Oddities & Things I Don’t Understand: A Sampling

Emile: W-w-wait. You… read?

Remy: Well, not… excessively.

Emile: Oh, man. Does dad know?

Remy: You could fill a book – a lot of books – with things Dad doesn’t know. And they have. Which is why I read. Which is also our secret.

Image result for ratatouille movie Remy Emile

  1. Been reading Paolo Freire and Gramsci (Beginning to suspect reading Marxists is asymptotic to being hung, drawn and quartered. Nice Lenten project.) And: people fall for this? Or – a suspicion I’ve long harbored – run of the mill Marxists don’t actually read any Marxists beyond the Cliff Notes. And they skim those. I’ll write more later, perhaps, if my confessor, Fr Torquemada, assigns it. Basic complaint: after you’ve grasped the fundamental set of insane, self-contradictory and laughably stupid dogmas ‘validated’ by the usual cherry-picked ‘history’ and apply it to your chosen topic and vomit forth Marxist ‘analysis’ – once you’ve been through that processes once, reading more Marxists becomes like playing tic-tac-toe after you’ve Image result for princess bride to the painfigured it out. Same old same old. The only fun, such as it is, is in seeing Marxists come up with new ways to explain the utter failure of reality to live down to their theories and excuse their bloodthirsty violence. Not much fun.
  2. The USPS tried to deliver my nice hardbound copy of Mike Flynn’s epic The January Dancer to my place of business – on a Saturday. Once. They are now bent out of shape enough, evidently, to threaten me with a trip to the post office to pick it up. Sheesh. Planning to wait a couple days, hoping that, in their incompetence, they will slip up and just deliver the darn thing, so that I can place it on the stack someplace. Still have the rest of the Firestar series to read.  [update: yep, got here today.]
  3. At WordPress’s suggestion, set up a Twitter account to publicize this blog. Working the Twitter angle does seem to increase traffic – on Twitter. Makes no difference for traffic here. Unless Twitter owns WordPress, this makes no sense.
  4. We had to – I mean, like HAD TO – get the choir out of the choir loft, since adding beautiful music to the liturgy isn’t PARTICIPATION, whereas putting a rock band in the sanctuary is. Yet, somehow – and who could have predicted this? – putting people up in front, as if on a stage, invites such people to perform. I imagine most such folks aren’t actively thinking ‘I’m on stage, must perform!’ – it would just be all but impossible for anyone who grew up in America to see it any other way. Thus, the very nice man with a solid singing voice who leads the music at one of the local parishes can’t really help himself – probably can’t even hear it – from adding schmaltzy glissandos and molto rubato to every. darn. song. Thus, the congregation, some observably small fraction of whom might be willing to try to sing along with the modern pop tunes on offer, are pretty much shut down: how can you follow such a performance? I, punk that I am, sing along vigorously, right on pitch, right on beat. It doesn’t help, there is no help for it, other than owning that maybe some degree of performance is acceptable – and should be done out of sight somewhere, like, you know, up in the choir loft.
  5. Hegel’s criticism of Aristotelian logic really and truly boils down to: it’s old, and hasn’t improved like everything else.  (The gimlet eyed criticism of the criticism is: yep, and if it remains valid, you, Hegel, are blowin’ forest-fire level smoke.) See the introductory chapters of his Logic if you doubt me. There really isn’t any other objection, and Hegel even acknowledges that classic logic is necessary for scientists, mathematicians, technologists – you know, the little people, who produce all that stuff that has made the world better, on the whole, than it was in Hegel’s time. But logic is a total buzz kill for Hegel’s speculative philosophical high, and places limits – logical limits – on what syntheses a dialectic can arrive at. So it has to go. People fall for this?

Road & Reading Update

1. At 6:00 A.M. in February, Houston is merely warm and insanely humid.

2. Houston is home to the beautiful Annunciation Parish, a mere 10 minute muggy walk from the hotel:

Three interesting things:

  • Most of the people there were a) men and b) younger than me. Some were obviously people with jobs downtown catching Mass before work – something a lot of people used to do, but now few parishes in my experience offer Mass early enough for that to work.
  • They used the altar rail – kneeling for communion under both species.
  • Second sighting of the Ignatius Pew Missal in the wild (after Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara)

My Southern California heart was deeply offended:

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😉

3. Travel means:

  • Sitting on a plane
  • Time stuck in hotel room.

Which means: Reading! A few pages from the end of Captive Dreams by Mike Flynn, which deserves praise and a thoughtful review, which, given there’s nothing on the schedule for this afternoon (but you know how that goes) I might get to sooner rather than later. And a read! Get your copy now, and wallow in philosophy, math, and genetics while you enjoy excellent ScFi.

4. Now, two slots east of my native time zone – I need coffee!!

Weekend Update: Milestones, Tahoe, Woodworking Abomination, etc.

1. So: sometime today, given normal traffic, this blog will get its 100,000th view. About 35,000 visitors. Don’t know what makes up views and visitors, except there are enough caveats, provisos, quid pro quos to make the common sense understanding (whatever that might be) unlikely to align with these numbers. Whatever. W00, and, I might add, Hoo.

“There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos. Rule number one: I can’t kill anybody. Bleurk! So don’t ask. Rule number two: I can’t make anybody fall in love with anybody else. You little punim there! Rule number three: I can’t bring people back from the dead. It’s not a pretty picture, I DON’T LIKE DOING IT! Other than that, you got it.”

2. Up in Tahoe for the long weekend, with a couple of families from school – one mom very graciously gets her sister to rent us a cabin (in the Tahoe sense of a two-story building on snow-plowed roads that sleeps 16 or so in suburban comfort) so that the cost is very low per person. Unlike previous years, we gocher snow Right Here:

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View from the kitchen table. More snow on the way through Tuesday. Lots more snow as you head further up the mountains. 

Over the Echo Summit (7,382′), snow was piled a dozen or more feet high on either side of the road. Right after the summit, the road bears left and descend along a cliff over the course of a couple miles to about lake level (6,225′). Usually, this section is a bit bracing, what with very scenic and life-threatening drops a suddenly flimsy-looking guardrail away. This time, there was a view-obstructing yet somehow comforting pile of cleared snow along most of the route. Good thing, too, since there was a light snow that was *just* starting to stick.

I lived in New Mexico (Santa Fe, Albuquerque) long enough to learn that snow sucks. Those people with their ice fishing and tobogganing and what not are in denial. Go ahead and kid yourselves however you need to to survive until spring, where you’ll have a couple weeks of nice weather before it turns hot, nasty and mosquito-infested. No, snow is not fun, at least, past the age of 12 and after about 5 minutes. It’s just cold, wet and occasionally dangerous.

3. The truly dedicated and obsessive reader might recall that, last year, when we also went to Tahoe, we attended Mass with very nice people in a lovely (after the manner of its kind) church that had certain carpentry features that triggered my OCD I found really distracting.

We attended yet another lovely Mass with the kind people of South Lake Tahoe today. We sat in another section, so I got a different view of what Frankenstein’s Monster would have looked like if Dr. Frankenstein had been a church carpenter:

Ah! My Eyes!

4. Lots of drafts.  A couple of which might even be interesting, that I hope to get out while I should be out playing in the snow. Right.

Catholic Schools Week: A Modest Proposal

Image result for big children's choir
Children’s Choir of Russia. No reason. Bet they sing better music…

(Usual disclaimer about how all the people involved are no doubt better Christians than me, no hard feelings, just calling it as I see it.)

Got blindsided this morning at Mass, as it is Catholic Schools Week, and not having any kids in K-12 Catholic schools, I didn’t see it coming.

What ‘it’ is is all the schoolkids and their parents showing up for the same Mass. This Mass includes several homilies/sermons – the normal one after the Gospel, as well as a pre-Mass sermon about what we’re all celebrating today (hint: Our Lord and Savior’s redeeming sacrifice as manifested on the altar didn’t seem to figure prominently) and the post-Mass sermon wherein we recognize and thank all sorts of people and remind everyone that there will be donuts and coffee at the school’s open house after Mass.

Remember the part in the V-II documents wherein Mass is supposed to contain performances, musical and otherwise, by kids at every opportunity, because nothing says ‘full, active participation’ like listening to children sing goofy social justice songs during Mass?

Me neither.

On the good side, the children’s choir is much better at this parish than the average in my experience, and they even – amazing! – sang some Latin commons. Whoa. This is not to be discounted – that these kids have learned some beautiful music could change their lives. A very good thing.

But the first and last songs, which nobody except the kids in the choir knew and for which no music or text was supplied, sang about ending discrimination and achieving justice. God may have been mentioned at some point, don’t know, I was kind of not listening after a while out of self-defense.

I If anyone ever wonders why we didn’t send our kids to Catholic K-12 schools, well, this about sums it up.

Anyway, as a public service, thought I’d write a song I’d like the little darlings to learn, and sing every morning right after the Pledge of Allegiance and never, ever sing at Mass:

The I’m Not All That and  Need to Lean Something Song

O my head is empty,

There’s nothing inside.

And teacher’s no better

There’s no place to hide!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.

There’s no shame in saying

I don’t have a clue

I am still quite little

Now, how about you?

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.

If I pay attention

And read stuff that’s old

I might just learn something

Before my body’s cold.

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! My head is empty!

Oy Vey! Oy Vey! I don’t know a thing.

Needs work.

Here’s another ditty, sung, perhaps, to Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens Adore Him. Or not. Trying to reach kids where they are. Suitable for no occasions.

Lord Have Mercy! I’m a Clueless Punk

Lord, Have Mercy, I’m a clueless punk

Not surprising, since I am 10

I’ve been plied from birth with hippy bunk

Same as mom and dad and their kin

Now we make believe

Truth we can retrieve

If we spout the buzzwords right!

Lord, enlighten me!

I would like to see

What in particular’s OK in Your sight.

You’re my friend, Lord Jesus, that I got –

Not as fun as Maddy or James

This whole church thing, fun it’s surely not.

Why can’t we play video games?

Once each month or two

Motions going through

Grandma thinks there is a point!

No theology!

Never bended knee!

All my friends want to blow this joint.

Still, My Lord, I think there’s something

To this praying, kneeling and stuff

You have plans, I get the feeling

Being sort of nice ain’t enough

When I reach the end

I will need a Friend

more than just the final boss!

Help me win this game

Life is not the same

When you look down from that Cross

End of Advent Updates

1. Added to the growing pile of drafts – as always, the post I haven’t written is the best post I ever wrote – but, alas, caught my first full-on cold in years. Why is it when your nose gets stuffed up, so does your brain? Would like to finish a draft or two, but can’t because my thoughts are clouded and confused. More than usual, I mean.

2. Because of this cold, which settled in Saturday, I’ve only caught 2 Simbang Gabi 5:30 a.m. masses. Tomorrow and Saturday are the last 2 – let’s see if I can man up, and share good cheer and cold viruses with my fellow Christians. Or not…

3. Another Orwellian euphemism in the service of modern education is ‘exposure’. The assumption is that if you don’t hand over your kids to the schools, they will somehow fail to be exposed to all the right stuff, and grow up with a narrow view of reality and thus be unable to realize their full potential. That if you let your young children pursue whatever interests them instead of micromanaging their every minute, they will grow up stunted. That if you don’t send them to school and act in loco schoolmasters and enforce all homework without question, you are a Bad Parent who has Ruined their own child.

But War is Peace. The actually effect of all the ‘exposure’ is that our kids are unlikely to ever hear a clear explication and vigorous defense of any position not held by their school masters. They are then trained to reject any other opinions out of hand – this is called ‘critical thinking’. The stunning willingness of people to embrace the most outrageous caricatures of those we disagree with increases with the level of education, so that a PhD pretty much immunizes the victim against ever entertaining an idea that they have not already accepted.

This is the world in which business people, some of whom certainly do buy political influence in order to get richer, are a greater evil than communist dictators, who without exception abuse, rob and eventually murder their own subjects. The rich man’s greed may motivate him to steal, and may even motivate him to murder in order to steal; the communist dictator’s lust for power disguised as efforts to bring History to its inevitable conclusion, motivates him to murder anyone in his (History’s) way; murder in the 10s of millions in the cases of Mao and Stalin. The billions a very rich man(1) controls make him an irredeemable villain; the nation-state level wealth controlled by a communist dictator, on the other hand, has no effect on his actions whatsoever, which are conclusively presumed  to be sweetness and life itself, no matter how many are enslaved, impoverished or killed by them.

Such discussions are evidently unknown among the enlightened. Few well educated people have been exposed to them, and certainly not in the schools. At best, the well-educated are familiar with the accepted caricature, which exists only to aid summary dismissal of the ideas being caricatured.

4. Trying to work on world/tech/family background for the Novel Which Shall Not Be Named, but it’s hard when moments of clarity (such as they are) are like island in a cold-induced fog. Insofar as I can do it, it’s fun – knowing who these folks are, what they want, why they’re on the generational longship in the first place. So far, my muse, if I have one, has been quiet but not discouraging: the stuff I’m outlining fails to trigger the ‘lame’ response.

I’m counting that as a positive. That may be the virus talkin’.

I’m such a newbie. Spent some time worrying how I’d come up with all these complicated relationships in such a way as to make them work with the story arc, when I remembered: I know a boatload of family stories, both from history, literature and real life. Just use them! What a novel idea! (nyuk) Being careful, of course, with the real life stuff, which is far less realistic than fiction is allowed to be.

5. Got about a dozen books to review here and at Amazon. Got 11 days off coming up, with only maybe 60% of the time already spoken for. So – maybe! In short: L. Jagi Lamptighter’s In the Lamplight and Rachel Griffin stuff, John C. Wright’s Swan Knight’s Son series and Brian Niemeier’s Soul Dancer are all highly recommended. When Prophecy Fails – not so much. Interesting ideas poorly supported. And I need to be seated at a table, pencil in hand, head clear, to finish Uncertainty: the Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. It’s very good so far. Vindication of Man and Secret Kings are next on the pile.

  1. Well, billions make *their* rich guys into evil incarnate, while *our* billionaires act solely out of pure civic altruism.

Updates & Trivia & Writing

A. Busy at work, which means I’m avoiding even more work than usual. Plus, somehow, I ended up with stuff to do every night this week except Friday.

Cuts into the blogging. Yea, yea, boo-freakin’-hoo.

B. Tonight, for an RCIA class, I got volunteered to do some Church history, which, to my naive mind, isn’t any different from plain old history everywhere the Church has ever been. As in, you can hardly talk of secular history in those places and times without the Church, nor can you talk about the Church without knowing what was going on in the larger world (if, indeed, the world can be said to be larger…).

This pitch is right in my wheelhouse, so I’m all rarin’ to go. I was assigned the period of 1200 through the Counter Reformation – woohoo! – and given a 15 minute slot. Well. As no one has ever accused me of being too terse, it might be a *slight* challenge to fit 400+ tumultuous and critical years of history that happens to include, among other things, discovery of an entire hemisphere, into 15 minutes. If I gave 3 minutes each to Gregory VII,(1) Francis, Dominic, Gothic architecture, Wittenberg and Trent, I’m already 3 minutes over, and haven’t touched on Charles Borromeo, the way the Counter Reformation influenced music (I could do an hour or more just on O Magnum Mysterium...), and about a dozen more topics that spring to mind before I’ve even researched it. We will be pruning with the ol’ intellectual chainsaw, here.

Since I’m already doing Feasts & Faith, I probably should hold off doing a Church History seminar-thing for another year. At that point, I’m thinking 10 1.5 hour lecture/discussions, which would barely scratch the surface. What I’d bring to the game: blending art, music and philosophy into the narrative.  There’s only like a library of books on this topic – my only excuse for doing this would be bringing in threads from many sources. There’s probably already a book or 50 that do just that….

C. One thing I wish I had time to discuss: the relationship of the Church & State, and how it differed in the East and West, and how the West’s division of Church and State helped bring about the artistic, cultural and technological revolution in Medieval Europe. I doubt there could have even been a Dante of the Eastern Churches – a man passionate about the complementary and divinely-given rights and duties of Church and State. Instead, the East retained more of the ancient Roman practice of religious careers being government careers – I should say, religious careers *of course* being government careers.

The fragmented feudalism of the West allowed for layers of duties and rights across several dimensions, such that a serf, even a serf’s wife, had a position where an emperor or pope owed her a certain inviolate respect. The battles of the Middle Ages seem to be over who owed whom exactly what level of fealty, with the Church presumed beyond discussion to be distinct and hold honor and duty apart from the king.

Not so much, in the East, where emperors from the earliest days saw it to be an obvious right and duty of theirs to meddle even in theology, let alone in who got to be patriarch. (2)

But, alas! No time for that in 15 minutes.

Related imageD. So, writing. Only able to throw an hour here and there at it for the time being, but it may be that’s just a well – I think I need to reach a critical mass of ideas, and I’m not *quite* there.

What’s happening: I started with a broad arc that ended in a life-or-death decision being made by a young girl in an intense situation. I’d outlined a lot of the social conditions that would lead up to this point, as well as the technology that would be required – it’s space stuff, trying to keep the science pretty hard. Now, details: I had to describe in detail where they were going, including describing and naming all the celestial objects (complete with backstories), describe how they get there, and – this is still skeletal – describe the culture(s) involved.

Then, I reached the point where I needed to name and describe all the people. Um, I’m guessing other writers do this first? Because it’s not a story unless people care about the girl making the decision and the people whose lives are in the balance. So, now, in this background – and the background still needs a lot of work – I’m outlining 3 or 4 (going with 4 for now) families who travel together with thousands of other explorers/colonists to the stars, marry into each other, feud – and produce this remarkable girl upon which the fate of many – including many of the members of these families – depends.

And that, my friends, is the actual story, not the tech and the alien worlds. It’s Sci Fi, as the story could not exist without the science, but these people now crowd my brain. These people, so far, only lurk in my head. Once they start to keep me up at night, I’ll have something.

One of the ancestors of the girl, a great-great grandmother, is introduced here. (BTW: much cleaned up that preface – thanks for all the feedback.)

All in all, fun, but not tending to produce any pages I might throw up here.

  1. Yes, St. Gregory VII is 11th century, but he had a big hand in starting the whole medieval dawn so beautifully described by Chesterton in Ch II of his biography of St. Francis. 
  2. Gregory VII was the last pope to ask and receive imperial permission to be pope, in the late 11th century; yet, over the centuries, many kings and emperors claimed veto power exercised through their cardinals. The last cardinal to veto the decision of the College of Cardinals in the name of his King was the Prince-Bishop of Krakow, who vetoed the leading papabile on orders from the Holy Roman Emperor – in 1903! The outraged Cardinals then voted in Pius X, who promptly and strenuously rejected any idea that kings could overrule the Cardinals. Only took 1900 years!

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”