them into 3 10″ high stackable squares lined with galvanized wire screen, THEN lined that with some old wainscotting material we had left over from the remodel 10 years ago – which required cutting and installing dozens of little pieces. THEN make a couple top and bottom pieces complete with the wire screen, to close the rodent-proof loop. THEN seal it up with that green copper anti-fungal stuff for wood in contact with the soil, THEN paint the whole thing with paint left over from the remodel just to get rid of some paint.

Aaaaah! Shoot me now! I’m not done yet, and I get kick-myself-in-the patootie urges every time I look at it. Could’ve thrown a perfectly acceptable plywood box together in under an hour, but NO! Hours of labor, actual money spent (for the wire screen) on this! Hundreds of screws, with countersunk holes, because the screws I had weren’t quite long enough. Dozens of little pieces of oak, trimmed to fit, carefully installed, covered with wire, finished with wainscotting… All while I have a pizza oven and a short story to finish.

I am clearly out of my mind. But the futon frame is gone. Mostly.

F. I just like this picture, taken in our kitchen, of my daughter, her grandmother and some friends at the table (made that table. Theme here?). The color and composition were accidental and remarkable. Well, to me, at least. IMG_2845


Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

This morning at Mass, we sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic as an anticipatory 4th of July recessional. Go, and submit to tyrants no more!

I have loved this song since I was kid (1). What’s not to love? Catchy tune, rousing anthem, colorful and evocative lyrics.  It’s even easy to sing.

It is the anthem of the Abolitionists. We forget, if we ever knew, that the North was torn before the Civil War between those who preached that the righteous should be willing to pay any price to end slavery, even to the destruction of the Republic and their own lives, while others, keeping in mind the horrors of war and observing how slavery had been ended without much bloodshed in much of the New World already(2), sought desperately to avoid it (3).

Right up until Fort Sumter, many Northerners who opposed slavery were looking hard for ways to avoid war. But all that changed once the South demanded the surrender of, and then attacked, an American fort.  The attitude of the North shifted in the direction of the Abolitionists.

When Julia Ward Howe wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, it expressed the sense that the North was doing God’s work in attacking the South, and that dying (and, by the inescapable logic of war, killing) for the cause was the only right and holy thing to do.

Four years and a million deaths later, Lincoln expressed a different view in his 2nd Inaugural Address. 

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.

The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

2 thoughts for this Fourth:

First, Lincoln is of course right: God’s purposes cannot ever be reduced to what men want, even when men want a good thing – the end of slavery. To get that end, men chose war. With war came blood and misery; a million lives destroyed and the families they were a part of horribly damaged. The bitterness of the South over what they view, not without reason, as the excesses and revenge taking of the North has still to this day not been healed. Slavery has ended, a very good thing to be sure, but healing has not.

As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, in most non-trivial cases we humans can only choose means, not ends, properly speaking: we choose to do or allow whatever the next step is in the *hope* that the desired ends will be achieved. Our choices result in actions now that *may* achieve the desired end eventually, but may not. Thus, our choices of means are real and immediate in a sense that our desired ends will never be. (Outside trivial cases, where there are no steps involved: pick the chocolate or the vanilla ice cream.)

Only God makes things real by the simple act of willing them. Our wills are weak; our intellects clouded; our desires impure. Even, perhaps especially, when we think we’re doing God’s work.

Second, if Lincoln is right about Divine Justice, what will come of the millions aborted, what will that Divine Justice demand and allow? If 250 years of slavery needed a million deaths, what are we facing as the cost to end this horror?

My Lord and my God, have mercy on me, a sinner!

  1. Especially, the ‘teacher hit me with a ruler’ version, which would get a kid suspended, the police called and his parent thrown in jail these days.  We sang it with gusto in 3rd grade at St. Mary’s Whittier back in the 60s. Good times.
  2. See, for example, this list. It was all fits and starts, to be sure, and Brazil still had slaves into the 1880s, but the anti-slavery yet non-Abolitionists Northerners weren’t just blowing smoke.
  3. In the early parts of The Metaphysical Club, Menand portrays at least some of the Boston upper crust as viewing Abolitionists as rubes of a sort, their fervor getting the best of their reason.

Guitars & Kids

One thing I’ve tried to do for my kids is get them instruments and lessons if they ask for them. So far, the girls both play the piano and guitar and sing, and Daughter #1 plays a little violin; Oldest son, may he rest in peace, learned to play a little Bach on the piano before deciding he wasn’t interested. Youngest son plays fiddle quite well, sings a little and has expressed interest in learning piano and other instruments as well. (I tell him: show me you’ll practice on your own for a year or two, then we’ll see. So far, we’re sticking to violin, as I do need to get after him a bit – hey, he’s 12.)

But middle son, age 20,  has never played anything, and, when his voice changed (it’s way deeper than mine, which is a little disconcerting) something happened that seems to have made him unwilling or unable to sing. BUT – he started in a couple months ago saying he wanted to learn to play guitar.

So off we went to Guitar Center, and shopped. Found him a cheap-ish flamenco style nylon string (1). Why that kind of guitar? Because he wants to learn this song:

What? I mean, slow enough and a month of practice, I can sort of play maybe 75% of Rodrigo’s part, but hardly know where to start with Gabriela’s insane strumming percussion. This is pretty damn advanced guitar. Yet, never having tried guitar, this is what our Thomas wants to do.

Aaand – he’s doing it. After 1 freakin’ week, he can play that slower main melody section from the middle. Not to speed, not clean – but he can play it. I figure it out a bit at a time (Rodrigo y Gabriela have very helpfully posted a ‘tips’ video for this very song – phew!) show it to him, and he’s spent several hours a day working on it.

Here I am worried he’s going to get so frustrated that he’ll never pick up the guitar again, and he’s smiling ear to ear every time I see him, running through those 16 measures or so of the song. I can even, in a very un-Gabriela-like way, strum the chords behind him. I can probably show him that intro section next, at about 25% speed. Then he’ll be in for it, because the solo is insane, and the little strumming fills Rodrigo plays are Not Easy.

We’ll see what happens then. I do know an outstanding guitar teacher, and asked Thomas if he’d want to take a few lessons over the summer, and he’s interested – good thing, too, because I’m going to be in over my head in a few weeks at this rate.

Thomas makes the off-hand comment that, when he started in fencing 6 years ago, he had no idea what it meant to practice. But since he’s not a natural athlete and since he had a very good instructor, he learned how – to practice. Now, he’s applying that skill set to the guitar.

Kids never cease to amaze me. Mine do most of the amazing for the simple reason they’re the ones I see all the time. I do have high expectations for my kids, but all around how they behave, not around trying to make them great musicians or scholars. They have wildly exceeded all  expectations on both fronts. I am truly blessed.

(By freakish coincidence, Rodrigo y Gabriela just happen to be playing in Napa next weekend – a 45 minute drive. Yep, the whole clan is going – woohoo!)

  1. The quality of cheap guitars keeps rising while their cost, adjusted for inflation, keeps falling. I love the free market!

Music at Mass: 1/31/2016 – a Tale of Two Children’s Choirs

From yesterday’s Epistle:

When I was a child, I used to talk as a child,
think as a child, reason as a child;
when I became a man, I put aside childish things.

After Mass, the principle of the parish school stated, in reference to this passage, that one main goal of Catholic schools is to help bring kids into adulthood.

This is National Catholic School Week, so the choir from the parish school sang at Mass. After the manner of their kind, they were quite good – they really sang, followed the director’s directing with clear, on-pitch voices. The kids were attentive and enthusiastic. Inevitably, it seems, they sang all third-rate modern music, mostly songs written under the assumption, evidently, that children don’t actually like music. (1)

Compare and contrast this children’s choir:


The kids at Boys Town were not any more special than the kids at any parish. In other words, the kids at your local parish school could sing like the Boys Town Choir, if the adults in charge were willing and able to put in the work.

Now very few parishes have a Fr. Francis Schmitt to direct its children’s choir. The difference is that, 60 years ago, the director of a parish children’s choir (did they even have those back then? And let them sing at Mass?)  would hear the Boys Town Choir and hear something to be aspired to. Now, the harried part-timer in charge not only falls far short of any fraction of Fr. Schmitt’s  musicianship and erudition, but doesn’t even want their kids to sound like that, singing great music. They, themselves, have probably learned to despise all that classical-type music as totally snobby, that having a good choir sing beautifully from the loft is just another way the mean old Church cut the people out of Mass.(2) Any attempt to have the kids do real music is met with grave suspicion.

Thus, the quality of music coming out of parish children’s choirs is roughly that of a grade-school talent show. Yesterday’s choir was better than that, for which I am thankful. The real damaging thing here is two-fold: to the people involved, it is a *virtue* that their kids march into the sanctuary and sing weakly along to goofy recorded music while some adult waves her arms like a stork and gives them cues – and then get a round of applause from the people in the pews. This would be called, I suppose, keeping it real. Second, this childish music and childish presentation and need for instant affirmation is not seen as one of those childish things St. Paul was talking about as needing to be set aside once we reach adulthood. On the contrary, from the adults’ perspective, not only would it be a real step back (on The Wrong Side of History, no doubt) to have the kiddies sing real music really well from someplace not distracting to the Mass itself,  it would be bad if the putative adults did it.

I had the honor of meeting Fr. Schmitt back in the early 80’s, even attending little classes wherein he attempted to beat a little music into our thick skulls. He really was a great man, one of a few people where I, now that it’s too late, wish I had just done whatever I could to just sit at his feet and learn whatever he wanted to tell me.

The sad thing: Fr. Schmitt had despaired of the church ever returning to good music as the standard. He had seen not merely neglect of good music, but concerted efforts to crush it out of existence (having people throw copies of the liber usealis straight into the dumpster or furnace, for example – sort of like that scene in That Hideous Strength, where Frost tries to get Studdock to desecrate sacred symbols as a way of breaking him down). If I could talk to him now, I’d tell him that, not only are there a growing number of chant and polyphony choirs springing up, we even get to sing at Tridentine Masses in, like, regular parishes without apology.

So, while the situation liturgically and musically is still borderline dire, it is not at all hopeless. Cheer up, Fr. Schmitt!

  1. When he was still little, introduced eldest son to Bach’s Little G-Minor Fugue. It became one of his favorite bits of music, despite (because?) being all intricate and grown up. I don’t think this outcome all that unusual.
  2. The typical behind in the pews may not think this on any conscious level, but I’ve almost exactly this said on more than one occasion, usually by some aged ex-hippy deacon or ex-nun. Even some of the better younger priests seem to be afraid to stick their heads into this particular lion’s mouth. Oh well: perhaps church music, like science, advances one funeral at a time.