Sunday, November 30, 2008
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
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
Monday, November 24, 2008
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
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
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
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
"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?"
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
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
The email came with the message, "This is enough to make me feel insignificant. Can you believe the size of these things?"
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
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
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
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
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
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.
By these words he prescribes gravity in manners, modesty in dress, and decency in conversation.
That is, in dealing with others, in buying or selling, in trade or business, to be fair and honest.
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.
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
The letter below was published in the July/August 2004 issue of the Redemptorist paper from Scotland, Catholic.
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.
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
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.