Friday, January 19, 2018

Seven Quick Takes, 1-19-2018

"Seven Quick Takes" is hosted at "This Ain't the Lyceum."

1.     If you are one of the three people who has been reading this blog for a while, you may have noticed that recent posts include a “Source” link under the picture captions.  This is because, after a conversation with a family member who happens to be a lawyer, I began to question my hitherto somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards pictures, and towards classical (by which I mean “painted probably in Europe between 1000 and 1900 A.D.”) artwork in particular.  Apparently (contrary to Wikipedia’s blithe assurances) just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s legally showing up in your web searches.  Fortunately for me, the Met recently decided to declare much of its collection public domain.  To view, go here, scroll down for the options on the left, under “Show Only” make sure to select “Public Domain Artworks,” and proceed to enjoy legal use of images of everything from Greek pottery to Dutch masters to random bits of armor—just make sure that you source the images back to the Met.

2.     I have discovered the (a?) secret to not going over budget: Don’t buy anything until after you’ve run out.  No, seriously.  You don’t need plastic wrap.  Or cooking spray.  Or a new rug for the bottom of the stairs down which your toddler is threatening to tumble.  Cavemen didn’t have plastic wrap, and they survived just fine.  OK, but seriously, there probably are alternatives in your house to almost anything that you might happen to run out of.  And if you run out of it first, you might discover that some of these alternatives are actually cheaper than you thought, and work just as well … Even if you decide to go back to your precious canisters of Pam, however, the trick of not buying until you run out should enable you to make it to the end of the month without crossing the red line when you’ve already maxed out your “household goods” column.

3.     I am sure this does not apply to all children and all ages, but if you are a new mom of a non-walker, let me promise you: some things do get a easier when they learn how to walk.  Yes, they’ll get into everything.  Yes, they’ll want to climb your couches, chairs, bookshelves, piano, and any other platforms more than .5 square feet broad and three inches high (“platform” being defined loosely, of course, to include such objects as Christmas trees and bags of fruit).  Yes, they’ll whine for those just-out-of-reach items until you drill it into them that they can’t have everything they see (and drill it into yourself that sometimes substitution or removal of the desired object is prudent).  But don’t children whine for and destroy things before they walk too?  And once they can walk, they can play sooooo much more easily—and hence happily.  On the whole, a worthwhile tradeoff, n’est pas?

4.     In world news, Hawaii’s random false nuclear warning last week was not the first such incident.  (In fact, there are several stories of nuclear near-misses, as you’ll find if you google for more information about the 1960 Thule event.)

5.     Meanwhile, the other kind of nuclear power—the power plant kind—is losing in California, winning in Minnesota, and providing interesting environmental benefits, even if you ask sincerely concerned environmentalists.

6.     Alright, alright, since we walked down this road, we’ll go all the way: Yes Prime Minister - Bernard Woolley on defence capabilities.

7.     And for a lighter sort of button game, which might perhaps be useful at your January Christmas parties … Remember that line in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, “Button, button, who’s got the button?

8.     Finally, a bonus take, in the form of a reminder that if cavemen don’t need buttons, neither do you.  Unless, of course, you’re still under budget for the month.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

In Which Good Screenwriting Just Makes Sense

It is a truth universally acknowledged by all who have the misfortune to know them that writers view movies with a jaundiced eye.  It’s not so much that we’re deliberately looking for what the screenwriters have done wrong, as that we’re on the lookout, even unconsciously so, for mistakes that we might make ourselves.
It will thus come as no surprise that I thought Guardians of the Galaxy II was less than stellar.  To be sure, this isn’t just a writer’s critique: friends also thought that Guardians I was generally better and specifically funnier.  Despite my hesitance to level that criticism from a distance of months, I’ll confess to having noticed more tastelessness this time around.  Possibly the tastelessness was there during the first round too, but I don’t remember it so vividly.

Likewise, the violence.  About halfway through I turned to my husband and said, “Does this even have the same rating as the last one?”  As with the humor, this installment of the series just felt rougher.  Once again, though, I’m not confident that the body count was higher, or the killing portrayed more lightly.
A third element of the film that made a definite difference in viewer comfort was the character of Groot.  Groot, an ancient tree in Guardians I, has been splintered into a baby shoot in Guardians II.  He’s undeniably cute.  Too cute.  Especially if you happen to be a female possessed of a baby or so, seeing anything bad happen to Baby Groot (even if he does look more like a pint-sized Ent than a human being) is incredibly painful.  The “mascot” scene was almost unwatchable.

None of these, of course, are critiques of the competence of the film’s writers, or not directly so.  But …

You knew this was coming.
Spoilers ahead.

One of the good things about Guardians I, people said, was that it didn’t take itself too seriously; by comparison, some friends felt Guardians II took itself too seriously (ironically—see above point re humor).  The real problem for any movie, of course, is rarely its seriousness, but rather its failure to do serious well.  And on this count, I think Guardians II may indeed be guilty.

I said spoilers ahead, right?
You all read these captions, right?

In its favor, the film is attempting to do something that its predecessor did not, in treating the theme of family ties and especially of fatherhood.  If the Yondu plot is the center of the fatherhood thread, then that is actually interesting.  But if the Ego plot is the center—and the amount of screen time rather seems to indicate that it is, even though the film ends with Yondu—then the film fails.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s the basic setup.  Peter Quill, a.k.a “Starlord,” is the son of a human being from earth and a hitherto unidentified extraterrestrial.  Early in Guardians II his life is saved by a mysterious being who soon identifies himself as Peter’s father, and who turns out to be a “celestial” (think minor Greek god) going under the moniker Ego (hmmm …).  Ego warmly invites Peter to his home planet and, with varying degrees of suspicion, Peter and two companions go.

Once on his home planet, Ego reveals his masterplan to his new-found son Peter.  For—centuries? millenia?—he has deposited bits of his planetary magical stuff …

It’s blue and glows; what more do you need to know?

… onto other planets, along with fathering lots of children on said planets.

I told you he was basically a minor Greek god.

Ego’s masterplan is to grow himself over all these planets and turn the universe into—you guessed it—Ego!!!
But there’s a catch.  Ego isn’t powerful enough to do this on his own; he needs a second celestial to help him.  All of his children so far haven’t had enough god genes to be of any assistance, and so they’ve been painlessly euthanized.  (Nice guy, right?)  But Peter Quill, well … Peter has the god genes, as his handling of the Infinity Stones in Guardians I proved.

Of course, it would take a monster to listen to this recital unprotesting.  Since Our Hero Peter is instead a Very Nice Guy, the screenwriters evidently figured he needed some excuse for being tempted.  Thus, prior to the recital of the aforementioned Fiendish Scheme, Ego essentially hypnotizes Peter.

… whose eyes, of course, turn totally blue.  Paging Frank Herbert!

Thus, Peter is able to listen to the recital, be genuinely tempted by the prospect of joining with Dear Old Dad, and only snaps out of it when he learns that Ego, as a minor element of the Fiendish Scheme, had to off Peter’s mother.  This breaks the spell numbing Peter, and enables the commencement of the Final Battle (which according to custom takes perhaps a quarter of the movie, with brief respites for character development and comic relief).
It’s not a terrible solution—it’s better than some alternatives, e.g., changing Peter’s character such that he petulantly considers Ego’s Fiendish Scheme because, say, he’s mad at his friends for some trivial or not so trivial reason.  Still, this would have been a much better movie all around if Peter had been genuinely tempted.  But would have required a better Ego.

Recall C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra.  If you read the speeches of Lewis’s tempter Weston, it’s actually very hard to detect surface ethical issues.  As a reader, you can almost approve some of his arguments for disobedience.  You can admit to yourself while reading, “Wow, maybe that’s wrong in this situation … but I dunno … Would it always be wrong?”  Of course, Lewis gives us enough external information to know that the Bad Dude is in fact a Bad Dude and ought not to be agreed with.  But it’s a strength of the novel that the Bad Dude is almost persuasive.  Lewis pulls a similar thing off with his narrator in Till We Have Faces, who is credible until near the end of her story.  Dostoyevsky’s Ivan is another excellent example of the character whose false arguments are powerful and all but irrefutable.  Similar things have been done in literature from Chaucer’s Wife of Bath to Milton’s Satan to (some say) Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert.  Unreliable narration, whether for a speech or for an entire book, is a basic tool in the writer’s kit.
Ethically speaking, I think unreliable narration is oftentimes to the good.  In a story where the readers or viewers are eventually disabused of their error, the awareness that they were tricked or tempted has a cautionary effect—“I shouldn’t judge people so harshly,” “I didn’t realize I could find power so attractive,” etc., etc.  And regardless of the ethical implications, it just plain makes for a better blasted story.

That is why Ego’s narrative in Guardians II is so terribly dissatisfying.  We the viewers don’t agree with him for a moment.  He isn’t interesting anymore.  And we can sit smugly in our couches and shake our heads in righteous scorn at Ego and roll our eyes at the stupid, drugged Peter, in a lively exercise of Better-Than-Thouism.  It is stultifying for the intellect and not much better for the soul.
What’s more, this story thread is paired with two other family-themed threads: the reconciliation of sisters Gamora and Nebula, and the emergence of Yondu as Peter’s true father-figure.  They’re worthy stories, but they suffer by being juxtaposed with Ego’s.  Yondu is a clear alternative to Ego—a flawed but ultimately loving character, who at one point tells Peter, in re Ego, “He may have been your father, but he wasn’t your Daddy.”  But Ego is so bad that, attractive exterior aside, he hardly works as a foil for Yondu: there really isn’t a choice between them.  It would be more interesting for the audience, and require more discernment on Peter’s part, to recognize Yondu’s virtues if Ego were less appalling.  As for the Gamora-Nebula story, the root of their quarrel is a father who played them off against each other (literally—as gladiators) from childhood.  Although their father, Thanos, is not obviously juxtaposed against Ego (he’s offscreen for this entire film), once again a subtler portrayal of Ego could potentially have led to more interesting considerations about Thanos.  (For example, how is Ego’s plan to use Peter for his Fiendish Scheme like and unlike Thanos’s desire to train his daughters for his own empire?)

With so much to be gained by strengthening Ego’s character, why didn’t the screenwriters make him more interesting?  The usual answer, that character development takes too much time, won’t work here.  True, the film is, like all of its genre, devoted to providing an entertaining spectacle.  But it still takes time to outline at length Ego’s activities, past and future.  All the screenwriters needed to do was to substitute some plausible rhetoric for the dull pennyworth of  Nietzsche they used instead.  (E.g., Ego could have began by appealing to the corruption of fallen beings—wouldn’t it be better to wipe out certain planets, etc., etc.?)
I think the only possible reasons for failing to ante up Ego’s rhetorical skill are either (1) it didn’t even occur to the screenwriters that his rhetoric could be better, or (2) they realized it could be better, but didn’t know how to convincingly write such a speech.  Either possibility is a sad commentary on the state of their art, and the unfortunate result of their apparent incapacity an object lesson to the rest of us.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

To Live Is to Follow the Light

Christians throughout the world recently celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, some on the traditional date of Jan. 6 (the “Twelfth Night” of the twelve days of Christmas) and others on the nearest Sunday (this year, Jan. 7).  In many cultures, Epiphany is a little Christmas.  Just as Dec. 25 commemorates Jesus Christ’s manifestation to his own people, the Jews, so Epiphany commemorates his manifestation to the gentiles, in the person of the wise men whose arrival is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

The wise men or magi, sometimes called “kings” in reference to Old Testament prophecies of kings of the East visiting the Messiah, followed a star which led them to Bethlehem, to the house where Jesus lay.  They had some knowledge of astronomy, enough to know that the star was unusual; and the astrology to which the ancients gave credit led them to believe that this astronomical phenomenon heralded the birth of a new king of the Jews.

Still, they must have felt there was something more to the strange light than that.  After all, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar (as tradition names them) were not Jews themselves, and the Jewish people were not prominent in world affairs.  Why did the magi care about the birth of a new king in a minor foreign nation?  The star boded something more, suggested some ramifications personal to them, or larger than what they admitted to Herod.

Perhaps one indication of what they expected, or at least what they found, lies in the gospel for the earlier epiphany.

The Gospel for Christmas Mass during the Day does not come from the infancy narratives, but from John: “In the beginning was the Word …”  As John continues, clarifying the relation between the Messiah and God as one of identity, he adds the following:

“All things came to be through [the Word], and without him nothing came to be.  What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.” —from the USCCB readings for the Mass for Christmas Day.

John explains the Word’s creative role in terms of two fundamental things: life, and light.  Unfortunately, this is one of the many places where translation confuses.  The USCCB translation says that “What came to be through him was life,” but the Douay-Rheims has the more familiar “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  This is a straightforward translation of the Vulgate, which reads “In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum.”

Read the rest at the Register.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On Being Fair

A recent foray into the world of parenting books led me to the painfully familiar concept of being “fair.”  While this is not (yet) a personal concern, I can well remember times growing up when things seemed “unfair” amongst my siblings.  Without doubting that our parents intended the best for all of us, it was easy to feel that they had on this or that occasion made a mistake.  More mature years sometimes corrected that impression by validating the parental point of view; at other times, not.  In either case, the fact stands: however good the parents are as parents, their children will oftentimes think them unfair.

The parenting expert whose work I was reading encouraged parents not to worry about this—in fact, he made it a life lesson for the children.  Parents, he wrote, should tell their children from an early age that they (the parents) will not always be fair—indeed, when children complained, he suggested that the parents flaunt their “unfairness” rather than back down.  After all, the expert observed, parents are better judges of situations than children; and anyway, quite frankly, life itself is not fair, so the kids should get used to it!

Interestingly enough, in the concrete examples the expert gave, he did not actually suggest unfairness.  In counseling a couple with two boys, he proposed that one week they buy shoes for one and next week a shirt for the other; another time they might choose to take one boy out bowling, and a few days later take the other out to the movies.  Depending upon which boy coveted which item or experience more, this behavior still might be perceived as unfair by the boys.  But it was quite evident that the expert was concerned that there should be no real inequality between the children in terms parental treatment.  He was advocating tough rhetoric, but not meanness in action (which is, whatever else one may say about it, a better balance than the reverse).

The curious thing about this subterranean fairness is that the expert ignored the possibility (which he elsewhere acknowledges) that sometimes children really shouldn’t get comparable things from their parents (much less the same things at the same time).  And this apparent unfairness may actually be fair.  If, for example, one child shows a real talent for music and a willingness to work hard at it, must you ensure that his sibling has an equivalent hobby, even if that sibling has shown less interest, aptitude, and enthusiasm?  This goes still more for academic expertise: some kids are smarter than others, and it’s not unreasonable for parents to invest more in the schooling of those who take to schooling.  Similarly in sports, it is not necessarily the case, though one child is on a team K through twelve, that every other child must also be, in Fairness’ Name.  To be sure, the parents may decide that two or three years of a sport or instrument are necessary enrichment, and that all their children must finish high school.  But it hardly follows that that every child needs to get the same amount of “enrichment points” (assuming that those could be accurately calculated, which I rather doubt).

This may not feel fair when you seem to have gotten the short end of a particular stick.  But maybe a short stick was all you were equipped for—maybe you really didn’t have the talent for a longer one.  And if so, the unfairness is God’s fault (pardon the expression), not your parents’.

This is all sounding rather harsh; let me put it another way.  Consider the etymology of the word “fair.”  Recall how Tolkien uses it.  “Fair” in older literature (or literature which adopts an older style) does not mean “just.”  Indeed, the first sense of “fair” given by the Oxford English Dictionary is “Beautiful, agreeable” (AI); secondarily, fair means “Beautiful to the eye; of attractive appearance; good-looking” (AI1).  It is only after a long series of applications of this sense of fair to various objects, from women to animals to words, that we arrive at AII, where “fair” is defined as “Favourable; benign; unobstructed,” e.g., “fair weather” or “fair circumstances.”  All the way down at AII14 we get the modern sense of “fair”: “Of conduct, actions, methods, arguments, etc.: free from bias, fraud, or injustice; equitable; legitimate, valid, sound” (AII14.a.(a)); “Of a person: characterized by equitable or lawful conduct; honest, just; reasonable” (AII14.a.(b)); “Of conditions, circumstances, etc.: providing an equal chance of success to all; not unduly favourable or adverse to anyone” (AII14.b.).

This exercise is not designed to delegitimize the concept of fairness.  The point is rather its connection to the beautiful and the agreeable.  To understand what “fair” means in the modern sense, it is important to understand the older sense of the word, and thus also to understand what is meant by beauty.  Traditionally, beauty was defined in terms of proportionality, integrity, and clarity; the element of proportionality is most relevant here.  To be fair (old sense) was to have a proportionality, integrity, and clarity to one’s appearance or actions.  To be fair (new sense) is to act in a proportional way.  One does not give a five-year-old and a fifteen-year-old the same size meal—that would not be proportional; it would not, in fact, be fair!  Admittedly, the five-year-old might complain that things are unfair when he sees big brother is getting two hamburgers and he only has one.  But the fact is (as his parents know) that if he starts with two hamburgers on his plate he’ll end up with a bellyache.

It’s easy to see this with respect to things like food, because the proportionality in terms of size is visible, tangible to even the most prosaic adult mind.  It’s harder, perhaps to see in other areas; but the fact of the need for proportionality is no less real.  The Communist dictum, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is as necessary in personal family dealings as it is damaging when applied to political life; for parents, unlike the government, are in a position to judge the abilities and needs of those whom they govern.  Perhaps they do not always do so perfectly, but they have both the right and the duty to make the attempt.  And if, at the end of the day, something truly disproportionate and unfair transpires … Well, kids, in the words of the expert, life isn’t fair.

Also, more importantly, your parents probably love you anyway.  And love from parents to children, beginning at birth and extending sometimes for far too long afterwards, is perhaps the ultimate case of unfairness, because it is frequently all out of proportion with the object’s just deserts.

I don't know about you, but I wanted to sit on the dog!

Monday, December 25, 2017


John 1:4:

“What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.”

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

—from the Douay-Rheims.

“In ipso vita erat, et vita erat lux hominum.”

—from the Vulgate.

“εν αυτω ζωη ην και η ζωη ην το φως των ανθρωπων.”

—from the Greek.

The precarious word here is “en” which, like a lot of Greek prepositions (and for that matter, English and Latin ones) is slippery in meaning.  It could stand for in, by, or with—and probably a lot of other things I don’t know about.  Jerome, obviously, chose to translate it “in.”  I suspect the USCCB translation is relying on the other meanings, especially “by”.  “By him was life” sounds very much like a clumsy or idiomatic way of saying “By his power, life came to be” (or, as the official translation says with more circumlocution, “What came to be through him was life”)—and this is especially true in the context of the preceding verse, where “He” is described as responsible for the making of all things.  So—with apologies once again to Jerome—“in him was life” is kind of weak sauce by comparison.

Why is this interesting?

Well, what does it mean to say that the Word of God, Who Is God—now incarnate as Jesus Christ—made life?  (Think for a moment about the curiosity that is life on the merely biological level, of its inexplicability; think too of the thing that we mean when we say “Now that’s really living life.”  This “life” is Divine in origin.  Explains quite a bit, doesn’t it?)

And further, what does it mean to say that the life that God created is “the light of men”?  (Light is that by which we see; it is also that by which we live, physically—not just because our sun happens to be hot and light coincidentally, but also because E=mcc and so forth.  That by which we live is also that by which we see; that by which we see how to live.  Is it too much to find in this line the seeds of the notion of natural law?)

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Boredom and the First Fifteen Minutes

This November has taught me a lot about productivity—not that this blog has much to show for it; the productivity has manifested elsewhere.  Among other things, I have been reminded yet again that deadlines and (still more) competition are excellent ways to make myself write more and better than I otherwise would.  And writing, like workouts and daily prayer, is beginning to share more and more of the characteristics of a habit: one of those things that grows easier with frequency, with the ease fading as the exercise of the habit lapses.

Most of all, however, I have gained a greater appreciation for the fact that writing is one of those activities that are difficult for the first five, ten, or even fifteen minutes.  It is unlike movie watching or eating good food—activities that appeal immediately to the appetites, require little effort, and are almost universally described by human beings as “fun.”  Many people, indeed, would express outright disbelief that the word “fun” could possibly apply to so laborious a pastime.

And writing isn’t fun, in the sense that watching a movie is fun.  Perhaps “rewarding” would be a better word; but that too is inadequate.  There is a writer’s high, just as there is a runner’s high and a musician’s: a place you reach when the words come fluently and without difficulty, and the end product is none the worse for all that.  And nothing is more “fun” than reaching that state of “work.”  The effortless activities that we usually call fun cannot even compare.  We become sated and stuffed; we feel we have over-somethinged when we conclude them, and turn in disgust away from the screen or the plate, disgruntled by the thought of how much time we have wasted.  There are no such regrets, and no such feeling of overindulgence, from scaling a peak with writing or making music or exercise.  But of course, to be the sort of runner or writer or pianist who finds this wonderful and perilous place, once needs to be pretty good already: one needs to have achieved a state of fluency, rather than mere competency.

I don’t mean that one needs to be playing late Beethoven sonatas
or writing War and Peace to enjoy this high.  One may achieve it
with Clementi and Nancy Drew fan fics.  But even in that case,
one needs to be fluent with the idioms concerned:
fluent in the twists and turns of Clementi and Carolyn Keene.

Even once one has achieved fluency in a certain idiom, however, there is still a dragon at the gate.  There are still the first five, or ten, or fifteen minutes.  The fifteen minutes, when the most fascinating project, if it requires but the slightest bit of effort, is dull.  The fifteen minutes when the internet, the couch, and even the dishes have more appeal.  The fifteen minutes when the only word for the thing you love is boring.

Children, it seems, don’t have this problem.  Because they are just discovering the world around them, they are endlessly fascinated by it.

Or are they?  I can certainly remember plenty of late mornings and afternoons growing up when I felt bored.  I’ve seen one-year-olds, having exhausted what Mrs. Elton would call their “resources,” wandering about rooms and whining plaintively in search of something to entertain them.  No, the wonder with children is not that they don’t get bored.  The only wonder is that the things that catch their interest are mostly simpler than those that tantalize adults.

If anything, children are more in danger of being bored than adults are.  When you live in a state of wonder which is partly due to incomprehension, it is easy to grow used to being entertained by things that catch the eye.  Instant gratification oftentimes works, and with the simplest of objects; and so instant gratification becomes the rule, the constant desideratum.  Once a thing’s been handled a minute, dropped, licked, and stuffed into the available containers, it’s aged.  It’s become boring, and the incipient toddler is bored.  He hasn’t yet learned—nor could he comprehend an explanation—that with a little effort the boring block could become interesting again: could become part of a tower, a wall, a path, even (heaven help us) a projectile.  In other words, he hasn’t learned to play.  He needs an adult or an older child to teach him how to get past the first fifteen minutes (or, given the length of his attention span, the first two) to find that place where imagination and joy take over.

The terribly sad thing about modern life, of course, is that most adults have never learned not to be toddlers, or else have regressed to the toddler state.  (If you doubt me, consider briefly America’s two great addictions, one manifested in obesity and the other in private, usually solitary, vices.  The plate and the screen.)  We could blame the fact that schools don’t let children play, speak of “the hurried child,” suggest more Tiger Parenting, find fault with Baby Boomers or Millennials, and of course declare that Apple is to blame.

I don’t think any of those explanations are necessarily false, but they are negative—being mere diagnoses of the disease by which we reached our present state—rather than constructive.  The only real constructive solution, I think, begins with a personal dedication licking those first fifteen minutes in the interest of something worthwhile.  In other words, it would behoove each of us to learn again to play.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and see about those Thanksgiving leftovers, and maybe hit up a Black Friday sale or ten.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Stop Spoiling My Thanksgiving!

thank you very much.

As I stood over the sink, reading the cooking instructions on a twelve point five pound bird (why do they print them on the package? when there’s a handy dandy tag attached?), and reflecting on the four hour saga about to commence tomorrow in my oven (I do mean saga: cold bird; fiery … electrical tubing? whatever they call that; and a savory victorious finish), my eye lighted on a few choice words, neatly printed in unmistakable and literal black and white:

Do not cook your stuffing in your bird.  We think your bird will take about four hours to cook, UNSTUFFED.  We refuse to provide a stuffed estimate because DO NOT COOK YOUR STUFFING IN YOUR BIRD.  The FDA says if you do this you will probably curl up and die.  REPEAT: DIE.  REPEAT: DO NOT COOK YOUR STUFFING IN YOUR BIRD.  Put it in a separate dish where it will proceed to bake dry and flavorless as a four-hour fire hazard, because we are turkey breeders and not qualified to tell you how to cook your stuffing.

Well united company of turkey breeders or whoever you are, I DEFY YOU.  My turkey is stuffed.  Go stuff yourselves for Thanksgiving.  Or … actually … don’t.  Eat your unsatisfying morsels of dry, overbaked turkey and charred stuffing.  Or tofu.  Or whatever it is that healthy people eat these days.  My turkey is stuffed.

REPEAT: My turkey is stuffed.  It is in the fridge at this moment.  I don’t know, but I suspect refrigerating a raw stuffed turkey is also going to kill me and the other ten-ish people who partake of it.  Probably also the raw cookie dough I ate a month ago, the sushi from two weeks ago, and the mushroom I just ate off the floor after my toddler chewed on it.

It’s OK.  The mushroom came out of a little plastic package so we’re pretty sure it’s safe.  Well, it WAS safe.  Before the toddler got it.  But since he ate sand earlier today, I’m pretty sure we’re all going to die.

But not until after we’ve had some really delicious turkey with cornbread sausage stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

Sincere apologies to anyone who has actually had recent food poisoning.  Also, happy feast of St. Cecelia!  Happy Almost Thanksgiving!  And don’t forget to call your family tomorrow!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Coming Soon to Your Radio: ‘Ode to St. Cecilia’

Growing up in a large Catholic family, my siblings and I didn’t watch TV outside of the World Series and presidential debates. We did, however, have an enormous collection of old movies on VHS and a collection of cassette tapes almost as large, and every Sunday night on 88.5 we’d catch Ed Walker’s old-time radio show, “The Big Broadcast.” Every now and then too, spinning the radio dials, we’d catch a bit of Adventures in Odyssey, the long-running children’s series produced by Focus on the Family.

I associated the show, enjoyable as it had been, so strongly with Protestant radio that I was surprised to hear recently that Paul McCusker, who worked on Adventures in Odyssey over the past 30 years, had entered the Catholic Church. Not only that, but McCusker [has] been producing Catholic radio drama for nearly three years at Denver’s Augustine Institute, an organization designed to train Catholics to participate in the New Evangelization.

I was able to preview McCusker’s latest work, an as-yet unaired drama titled Ode to St. Cecilia, and McCusker was kind enough to answer my questions by email.

Read the rest at the Register.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Goodbye, Good Families

Not too long ago the New Yorker published a piece on court-appointed “guardians” who steal from the elderly (“How the Elderly Lose Their Rights”).  The article was full of heartbreaking personal stories and troubling legal shenanigans, many of them enabled by laws which seem to have been designed without the best interests of the elderly in mind.  As the story drew near its close, I found myself quickly reviewing where my and my husband’s grandparents lived, and how they were situated, and breathing a sigh of relief at the consideration that nothing like that was likely to happen to them.

But the piece was troubling to say the least; and for hours after I had set it aside, one lingering sentence struck me as especially poignant: the notion, trumpeted by a particularly appalling “guardian,” that family members, even when present in an elderly person’s life, were not to be trusted.  “They just want the money,” was the quote attributed to him.  (And guardians don’t?  Hm …)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Francis de Sales on How the Love of God Is Manifest in Conformity and Stability

These are a few highlights from the past week’s reading.

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The great S. Thomas is of opinion that it is not expedient to consult and deliberate much concerning an inclination to enter a good and well-regulated religious Order; for the religious life being counselled by our Saviour in the Gospel, what need is there of many consultations? It is sufficient to make one good one, with a few persons who are thoroughly prudent and capable in such an affair, and who can assist us to make a speedy and solid resolution; but as soon as we have once deliberated and resolved, whether in this matter or in any other that appertains to God's service, we must be constant and immovable, not permitting ourselves to be shaken by any appearances of a greater good: for very often, says the glorious S. Bernard, the devil deludes us, and to draw us from the effecting of one good he proposes unto us some other good, that seems better; and after we have started this, he, in order to divert us from effecting it, presents a third, ready to let us make plenty of beginnings if only we do not make an end. We should not even go from one Order to another without very weighty motives, says S. Thomas, following the Abbot Nestorius cited by Cassian. I borrow from the great S. Anselm (writing to Lanzo) a beautiful similitude. As a plant often transplanted can never take root, nor, consequently, come to perfection and return the expected fruit; so the soul that transplants her heart from design to design cannot do well, nor come to the true growth of her perfection, since perfection does not consist in beginnings but in accomplishments. The sacred living creatures of Ezechiel went whither the impulse of the spirit was to go, and they turned not when they went, and every one of them went straight forward: we are to go whither the inspiration moves us, not turning about, nor returning back, but tending thither, whither God has turned our face, without changing our gaze. He that is in a good way, let him step out and get on. It happens sometimes that we forsake the good to seek the better, and that having forsaken the one we find not the other: better is the possession of a small treasure found, than the expectation of a greater which is to find. The inspiration which moves us to quit a real good which we enjoy in order to gain a better in the future, is to be suspected. A young Portuguese, called Francis Bassus, was admirable, not only in divine eloquence but also in the practice of virtue, under the discipline of the Blessed (S.) Philip Neri in the Congregation of the Oratory at Rome. Now he persuaded himself that he was inspired to leave this holy society, to place himself in an Order, strictly so called, and at last he resolved to do so. But the B. Philip, assisting at his reception into the Order of S. Dominic, wept bitterly; whereupon being asked by Francis Marie Tauruse, afterwards Archbishop of Siena and Cardinal, why he shed tears: I deplore, said he, the loss of so many virtues. And in fact this young man, who was so excellently good and devout in the Congregation, after he became a religious was so inconstant and fickle, that agitated with various desires of novelties and changes, he gave afterwards great and grievous scandal. (Treatise on the Love of God, Book VIII, Ch.XI)

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Now one of the best marks of the goodness of all inspirations in general, and particularly of extraordinary ones, is the peace and tranquillity of the heart that receives them: for though indeed the Holy Ghost is violent, yet his violence is gentle, sweet and peaceful. He comes as a mighty wind, and as a heavenly thunder, but he does not overthrow the Apostles, he troubles them not; the fear which they had in hearing the sound was of no continuance, but was immediately followed by a sweet assurance. That is why this fire sits upon each of them, taking and causing a sacred repose; and as our Saviour is called a peaceful or pacific Solomon, so is his spouse called Sulamitess, calm and daughter of peace: and the voice, that is, the inspiration, of the bridegroom does not in any sort disquiet or trouble her, but draws her so sweetly that he makes her soul deliciously melt and, as it were, flow out into him: My soul, says she, melted when my beloved spoke: and though she be warlike and martial, yet is she withal so peaceable, that amidst armies and battles she maintains the concord of an unequalled melody. What shalt thou see, saith she, in the Sulamitess but the choirs of armies? Her armies are choirs, that is, harmonies of singers; and her choirs are armies, because the weapons of the Church and of the devout soul, are only prayers, hymns, canticles and psalms. Thus it is that those servants of God who had the highest and sublimest inspirations were the most mild and peaceable men in the world, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob: Moses is styled the meekest of men; David is lauded for his mildness. On the contrary, the evil spirit is turbulent, rough, disturbing; and those who follow infernal suggestions, taking them to be heavenly inspirations, are as a rule easily known, because they are unquiet, headstrong, haughty, ready to undertake or meddle with all affairs, men who under the cloak of zeal turn everything upside down, censure every one, chide every one, find fault with everything; they are persons who will not be directed, will not give in to any one, will bear nothing, but gratify the passions of self-love under the name of jealousy for God's honour.  (Treatise on the Love of God, Book VIII, Ch. XII)

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I speak of a noble, real, productive and solid humility, which makes us supple to correction,
pliable and prompt to obedience. While the incomparable Simeon Stylites was yet a novice at
Teleda, he made himself indocile to the advice of his superiors, who wished to hinder him from practising so many strange austerities, which he did with an inordinate cruelty to himself; so that at length he was on this account turned out of the monastery, as being too little capable of the mortification of the heart, and too much addicted to that of the body.
But having entered into himself and become more devout, and more prudent in the spiritual life, he behaved quite differently, as he showed in the following action. When the hermits who were dispersed through the deserts near Antioch knew the extraordinary life which he led upon the pillar, in which he seemed to be either an earthly angel or a heavenly man, they despatched a messenger whom they ordered to speak thus to him from them: Why dost thou, Simeon, leaving the highway trodden by so many great and holy predecessors, follow another, unknown of men, and so different from all that has been seen or heard to this day? Simeon, quit this pillar, and come amongst other men to live, after the manner of life and way of serving God used by the good Fathers who have gone before us. In case Simeon, yielding to their advice and giving in to their will, should show himself ready to descend, they had charged 360 the deputy to leave him free to persevere in the manner of life he had begun, because by his obedience, said those good Fathers, it could well be known that he had undertaken this kind of life by the divine inspiration: but in case he should resist, and, despising their exhortations, follow his own will, it would be necessary to withdraw him thence by violence, and force him to forsake his pillar. The deputy then, being come to the pillar, had no sooner delivered his message, than the great Simeon, without delay, without reservation, without any reply, began to descend with an obedience and humility worthy of his rare sanctity. Which when the deputy saw: stay, said he, O Simeon! remain there, persevere with constancy, take courage, pursue thy enterprise valiantly; thy abiding upon this pillar is from God.
(Treatise on the Love of God, Book VIII, Ch. XIII)
Manuscript Illumination with Saint Dominic Saving the Church
of Saint John Lateran in an Initial A, from a Gradual