Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Scotland's national poet Robert Burns relied on traditional Scottish folk songs to compose Auld Lang Syne. Loosely translated, the ballad's name means "days gone by," and is best understood in a wispy, melancholic sense.

Scottish Poet Robert Burns
1759 - 1796

The tune is sung in Scotland to celebrate
Hogmanay, a festival characterized by the giving of new year's day gifts and lighting numerous fires of various intensities.

Burning Viking Longship
At Edingurgh's Hogmanay
- December, 2004

My understanding is that the old Scottish Kirk frowned on such celebrations.

Burns originally composed Auld Lang Syne in English with a light Scottish accent. His verse can be rendered in modern English thus:

Auld Lang Syne
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old times since?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for days of auld lang syne.

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
And surely I’ll buy mine!
And we'll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Sunday, December 28, 2008


In a previous century there was much hope placed in science and much faith in material progress.

During that time, in the compartment of a train in France, an old man was one day praying his Rosary. At one stop, a young intellectual entered the compartment and sat down. After a while, not able to stand it any more, this student of modern science said to the old man, "Why do you pray the Rosary? Why do you pray? There is no God. Only science. Yes, science is the answer."

The old man remained silent. The youth, not wanting to hurt him, said, "Well, my friend, you mean no harm. You must lack education. Give me your address; I'll send you some books to enlighten you. Yes, they will teach you that science, and not prayer, is the answer."

Just at that moment it was the old man's stop. Before leaving the compartment he reached into his coat pocket and took out his card. He gave it to the intellectual, who bid him, "Good day."

When the train started again the young man looked at the card. It read:
Louis Pasteur
Institute of Scientific Research

Louis Pasteur

That story reminds me of a lunchtime conversation I had one day with a pair of irreligious co-workers. I'd made my normal sign of the cross over my meal, and that pious little act prompted one colleague to start an anti-religious monologue that ended with, "I'm convinced that one day science will provide a rational explanation for everything we observe in the universe."

I raised an eyebrow and said, "It takes a lot of faith to believe that."

The other agnostic at the table chuckled in spite of himself.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Vigil of Christmas (Christmas Eve)

The home is decorated with installments from my different Nativity collections. Pictured below are the various sets (missing is the wooden one I have at the office).

Irish, Ceramic

The crèche and Holy Family arrived first. A few months later a wise man and camel arrived. A few months after that, another wise man and a donkey. Then another angel. And so it went, month after month. The Gospel records that a whole choir of angels sang to the shepherds in the field, so I had to tell the manufacturer to cease with the shipments. When I received the first shipment, all-thumbs here promptly dropped the Holy Infant on the tile by the fireplace, and just like that the babe's head popped right off. I saved it with some Elmer's, but Kelly at the office remarked, "That's got to be worth seven years of bad luck or something."


Yes, the wise man on the left's head is missing. No, it is not a theme -- just bad luck (see note above).

Nativity in Tin

A gift from Diana, my youngest sister who escaped Florida to live in Brooklyn. The whole set folds up into the little tin box that the angel is standing on.

Year-Round Holy Family

I have this one on the bookshelf year-round.

Angel Nativity

This one is a Christmas tree ornament. The left bookend to the Traditional Nativity below.

Modern Family

A gift from my folks. The right bookend to my Traditional Nativity.

Traditional Nativity

The bread and butter Nativity. Sits on the china cabinet opposite me at the table, so that I see it when I dine.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Photos

Christmas day marks the birth of Jesus Christ.

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, three Masses are traditionally said that day; the custom was begun in Jerusalem.
(1) Midnight: Mass in Bethlehem to celebrate Christ's birth into the world
(2) Dawn: Mass at the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem to commemorate the adoration of the shepherds
(3) Midday: to celebrate the eternal generation of the Word and the dignity of the Son of God

We maintain this custom at my little chapel of St. Michael's. Below are some photos from Christmas Day, 2007.

The Nave and Sanctuary
Nave for the Laity, Sanctuary beyond the Altar Rail for the Clergy

The Sanctuary
The Main Altar Decorated for the Christmas Feast

Main AltarThe Focal Point of Every Catholic Church

View From the Choir LoftReady for Mass to Begin

Third Mass, Christmas Day
The Reading of the Gospel
The season of Christmas, or Christmas-tide, begins December 25 and runs 12 days until January 6 and the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates a triple manifestation of Christ:
(1) to the Magi (and by extension to the Gentile world),
(2) in His Baptism, when the Voice from heaven declared "This is My Beloved Son,"
(3) in the miracle of the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast of Cana.

Gloria in excelsis Deo.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tree That Owns Itself

The town of my college alma mater is also home to a famous social landmark: the Tree That Owns Itself.

Tree That Owns Itself
Corner of Finley and Dearing Streets - Athens, GA

It turns out that the original tree fell about 100 years ago, but an acorn from the downed white oak was planted on the same spot and grew to its present stature. Some locals now refer to the younger oak as The Son of the Tree That Owns Itself.

Legend has it that the original landowner cherished childhood memories of the tree, and deeded the tree and all land within eight feet to the tree itself.

Legally this gratuitous act is a myth and has no merit -- outside of
Middle Earth, a tree has no capacity to consent to receiving anything.

As even the ancient pagans knew, however, myths were meant primarily to nourish and exercise the imagination.

In nuce.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Morals and Ethics in Economics

By way of addendum to this morning's entry, today's column from David Warren titled Market Failure is worth perusing.

Morals and Ethics

To say that a man lives a moral or ethical life means that he lives the way he ought in light of what he is.

When I talk about what a man ought I'm alluding to his nature as the
moderate realists define it. Man in his nature possesses:
* the vegetative powers of reproduction, growth, and nutrition common to all living things;
* the appetitive and knowing powers shared with animals; and
* the rational powers of intellect and will.

Man is not a spiritual soul trapped in a material body, he is a composite creature that is both soul and body. The soul is the animating principle of the body; what's more, the soul is immortal and lives on after the death of the body.

That's where the philosopher leaves off and the theologian takes over to say that the body and soul will be reunited at the consummation of the world, when everyone who ever lived will be raised from the dead and their bodies rejoined with their souls* -- that, and the two will either share eternal happiness in Heaven or unending suffering in Hell. Miserere nobis.

A proper moral system, then, accounts for these points when determining how a man ought to live.

The terms "morals" and "ethics" can be used interchangeably -- they mean the same thing. The Latin word mos (moris) means custom, and the Greek word ethos means pattern of conduct.

Some years back I'd picked up the notion that morals meant what made for right and wrong in one's conduct while ethics was the systematic study of morals. That notion wasn't accurate -- there is no such distinction justified by the history of the terms themselves -- but I don't think it did any harm.

I did once come across a notion that did do harm, however. I was in graduate school taking a class that touched on statistical validity in surveys, and we were having a discussion about how to ethically acquire information about individuals. One student seriously proposed the idea that an appeal to morals was actually an invocation of religion, whereas an appeal to ethics was merely an appeal to doing what was right and avoiding what was wrong.

There are a number of problems with that formulation -- for starters, the line of demarcation between what is and is not religious is not so clear as my former fellow student implied; it also assumes knowledge of right and wrong without attention to how we know something is right or not.

But those are really minor points. The real motivation behind the argument was that it served as a mechanism for dismissing out of hand anything but contemporary and novel criteria in discussions about ethical conduct.

How so? Simple: the modern accepted wisdom is that all old standards are steeped in religion, and therefore can be passed over; only modern, secular values uncontaminated by religious notions need be considered. Naturally there were no criteria offered for what was a moral vs. an ethical standard, which left the door wide open for dismissing any position one didn't like as moral and therefore religious and therefore irrelevant.

If people really are their own self-referential authors of right and wrong then everything really is relative, which means there is no God, which also means that there is no reason to submit to any constraint of my conduct unless I feel like it. It is the ultimate in worship of one's own ego.

Which, in fact, is what the serpent told Eve in the Garden: eat of the forbidden fruit, and you shall be like God, knowing right from wrong. He didn't hiss "you will be like God in that you can perform miracles and even create whole worlds," but "you will replace God as the supreme moral arbiter."

As Eve's reply shows, even a preternaturally perfect intellect can have a bad day.

* This belief in the resurrection of the body is an act of Faith, and is why Christians put a stop to the pagan practice of cremation (except in emergencies -- e.g. war, plague). Cremation did not make a comeback until the atheists of the Enlightenment dusted it off and re-introduced it to spite the Christians. My own estate plan paperwork makes absolutely clear that I am not to be burned. I would also never consent to assist at someone else's cremation -- naturally, on moral grounds.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

I received my picture of
Our Lady of Guadalupe as a birthday gift from my wife in April, 2000. In February I'd returned from my first Ignatian retreat, and I spoke with great enthusiasm about this image of the Blessed Virgin.

My Birthday Present
In the Living Room

In some ways changing your creed is not unlike learning to speak a new language, when your grammar is still atrocious and your vocabulary is limited and your Neanderthalic pronunciations make the accomplished speakers cringe in pain. Similarly, I had completed the Catechism by the time I was Baptized, but solid as that foundation was there was still more building to do in terms of assumptions to be reconsidered, bad habits to be weeded out, weak virtues to be reinforced and strengthened, and decisions and friendships and commitments to be re-evaluated.

Phoenix was home to the chapel where I went on my first retreat. I was beyond thrilled to be there in no small part because back home we hadn't yet been able to save enough pennies to begin construction on our own church, which meant that we were having Mass in places like hotel conference rooms (where I was Baptized and Confirmed) and the basements of parishioners' homes. Thus, I'd been a Catholic for over a year before I went to Mass in an actual church.*

Day one of the retreat I crept down early to the retreat chapel and slipped inside, for the first time in my life alone with
my Lord in the tabernacle.

To the right as you enter the chapel is a
votive stand, and above it is a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I knelt before the image and lit a candle, then asked the Mother of God to help me find the answer to a perplexing question during the retreat. The right answer presented itself to me that day during one of the conferences. I repeated this each day of the retreat, with the same result each day.

On the last day of the retreat I made a pledge to the Blessed Virgin to be one of her foot soldeirs.

Our Lady of Guadalupe and Mexican Cross in Tile & Tin
The latter courtesy of the Amadors

God always answer our prayers, and that prayer was no exception.

* Sometimes I'm asked what I "get out of" my religion, as if it were a kind of hobby or self-help program. The answer is that I don't do it for a personal payoff, I do it to love and honor God. The early Christians managed in the Roman catacombs, so I have no complaints about my tour of duty in the Catholic Hotel; even so, it is useful as a refutation of the "religion as reward" assumption.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


The year I lived in Ohio my wife and I met a couple named Ric and Barb. Ric was cognisant of being a stereotype: he was a liberal Long Island Jew who ran a bagle shop.

One day over lunch Ric quizzed me, "Sean, do people in the South really name their children Bubba?"

The answer is no -- Bubba is just a nickname. Before I could finish chewing my food and give a smart-alec response to Ric's smart-alec question, however, Barb chimed in.

"Ric, do people from New York really name their children Guido?"

I laughed so hard I could have choked on my food.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Himself in Germania

This photo was snapped when I was in Germany in 2007.

Himself in Germany, June, 2007

The trip was lovely.

The itinerary:
May 31: Atlanta, Amsterdam, Munich
June 1: Munich, Altotting
June 2: Altotting, Eichstatt, Rothenburg
June 3: Rothenburg, Dettelbach, Bamberg, Wurzburg
June 4: Wurzburg, Walldurn, Wurzburg again
June 5: Wurzburg, Fulda, Marburg, Cologne
June 6: Cologne some more
June 7: Cologne, Aachen, Trier
June 8: Trier, Mosental, Rhine cruise to Rudesheim, Frankfurt
June 9: Frankfurt, Atlanta

Photos on Flickr at

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Winning Shot

A high school senior in New York made the game-winning shot as time ran out. The fellow spent a lot of time on the floor -- he tried to draw a charge at one end and hit the deck, then took a tumble while throwing up a prayer that had no business being anywhere near the goal.

When you're good, the luck follows.

My friend Joe said, "That's how I shoot. That could have been me making that shot!"

The guy wasn't even looking at the basket. Uncanny.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Home for the Holidays

Yesterday I helped decorate the office. My wrapping skills have fallen off since last Christmas, however: the wrapping job I put on one box looks like it’s intended for a gift from the Island of Misfit Toys.

One co-worker was heard to jokingly say that we weren’t decorating for Christmas, we were decorating for the holiday season (naturally, this tidbit hadn’t been included in the office memo). Of course, the word “holiday” is derived from Holy Day, which in this case means Christmas – but what do I know?

Another co-worker offered that the decorating was for a variety of holidays during that time of year – he said to not be surprised if a Kwanzaa bush showed up. I told him that if someone brought in a Kwanzaa bush I would set it on fire (in the non-Mosaic sense). “Not feeling the love?” he asked. “Bah-humbug,” I said.

I did think about starting a conversation along the lines of what I wrote
here, but there wasn’t the opportunity (or the interest on the part of my colleagues). Maybe next year.

Laus tibi Dómine, Rex ætérnæ glóriæ.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Socrates Gone Mad

Yesterday a chap at the office wrote, "I have a 1905 leather spine edition of The Return of Sherlock Holmes, printed in Leipzig, but in English. It belonged to my grandfather. That was the edition I read when I was 15. Back then I used to watch the Rathbone movies on UHF at midnight on Friday nights in Boston. Life before cable!" Lovely family heirloom.

I have the entire collection of Holmes stories -- it was something I received from my parents before I left for college. The set is two hard-back books with annotations, editor's notes, and commentary on likely dates and locations. For my part I wouldn't have minded a bit of
Knox-type scholarship in the mix, but that's a minor complaint.

"Hound of the Baskervilles" is arguably the most famous case; with its mysteriousness, hints of the supernatural, and long absence of the famous sleuth, it is also clearly the least typical of all the stories. I assigned "Hound of the Baskervilles" to a young fellow I was tutoring in Literature, and he ate it up: he took my books and read the entire Holmes canon. Score one mark in the Spreading Culture column.

Doyle said that "The Speckled Band" was his personal favorite Holmes short story. I don't know if anyone ever pointed out to him that snakes are deaf, so a snake that comes at the call of a whistle would be tough to manage. There's also the problem of the adder hailing from India -- but maybe it was just passing through?

I'm partial to the novels myself -- "The Sign of the Four" takes top billing in my view, followed by "A Study in Scarlet" (Holmes "the mere calculating machine," as Doyle later wrote). Maybe I'm a sucker for flashbacks?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mustard Mayhem

The high school years saw me working a grill at a Mexican restaurant. I folded thousands of burritos in assembly-line fashion back in the day, and I can still wrap them at a respectable clip.

Morning prep consisted of frying hundreds of taco shells, mixing several batches of guacamole, cooking refried beans in a pressure cooker the size of a Yugo, grating mounds of cheese, and filling numerous ketchup and mustard bottles.

Any one of those tasks could turn messy, if not outright dangerous -- like the time I dropped a pot into the deep fryer and was doused in a tidal wave of hot grease, or the day a co-worker forgot about the pressure cooker during a dinner rush and had the thing explode, sending a shower of hot beans all over the restaurant (thankfully, no one was hurt by the pot's shrapnel).

It was an accident of this variety (if not severity) that made me something of a mascot at the restaurant. One morning I was filling mustard bottles; next to me a group of newly-hired managers was standing in a circle around the pressure-cooker and being taught how to pour melted lard over the beans. When I reached for the industrial-sized mustard bottle I missed my mark and knocked the thing off the shelf; by chance it fell between two of the managers and landed within the circle. I'd already taken the lid off the jar, so when it hit the floor mustard erupted in a spray of yellow mist that covered half a dozen of my future bosses from head to toe.

I couldn't have done that on purpose to save my life, but my co-workers gave me credit for subversive sentiments just the same.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gun Club

Some of my buddies at church have talked about starting a shooting club.

They want to call the group Guns and Rosaries.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Punished with Barry Manilow

Municipal Judge Paul Sacco of Fort Lupton, CO sentences noise violators to listen to music they don't like for one hour (no eating, drinking, or sleeping allowed). It seems to have cut down on the number of repeat offenders.

The music selection includes:
* Barry Manilow -- "I Write the Songs"
* Dolly Parton
* Karen Carpenter
* Barney the Dinosaur -- cruel and unusual?
* The Platters -- crooning "Only You"

Read more at:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

For As Long As We Both Shall Live

Christ was put to death by His enemies because he pointed out their pride and hypocrisy and warned them that they would come to a bad end if they didn't repent. And not only the Pharisees received a stern talking to -- consider this requirement: "Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her" (Mark 10:11, DRV).

There's a quaint habit of dismissing Christ as a man of His times that amounts to dismissing Him as irrelevant for our times. The passage above from St. Mark, however, was no easier for first century Palestinians than it is for people today. It shocked people then; it shocks them now. Whatever Christ was, He was never "a man of the times."

Marriage unites a man and a woman in a permanent and exclusive union; after the two of them are joined in matrimony, no power on earth can sever that union. Sure they can go their separate ways, but they remain husband and wife: the bond of marriage endures for life, no matter the distance or circumstance. To leave one spouse and take up with another while the first spouse is still living is a big no-no. It's a simple teaching to grasp, though a difficult one to live up to.

I've been told more than once that this view of marriage being indissoluble until death is crazy. But what's really crazy is promising one's beloved to be faithful for life, then leaving that spouse and making the same exact promise to someone else later on. The point about the permanency of marriage is a difficult thing, but the alternative is certifiably insane. Christ does us the courtesy of taking us at our word when we say "For as long as we both shall live."

Friday, November 21, 2008

NPR to Cancel "Infinite Mind"

NPR is ending its broadcast of the show "The Infinite Mind," hosted by Frederick Goodwin.

The reason: Goodwin took payments of $1.3 million from pharmaceutical companies. Aside from being a volation of his NPR contract, Goodwin also stated "facts" on a few shows that favored the "interpretations" of some of the pharmaceutical companies.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Galunggung Gliding Club

The Galunggung Gliding Club was founded by the passengers of flight BA 009 after their near-crash near Jakarta on June 24, 1982.

The aircraft had flown into a cloud of volcanic ash resulting from the eruption of Mount Galunggung. All four engines -- clogged with the nearly-invisible ash -- failed, and the plane began a rapid but controlled descent.

As pressure fell in the cabin, the oxygen masks were deployed. Some of the masks malfunctioned, however.

In an effort to reach breathable air and so keep all the passengers conscious, the pilot, Captain Eric Moody, took the plane into a nosedive.

The precipitous drop cleared the clogged engines of ash, and they unexpectedly started back up.

Amazingly, the nosedive had
saved the lives of everyone on board.

Read an account of the event here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Conversation with Juan Carlos

On my recent trip to France I met Juan Carlos. Not the King of Spain, it turns out, or even a hidalgo, but a Spaniard all the same.

"I am Juan Carlos," he said enthusiastically, "from Madrid."

Señor Carlos had discovered me in Lourdes during an evening's
candlelight procession. I was one of a few dozen Americans in the mix who had been taking turns carrying our Ave Cor Mariae banner and waving little American flags.

"I see," I said to the smiling chap, trying to remember if I'd come across him when I'd been in Madrid three years earlier. But it was dark, and the fellow's English was poor, so I was having a tough time. "Did we meet in Madrid?"

"Yes, I am from Madrid," he smiled back at me.

"No, I meant, did we meet a few years ago when I was in Madrid?"

"Yes, Madrid."

I sighed.

He scribbled something on a piece of paper and then handed it to me. "This is my address and telephone number," he explained.

Bemused, I replied "Thank you."

Then he grabbed the flag out of my hand and said, "Now you write down your address and give it to me."

I grabbed the flag back and asked, "Have we met before?"

No, it turned out. But he'd seen me carrying the American flag, and had headed my way so that he could make contact.

"I am a theology student," he explained. "I want to meet Americans who can introduce me to Mel Gibson so that I can help him make movies."

I broke the news to my quixotic acquaintance that Mel lived in California, while I hailed from Atlanta, which is actually closer to New York. "I'm afraid I don't know Mel," I said.

"Well, now you have a friend in Madrid!" Juan Carlos said with a smile as he waved and disappeared into the crowd.

Cervantes, eat your heart out.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Twice I've read The Bible cover to cover. Several books (e.g. the Gospels) I've read I don't know how many times. But I've read the entire collection at least twice.

Two times I read a story that struck me as so funny I laughed and chuckled over it for days after. One was Esther, when a proto-pharisaical Haman got his comeuppance for trying to double-cross an honest man. The other was when Christ's critics were attempting to trip Him up and He shut them down with the "Render unto Caesar..." rebuttal (Matthew 22:21).

It was in college that I first gave attention to religious topics (my schoolboy atheism could get me only so far, you understand). I'm sure that I'd heard the "Render unto Caesar..." directive before that time and had vaguely classified it as a variety of wisdom saying -- ironically, probably as something on par with "Give the devil his due." Being a late religious bloomer meant that I was unprepared for what the evangelists actually recorded -- and when I did finally get around to them the fact that I had something resembling an adult mind meant I could get the joke. Without a doubt it's a consolation, but I suspect it's perhaps because the stories of Esther and Christ weren't clichés that I laughed so long over the unexpected plot twists.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Quaint Hubble Photos

A friend recently emailed me photos taken by the Hubble space telescope.

The email came with the message, "This is enough to make me feel insignificant. Can you believe the size of these things?"

The Orion Nebula
Courtesy: Hubble Space Telescope

I hear that quite a bit: that photos from space confirm how small we are. I'm not sure what's behind the sentiment; I know only that I don't really share it.

My sense of it is that I know the universe is big and all the objects out there are remote. The photos I've seen seem to make the universe seem cozier and friendlier. Yes it's grand; it's just not grandiose.

The universe is adorned with planets and stars and quasars and clouds, comprised of so mush gas and light and various elements; it all seems rather remote and abstract. The photos help to bring it all into focus; the effect (for me at least) is to make the universe seem more clear and concrete and personal. It's a nice, cozy little universe after all.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The School in the Kitchen

Mom was selective about what sort of duties (aside from cleaning) that my brother and I (i.e. the boys, a.k.a. the destructive ones) were allowed to perform in the kitchen. Baking was, generally speaking, deemed a safe venture, and as a pre-teen lad I spent many hours baking snickerdoodles.

Safe is a relative term, however: though I never had an
exploding lab moment while baking, I did learn a few valuable lessons from my mistakes -- for example, that sugar and salt look remarkably alike, and that flour holds things together (the alternative was my accidental discovery of "cookie soup").

Lessons stemming from the kitchen are often foundational. I wonder if that's perhaps one reason why
Christ's first miracle was kitchen duty performed at His mother's request (John 2:1-11).

Friday, November 7, 2008

Shakespeare Scholar

I was this close to going straight into graduate school after attaining my AB in English.* The cause for the change, of course, was that I married (such a diversion has happened to better men than myself; I have no regrets).

Had I gone into the graduate program that was my first love, it would have been to pursue Shakespeare studies. Though I was reckless enough to try to pull it off, I did have at least enough sense to ask the advice of a trusted professor.

"There are too many Shakespeare scholars already," I said.

"Yes, but there are not too many good Shakespeare scholars," Professor Stewart replied.

She was a marvelous professor.

King Lear with Ophelia the truth-speaker was and remains my favorite play by the Bard; MacBeth is a close second. I came upon Hal and Falstaff afterwards; years later I had a youngster I was tutoring learn and recite the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V.

A few years back I got into an argument with a military history buff who claimed that the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets was a historical personage and not a mere literary construct (which is the interpretation I'd been taught). The chap left in a huff at my recalcitrance; after his hors de combat I declared victory, which was a relief to the on-lookers who were still awake because it marked the cessation of the conflict. I'll take my victories where I can get them.

* Several years later I did get an MS in Tech Writing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

How I Broke My Briefcase

Penned February 11, 1999

I broke my briefcase today.

It's not badly broken; I think I can fix it. Here's how I broke it:

I decided to work at home this afternoon because
(1) I can and
(2) there are a lot of sick people at the office, and I wanted to minimize my chances of catching the flu.

So at about 2:15 I headed for home.

On GA 400 north, just south of the Lenox Road exit, a white car swerved into my lane and almost hit me. I stood on my horn, but the car kept on coming.

When I saw that the other car wasn't going to stop, I hit my brakes.

The other car, however, didn't stop until it smacked into the guard rail. I slowed down to see what the other driver would do next. The car slowly rolled to a stop; then the driver slumped sideways into the passenger's seat.

I stopped my car, hopped out, and walked-ran to the passenger side of the other car. The driver was slumped over, on his side and almost on his back, looking upward. His eyes were open, but he wasn't moving.

I checked the doors; all doors but the driver's were locked. And because the car was wedged up against the guard rail, I couldn't get to the unlocked door. I banged on the window: no response -- the guy didn't move.

I figured the driver must have had a heart attack or stroke or even a diabetic seizure. I pounded on the windows and yelled at the guy to get up. No luck.

Next step: I waved my arms at oncoming traffic while I ran back to my car. I looked for something to help, and eyed my briefcase. I grabbed the briefcase, ran back to the other car, and used it to try to break the rear-passenger side window (the window furthest from the driver).

Now, I figured the window would give way after a few good blows. After all, it was glass, and my briefcase is a heavy piece of equipment filled with books. I was mistaken: the window held. Oh, I scratched the thing -- I even left little burgundy colored marks on the glass where my briefcase hit it -- but the window didn't budge.

After a few good heaves I stood back; it was then I noticed the other Car that had pulled up. The driver of the third car wanted to know why I was trying to break into a car sitting on the side of the highway. I can imagine what I looked like, assaulting a car sitting in the emergency lane.

With cars whizzing by I shouted that the driver of the car was passed out, and asked the new fellow to call for help. Mental note: investigate car phone prices.

Since my briefcase solution didn't work, I decided to push the car backwards and away from the guard rail; that way, I reasoned, I should be able to get to the driver's side door. I was parked a little too close to pull this off, so I ran back to my car, threw the briefcase in, and backed my car up about 30 feet. Then I ran to the front of the first car and pushed. No luck: apparently the driver had hit the emergency brake before he passed out, or had his foot on the brake pedal in (what I was afraid was) a stroke-induced rigor-mortis-like state. At least, that was this layman's prognosis. Don't laugh; I never claimed to be a doctor.

I pounded on the window some more, and shouted at the motionless driver. I looked at the third driver; he was still in his car, on the car phone. Out of ideas, I decided to try a tire iron or jack on the first guy's window.

He still hadn't moved.

I ran back to my car and to the trunk. No tire iron or jack--only a spare tire. Mental note: get a jack for changing tires and smashing windows.

I was running low on ideas. I said a quick prayer: "Oh, Sweet Jesus, Please don't let this guy die on me!" Then I grabbed my old standby -- the slightly scratched burgundy briefcase -- and ran back to the car.

I was about to cut loose with a second assault when I saw the driver twitching! He wasn't doing much, but I could see his shoulder and hand moving. I shouted at him several times to unlock the passenger door; no response. I shouted at him to hang in there, that help was on the way. He didn't unlock the door, but the car did start to inch forward. A mystery solved: he had been standing on the brake when he passed out.

That was the good news. The bad news is that the third driver was parked about 20 feet in front of the now-revived driver's car. So I ran between the cars and began pushing back on the first car. About all I accomplished was ruining a good pair of Dockers. And after a few seconds the now semi-conscious driver stood on the brake again. He had also half sat up and opened his driver-side window a few inches.

I hopped the guard rail and stood beside the driver's side door. I asked him how he was doing; no answer.

It's funny: I noticed that he had a mark on the bridge of his nose, like maybe from where a pair of glasses had gotten smashed against his face. But I couldn't tell you what he looked like. Isn't that odd?

I told him to unlock the doors; he mumbled, "I can't." I kept talking to him and telling him to reach over and unlock his passenger-side door. I realized that I was a dummy when all three remaining door locks suddenly popped open. The guy had hit the unlock button on his door panel. Here I was telling him to reach across the car, when all he had to do was push a button about three inches from his finger.

I ran around to the other side of the car and opened the door. I was about to grab his wrist to check his pulse (it made sense at the moment) when a police cruiser arrived. So I stood back and let the cop take over.

With all this free time suddenly on my hands I struck up a conversation with the driver of the third car, thanking him for his help. He had done a good turn, but he didn't miss the opportunity to tell me that instead of messing with the guy's car I should have just gotten to a phone and called the police. If I had broken into the car, he told me, the driver could have taken me to court. I thought about asking the third driver if he was a lawyer, but decided against it. After all, why argue with a guy who is being reasonable (and maybe a lawyer to boot) when I'm feeling frazzled?

Now, I'm familiar with the Good Sam law, but simply leaving the possibly dying driver sitting there never occurred to me. To be honest, I was worried about what I was going to do if and when I got the door open. I'm glad the cop showed up when he did; I was so fixed on getting the driver out of the car that I probably would have tried to pull him out through the passenger's side car with 80 MPH traffic rushing by not five feet away.

That was pretty much it. Another cruiser showed up, then an ambulance; the officers got my name and personal info, then let me go.

When I got home I noticed for the first time the damage to my briefcase. Some of the fittings popped loose; I think I can fix it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Prediction

McCain to take Georgia, Obama to win the general election.

Yesterday over burgers a younger co-worker sounded me out about my political views.

"You seem to be more to the conservative side than most people in the office," he started.

"Good economic policy accounts for ethics," I said. "For that reason I'd never vote for a pro-choice candidate. I'd exclude such a candidate and then work with what's left."

Perhaps the fellow had heard about what he thought were conservative-minded contrarians like me on NPR, but I don't think he anticipated encountering a flesh-and-blood example sitting across from him at the the table.

He rallied, however, and dug deep for a cliché. "Do you just focus on the one issue, or is there perhaps something else that could affect your perspective?"

"I have a host of considerations, and that one is one of the
show-stoppers," I answered. "Another one is the education of children, which is chiefly the responsibility of the parents. If the state ever tried to usurp that roll and mandate certain schooling in spite of the parents' desires -- like Robert Reich has done -- I'd vote against that candidate too."

"Who's Robert Reich?"

"He was Secretary of Labor under Clinton."

A shrug of the shoulders followed, then my interlocutor resumed the previous line. "Well, I have a different perspective."

I nodded, and then continued my point. "There have always been people willing to treat another class of human beings as less than human for their own advantage. The old Southerners did it with the blacks; Hitler did it with the Jews; and our generation does it with babies in the womb. They are a category of people who can be killed with impunity. But life trumps choice."

"We have a very clear difference on this one," was the incredulous reply. "Maybe we should talk about something different?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "All right," I said, reaching for a fry.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Here's as an addendum to a few previous posts, particularly this one and this one.

The old Greeks had a word for man: anthropos; it meant "the looker up." Man was not meant to crawl (literally or figuratively) or conduct himself like the animals; his lot was to be upstanding and noble-minded.

God gave us physical bodies and spiritual souls, each with its own needs, desires, and appetities. The body requires rest and nourishment, for example, while the soul is sustained by truth, beauty, and goodness. One cannot safely neglect the needs of either. At the same time, the two are not equal -- in fact, they have a hierarchical relationship: the soul is more important and noble. That means when the two conflict, the needs of the soul take precedent.

It takes most people a lifetime of effort to condition themselves to consistently keep that proper hierarchy in place. It's tough to stumble upward; the ascent to better things requires deliberate and repeated effort.

"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline: think on these things." - Philippians iv:8

My Douay-Rheims includes a commentary on this excerpt from the epistle of St. Paul:

For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are true...
Here the apostle enumerates general precepts of morality, which Christians ought to practise.

Whatsoever things are true...
In words, in promises, in lawful oaths, etc., he commands rectitude of mind, and sincerity of heart.

Whatsoever modest...
By these words he prescribes gravity in manners, modesty in dress, and decency in conversation.

Whatsoever just...
That is, in dealing with others, in buying or selling, in trade or business, to be fair and honest.

Whatsoever holy...
By these words may be understood, that those who are in a religious state professed, or in holy orders, should lead a life of sanctity and chastity, according to the vows they make; but these words being also applied to those in the world, indicate the virtuous life they are bound by the divine commandments to follow.

Whatsoever lovely...
That is, to practise those good offices in society, that procure us the esteem and good will of our neighbours.

Whatsoever of good fame...
That is, that by our conduct and behaviour we should edify our neighbors, and give them good example by our actions.

If there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline...
That those in error, by seeing the morality and good discipline of the true religion, may be converted.

And finally, the apostle commands, not only the Philippians, but all Christians, to think on these things...
That is, to make it their study and concern that the peace of God might be with them.

Mundus vult decipi.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Letter #8: Serving Mass

Serving Mass the First Time

The letter below was published in the July/August 2004 issue of the Redemptorist paper from Scotland, Catholic.

Reverend Father,

After serving Mass for the very first time this past Candlemas, one of the ladies at the parish asked me what serving was like. In reply I wrote the description which follows; it gave me great joy when my friend replied that it was she had imagined it to be. As a result, I thought that perhaps other readers might like to read my impressions.

I had been preparing to serve my first low Mass when, to my surprise, I was asked to be M.C. - Master of Ceremonies - at Candlemas (five years ago I had never even heard the term); yes, and a High Mass with two servers! My experience in helping to prepare things for the celebration of Mass in the hotel venue we used before we finally got our own chapel in 2001 came in handy now; at least I knew what needed to be done to set up the altar and the credence table, and was able to do that much with barely a pause.

Chapel of St. Michael's at Michaelmas - Roswell, GA

I was not so much nervous as dazed. Even so, the experience of serving was riveting. I suspect that I shall be able to reflect on its significance only years from now, after I have seen how the implications have worked themselves out. All I have now is a first impression. Perhaps I have missed the most crucial points, or been too focused on the tactile elements and not the deeper significance, but to be a Catholic is to have 2,000 years of stories working themselves into everything you see and hear and touch; it is rich and grand, and lovely and familiar too.

For example, everything at the altar seemed immediate and important - almost like I had no depth perception. And yet for all that it was more intimate then being in the pews: I could clearly hear Father's voice; see how he reverently held even the unconsecrated host; touch his vestments as he ascended the steps; smell the coals burning in the thurible. My mouth was dry - perhaps not unlike what the apostles might have experienced in that moment of fear and astonishment when Our Lord said He would be betrayed by one of them.

In spite of stumbling my way through the service, I had a strange sense of ease. Not ease in serving: I had constantly to think about what to do next, and I got several things out of order. Rather, I was aware of a momentary but profound reprieve from what was Out There, beyond the Communion rail; it was as if for a time I was made miraculously indifferent. I was struck by the thought that, for its simplicity and economy, the railing formed a barrier that separated from the world that the world could not begin to comprehend, and would treat with bored and indifferent coldness or hateful cruelty if it could.

That Something is Our Lord, of course, but also the place where Our Lord dwells. The place where He makes His dwelling is, in a way, an extension of Himself; it too is sanctified, by being set aside for His use, at His pleasure, Deo gratias.

While I was serving, I knew everything on the other side of the railing was still there, going on as ever it had, indifferent to our actions, waiting for me to step back into it -- just as the world was, long ago, indifferent to a birth in a poor family in a cave outside Bethlehem, even though what was occurring inside the little cave was greater than all the world.

As the consecration I could clearly hear Father's whisper: Hoc est enim Corpus Meum; his est enim calix Sanguinis Mei. You can hear the whispered words from the pew, but to be right next to the priest at the crucial moment -- perhaps it was what it was like when Dt. John lead his head against Our Lord's breast, and heard the beating of the glorious Sacred Heart.

Our Lord is ruler of all hearts -- and of all the world too, for He made them both. From the angelic chiming of the Sanctus bells to the creak of the tabernacle door: He is in them all by His sustaining power; and under the appearance of common bread and wine He is truly, really, and substantially present thanks to the Mass.

As a recent convert to the Faith (1999), I am frequently amazed at what modern Catholics have given up -- for what? Having myself grown up on the swill-like porridge that the modern world fancies, it astounds me that anyone would willingly surrender his Catholic birthright for such poor fare. And I do not mean merely the externals: the true and good and beautiful realities that the Mass points us to are denied or denigrated outside the Church as a matter of course.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints

All Saints' Day

When the days of the old covenant between Almighty God and His chosen people had been fulfilled, Christ through His Passion defeated sin and death and so made it possible for men to enter Heaven through union with His mystical body, the Catholic Church. Those who are united with the soul of Christ’s Church share in the Communion of Saints, a locution describing:
* The faithful on earth (the Church Militant) who are fighting the temporal crusade for the Kingdom of God,
* The souls in Purgatory (the Church Suffering) who are making atonement in the place of purification, and
* The blessed in Heaven (the Church Triumphant) who are rejoicing in their eternal reward.

With our Lord as its head, this unity forms the mystical body of Christ, and benefits from a plenary exchange of grace and vitality between its members. Thus, through charity and obedience the members of the Church Militant participate in the same faith, sacraments, worship, and government, and aid one another through holy examples, constant prayers, and satisfactory works. These faithful also assist the suffering souls in Purgatory by prayers and sacrifices. The saints in Heaven, meanwhile, intercede with God on behalf of those who have not yet attained the Beatific Vision. The whole is vivified by the life-giving activity of the Holy Ghost.

The Catholic calendar is filled with references to thousands of saints who have crossed the world's stage and won the supreme victory. By uniting our prayers with those of the saints in Heaven, our own prayers gain efficacy and merit. Further, by calling the canonized saints to mind throughout the year, the Church provides instruction to the faithful on earth by illuminating the continuity of Catholic life and teaching. Further, loving attention to the saints encourages a spirit of adoration for what is holy and good, without which the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil becomes a grim campaign. In venerating the saints, Catholics also honor what God Himself honors.

There are more saints than can be fit into the calendar, so one day -- November 1, All Saints' Day -- the Church has set aside to honor those saints who otherwise have no public recognition. It is a day of great rejoicing and hope.

From the Roman Martyrology for November 1: "[Today is] The Festival of All Saints, which Pope Boniface IV, after the dedication of the Pantheon, ordained be kept generally and solemnly every year, in the city of Rome, in honor of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and of the holy martyrs. It was afterwards decreed by Gregory IV that this feast, which was then celebrated in many dioceses, but at different times, should be kept on this day by the whole Church in honor of all saints..."

Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et onerati estis: et ego reficiam vos.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Shades of Tolkien

Setting the Stage
One might recall that in the Lord of the Rings tale, undead creatures stalked the lands of Middle Earth with some regularity.
* The nine Ringwraiths were kings from ages past ensnared and turned to shadow by the power of the One Ring.
* Barrow wights chanted pagan songs of despair in their ancient burial mounds.
* The Dead Marshes housed the restless spirits of mighty warriors slain long ago.
* The Paths of the Dead beyond the Dark Door led to the realm of the dread men of Dunharrow.

It does not seem unreasonable to presume that not all the sleepless spirits were laid to rest at the close of the Third Age. That being the case, the newly returned king would have had to deal with whatever remnant of undead remained. And if any of those undead had ever organized and begun to lobby for democratic reform...


Full Moon Rising: UDLU Haunts Crown for Favor
Eve of the Holy Ones

The specter Fingal Gray is on the prowl. “We seek equal rights for all the kingdom’s citizens, living and undead.”

The revivified former clerk of courts is not alone in his quest. He represents legions of like-minded visitants of the UnDead Litigant's Union (UDLU) who have converged on the tombs, ruins, and outskirts of the kingdom’s capital to petition the crown for equal consideration in the realm’s decrees and in its courts.

“A monarch’s chief duty is to wisely govern all his subjects,” the UDLU spokesman says. “Why should those vassals who were loyal to the crown in life be arbitrarily excluded from their sovereign’s attentions merely because they have passed to an alternate form of consciousness? We ask not for privilege, but simply to be recognized as we are.”

To the neophyte this might seem like just a bit of legal wrangling – an antagonistic assumpsit that carries with it shades of sinister things to come.

“This is no ignis fatuus,” insists Gray. “We are in earnest. The law of the land applies to persons born or naturalized. It says nothing about such persons losing their right to the king’s ministrations simply because they've given up the ghost.”

The Union’s pleader might have a case, if not a precedent. According to Sir Neville Hoddypeake, the crown’s ombudsman, “His Majesty is sagely considering the best manner in which to respond to the pleas of Master Fingal. Certainly our wise and generous king will take the past service of the petitioners into account, and render a prudent and providential ruling. Until then, everyone is reminded to lock their doors at night and remain calm.”

Officially recognizing the legal status of the once-living would take some getting used to, however. Will Hayseed of Galloping Green remembers having to bury his grandfather twice after an itinerant necromancer exhumed and animated his forebear. “It took all the Autumn surplus to hire enough help to track the gaffer down and get him back in the grave. Iffin’ it happened again, why, I rekkin we’d have to sell off one of my brothers as an indentured servant to pay the cost.”

Resistance is likely to be even more articulate from the capital’s Ordinary. No less a figure that Patriarch Tassit himself observed, “Evil has no rights, just as error has no rights. The Union’s claim proposes that incarnate evil is a viable entity, existing in its own right, whereas numerous Holy Docents have incontrovertibly demonstrated that evil is in truth a corruption of what is good. How can what is inferior be given the same regard as what is superior? We are confident that the courts will concede the necessity of this axiom for any law to exist, not just the one being discussed today. The implications of a reversal are too nightmarish to contemplate.”

Another stumbling block is that the walking dead themselves are shambling along more than marching in step. “The liches have not deigned to answer our summons,” Gray concedes. “And the vampires will sign on only if the contract is drawn up in blood. The shadows, poltergeists, and revenants do not entirely appreciate the implications of what we’re trying to do, but they’ve thrown their lot in with us on the understanding that their access to graveyards and nocturnal city streets will have fewer restrictions.”

Obstacles notwithstanding, the UDLU is guardedly optimistic. “With time not working to our detriment, we can afford to wait quite a while before chanting our victory dirge,” says Gray. “And we’re mounting a multi-faceted campaign. For example, specters like myself, and the banshees, wights, and wraiths – a very powerful contingent – are entirely behind this offensive. Also, our numbers grow nightly, thanks to the sleepless conscription efforts of our ghouls and ghasts.

“We’ve also been busy in the academic realm,” continues the sepulchral spokesman. “A treatise scribed in human flesh and impaled on a local university’s front gate articulates how the term ‘monster’ to describe one’s ancestors and former friends is a pejorative term, one that contributes to the mindless destruction of our constituency in catacombs, cemeteries, and abandoned houses throughout the kingdom.

“Finally,” Gray concludes, “we are agitating for the formal acknowledgement of our non-sentient members, particularly zombies and animated skeletons. Though they do not think or speak, they still fulfill a crucial role in netherworld society. Citing the precedent of the recent Dead Scott case, it is our position not that they are capable of autonomous voting, but that their numbers should be tallied in the household of their animators.”

How this matter will turn out not even the Mystic’s Guild has attempted to augur.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Certainty and Wishful Thinking

Today’s zeitgeist holds that the human mind cannot come to any convincing conclusions about ethics, morality, or religion. The best we have is opinion, instinct, inclination.

This is wishful thinking.

Instincts and emotions are fine in their place, but people are not the same as animals who are limited to (and always comply with) their instincts -- i.e. humans are not to be ruled by instinct alone. Unlike animals, people have reason and intelligence as well as the power to anticipate and plan for their own future. These faculties allow people to determine when to follow or resist the instincts – and when to rise above them.

It’s a dangerous and unwise business to reduce people to merely animal status. Because not everything is relative, our minds are capable at arriving at clear and certain moral decisions.

Even more dangerous and unwise is adopting the spirit of the zeitgeist, whose chief principle is that not even God can tell us what to do.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Things Better Left Unsaid

Here's a sampling I've collected over the years of emails, memos, and letters that perhaps would have been best left unwritten. Names have been obscured to protect the unwitting.


From: Jay
Sent: Tuesday, April 10, 2001 3:57 PM
Subject: Thursday Night Network Outage 4/12

During the maintenance window this Thursday 4/12, J.S. and I will be moving a core circuit of the company network. I am coordinating a hot swap with Sprint of the Atlanta DS3 and the multiple PVC's that run to each office.

The outage will affect network connectivity from the different company offices to corporate applications in Atlanta. Network connectivity will be intermittent between Thursday 11pm and Friday 2am.

Maintenance window information and Network SLA's can be found at If you have any questions or concerns then please send me an email.


[SEAN COMMENT: The bottom line is, if you are working on an IDS at COB for a GPC on the ATL TLA, then your connection will be MIA.]


From the Earth Day web site a few years back:

April 22nd is Earth Day - each year marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

Welcome to Planet Earth, the third planet from a star named the Sun. The Earth is shaped like a sphere and composed mostly of rock. Over 70 percent of the Earth's surface is water. The planet has a relatively thin atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen and oxygen. Earth has a single large Moon that is about 1/4 of its diameter and, from the planet's surface, is seen to have almost exactly the same angular size as the Sun. With its abundance of liquid water, Earth supports a large variety of life forms, including potentially intelligent species such as dolphins and humans. Please enjoy your stay on Planet Earth.

[SEAN COMMENT: So now humans are potentially intelligent? My, we really have evolved, haven't we?]


[SEAN COMMENT: This one is from my tech writer buddy Richard, who came across this when he was re-writing his company's online help system.]


Your password and employee number identify you as a valid ETSS user. Your password must be 5 to 8 characters.

When typing, your password displays as asterisks (*) so your backstabbing coworker can't read your password, log in as you, wreak havoc on the system and frame you for it.


[SEAN COMMENT: I was doing some admin-screen development on one of my projects when I received the helpful feedback message below acknowledging that one of my changes to the portal was correctly implemented.]

Sent: Tuesday, May 03, 2005 1:04 PM
To: Sean

The portlet named unknown has been added to page unknown in community unknown by unknown.


[SEAN COMMENT: A co-worker from my IBM days sent me this note from his wife, who worked as an editor in the environmental industry. I'm told the author was especially proud of this one.]

The critical key to a successful optimization project is the integration of all factors into a contemporaneous decision matrix. This integration allows the purpose of the optimization process to be achieved; namely, the application of a holistic, business-based decision process.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Too Good to be True

Many moons ago, on a weekend when I was home from college, my mother and I went out for lunch at a favorite local pizza parlor. When we exited the restaurant, we saw money blowing all over the parking lot.

"Surely not," we thought, and picked up a few of the migratory bills.

But our eyes had not deceived us: thousands of greenbacks in various denominations were whirling their way across the parking lot and into the surrounding neighborhood.

"How strange," we said as we set about collecting as many of the simoleons as we could catch up to.

Several minutes into our newly discovered hobby we were approached by a uniformed officer who smiled, held out his hand, and said "thank you."

It turned out that the bank next door had been robbed, and the yegg had dropped one of his plastic garbage bags during his escape; the police officer had been dispatched to claim the stray bills.

Mom and I just had a laugh: we'd known all along that we wouldn't have been able to keep the money, but the game was fun while it lasted.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wise Investment

If you lend a fellow $20 and never see him again, it was a wise investment.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bound for France

As of this moment, my plane should be pushing back from the Atlanta terminal for a flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris; arrival time is scheduled to be 11:20 AM Saturday morning.

Here's the itinerary of the trip:

October 17: Atlanta to Paris
* Transatlantic flight

October 18 - 19: Paris
* Basilica of St. Denis, patron saint of France.
* Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Montmarte
* Shrine of the Miraculous Medal, with the incorrupt St. Catherine Labouré
* The incorrupt St. Vincent de Paul
* Notre Dame Cathedral
* The Sainte Chapelle built by King St. Louis IX
* St. Etienne-du-Mont burial church of St. Genevieve, patroness of Paris
* Eiffel Tower
* L'Arc de Triomphe
* Champs Elysees

October 20: Paris to Lisieux
* Lisieux, home to St. Therese of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower
* Basilica of St. Therese

October 21: Lisieux to Chartres to Nevers
* Majestic Chartres Cathedral
* To Nevers, with the incorrupt St. Bernadette Soubirous

October 22: Nevers to Paray-le-Monial to Ars
* To Paray-le-Monial, home of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque
* Basilica of the Sacred Heart
* Chapel of the Visitation
* Chapel of St. Colombiere
* Arrive in Ars

October 23: Ars to La Salette
* Basilica of Ars, with the incorrupt St. John Vianney, Curé of Ars
* To La Salette and its basilica in the French Alps

October 24: La Salette to Laus to Lourdes
* To Laus, an ancient pilgrimage spot, then to Lourdes

October 25: Lourdes
* Basilica, built where St. Bernadette was visited by the Mother of God
* By the basilica is a miraculous spring and healing baths

October 26: Lourdes
* Sunday: Solemn High Mass with a few thousand traditional Catholics
* Procession, blessing of the sick

October 27: Lourdes to Toulouse
* Solemn Mass, then bus to Toulouse by way of Pibrac
* In Toulouse, visit relics of St. Thomas Aquinas

October 28: Toulouse to Atlanta (via Paris)
* Transatlantic flight

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Emperor For the Day

Today is payday. That means that somewhere out there many millions of electronic bits of data are zipping about, causing the "debits" and "credits" columns on my computer's screen to display different numbers.

This, I am told, is a better world than when we were on the gold standard.

Yet I can't help feeling that there is something more satisfying in holding a shiny gold coin in one's hand than seeing black and white characters dart about on a computer screen.

A return to the previous state, I suspect, would have to be preceded by something like the restoration of empowered monarchy. Naturally we'd have to take it slowly -- perhaps experiment with it in small doses. We could even have national elections for the role -- after all, crowns don't have to be hereditary.

If I were campaining to be elected Emperor for the Day, the theme would be:

"To Make the World Safe For Feudalism!"

If I were elected, my platform could be summed up in the motto:

"Taxation, Annexation, Conscription!"

Inconveniently, the last feudal spot on earth -- the British crown dependency of Sark (pop. 600) in the English channel -- became compliant with the international agreement on Human Rights earlier this year, effectively removing the island's lingering feudal aspects.

Ah well, I was never much good at riding a horse anyway.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Latin in English

A number of expressions and grammatical rules from Latin have made their way into common use among English speakers. As there are few Latin scholars among us, the rules for correct use are sometimes misunderstood -- which is not surprising, given that sometimes even the scholars have gotten it wrong.

Here's a stab at offering clarification to borrowed terms and making corrections to popular misconceptions.

i.e., e.g., via, etc., viz.* i.e. = id est in Latin; means that is or in other words (often confused with e.g.)
* e.g. = exempli gratia in Latin; means for example (often confused with i.e.)
* via = means by way of or by means of (old-fashioned)
* etc. = et cetera in Latin; means and the rest or and so forth
viz. = videlicet in Latin; means namely or to wit

Ending sentences with prepositions everywhereThis is a no-no in Latin; it's perfectly fine in English, however. So why did generations of English teachers tell us not to do this? Because they were all taught the wrong thing too. A few centuries back a group of literary Englishmen (I've seen Dryden's name included in that mix) attempted to ennoble the mundane English language; one standard they applied was make it resemble the noble Latin tongue of the Romans. And so these gents set about applying rules of Latin grammar to English. The application was foreign and arbitrary, but it has stayed with us to this day.

To boldly split infinitivesIn Latin, you can't split an infinitive with an ax; not so in English. Thus, Captain Kirk was perfectly within his rights in describing his ship's five-year mission "To boldly go where no man has gone before." It was another Latin norm arbitrarily applied to English.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

High Tory

The High Tory is a Brit (or sometimes a Canadian) who is pro-tradition, conservative, suspicious of novelty, and prone to sound like an aristocrat even when the family line is mongrel stock. In my experience he is given to magniloquent utterances. His natural sympathies are with gentry and landowners, whether patrician or plebian; his antithesis is the modern democratic mobile money-grubbing capitalist devoid of pedigree, heritage, or a sense of place.

Jolly Old England (rooted in an Englishman’s perception of an Englishman) gave way to the Englishman of The Stiff Upper Lip (rooted in an American’s perception of an Englishman), and (national perceptions aside) I’ve yet to read a satisfactory account of what precipitated the change. One possibility* is the influence of the pessimist Thomas Malthus, who married English economic notions with un-provable assertions about the probabilities of species survival. Malthusian economics produced new miseries for the poor with the approbation of men of means, who were excused from alleviating the sufferings of the lower class. Darwin, for the record, adored Malthus.

In my time I’ve come across pro-monarchy Americans who aspire to High Tory-dom (in sentiment if not in name). I don’t mind the phenomenon – it can be quaint in its own way, except for when the would-be monarchists are also sycophant Anglophiles. In that case you can forget the English charm.

During one online exchange I had with such a chap -- he was berating America and Americans not ashamed of their country** -- I declared that America is the best country in the history of the world, and if you don’t feel the same way about your country, why not? A string of sanctimonious salvos and smug barbs were promptly directed my way. I looked in vain for examples of British orthography in the assault, but the cavilling (sic) used only the uncivilized American spellings. Go figure.

For the record, as St. Thomas More is the patron of my confirmation, I hope to be excused at least of harboring anti-English sentiments as such.

Old Glory First Hoisted
Flying High Above the Union Jack

* This theory of causation is just speculative, no doubt idle, on my part.
** Patriotism in that particular venue was permitted only as a banal platitude, and then only if accompanied by numerous qualifiers and energetic hand-wringing to soften the effect. In my critic’s view, my unreserved love of country made me worse than a socialist. Bother.