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November 2009

Thanksgiving Scene

Comrade, Ellen and Gabe’s humongous rather large dog, just wants a place at the table. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it is. So, being tall enough to put his head on the table, he resorts to direct action.

Some thought I should have been stopping him rather than taking this picture. But ars longa, vita brevis, say I. Anyway, he only got a few Wheat Thins.

The Moon Over the Bay

I finally figured out how to use the night settings on my camera to get a decent picture of the moon over the bay. This is not bad, though the color isn’t right. For some reason the camera warms colors significantly, so as they came from the camera the pictures (this is one of several dozen) have a brownish-yellowish tinge rather than the black-silver-blue of real life. So I messed around with this one in Picasa trying to get it closer. And it is closer, but still not quite right.

This was taken on either Tuesday or Wednesday night. Although it looks like the moon is more or less full, it was barely more than a half-moon.

Happy 50th Birthday, Rocky and Bullwinkle

I used to love this show. Perhaps it ought to make me feel old to learn that it’s 50 years old (see this CNN story), but if anything it makes me feel young, because there are moments, watching a clip like the one below, when I feel the same delight as when I watched it at age 12 or so.

I was old enough to get at least some of the things that were meant to amuse adults. But there were a good many that I missed, of course. I was probably in my 40s, for instance, before it hit me that Boris Badenough was a play on Boris Godunov (which, at least as typically pronounced by Americans, is more or less “Boris Goodenough”). There are a lot of references that won’t make sense to anyone who didn’t grow up with ‘50s television, e.g. the magic hat known as “the legendary Kerwood Derby,” a play on the name of a TV personality, Derwood Kirby (actually “Dirward,” but it sounded like “Derwood”).

The CNN story compares Rocky and Bullwinkle to contemporary cartoons such as Family Guy, and I suppose they’re similar in a way, but the comparison reveals something about the direction of our culture over the past fifty years. I think Rocky and Bullwinkle was more literate; it was certainly less mean and crude. And while Rocky was meant to amuse everyone, Family Guy is obviously intended for adolescents and younger adults. And, I suppose, a somewhat cynical and sophisticated subset of those.

The Advent Invasion

I noticed a week or so ago that there was a sudden spike in traffic to this blog, and it’s continuing and increasing. Upon looking further into the SiteMeter data, I found that the main source of the increase is from people doing Google image searchs for the word “Advent,” or for a particular Sunday in Advent, and finding the Advent pictures here, which were taken by my wife, who is a better photographer than I am (and also has a better camera). Also, and interestingly to me, a lot of the searches originate in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden.

If you do a Google image search for “fourth sunday of advent,” one of my Advent pictures is the second item. The other weeks are not as popular, and I just realized it’s probably because they’re titled “Nth week,” not “Nth Sunday. Perhaps I’ll change that.

Anyway, this is cool. I hope that if people are lifting them they’re crediting the source, but they probably aren’t. You can see the whole set here.

The Tom Baker Quartet: SAVE

I reviewed (favorably) the Tom Baker Quartet’s first album, Look What I Found, last year here. I’ve been listening to their second album, SAVE, off and on for a couple of months now, and on the whole I like it even better. My taste for unstructured music is limited, and most of SAVE is more conventional than Look What I Found; it’s somewhat more tuneful and less abstract.

Even in its more accessible manifestations, though, TBQ’s music is not easily categorized. As Jesse Canterbury, the clarinetist in the group, pointed out to me, they resemble a jazz group in many ways, and yet they really don’t play jazz. Even when a jazz-like structure is used, there are few bluesy moments, and the rhythms are not especially jazzy for the most part (though you feel like the rhythm section is very capable of playing jazz). The clarinet solo in “Bit by Bitt,” for instance, sounds to me like it owes more to early 20th century Vienna than to Kansas City or Chicago. (There is one bona fide jazz tune here, by Bill Evans no less: the beautiful “Time Remembered.”)

However one decides to categorize this music, I really like it. One comparison that occurs to me is the instrumental music of Frank Zappa, which is very 20th Century Modern without being squarely in that tradition, and which likewise borrows from jazz and rock without fitting those categories, either. There’s also a whimsical, possibly absurdist, quality that reminds me of Zappa.

My favorite tracks here are the ones composed by Tom Baker. Besides being engagingly tuneful, they have some really terrific clarinet and guitar solos. The tracks which are credited to the entire group seem to be group improvisations, and are generally quiet and without distinctive rhythm, so they come across more as sort of textural interludes between the more distinctive pieces, not unpleasant but not especially memorable (though I think there are some technically difficult things going on).

Here is a sort of commercial for the band which will give you an idea of what they’re all about.

And here is a live performance of perhaps my favorite tune from SAVE, “Under the Jaguar Sun”:

Here is the group’s official web site, where you can hear and download a complete track from SAVE and one from Look What I Found. (And you womenfolk who may not be all that interested in the music but like babies should also take a look.)

Satsuma Time

You may think this is an ordinary orange, or perhaps a tangerine. But it is in fact something greater than either of those. It is a satsuma.

I love oranges and grapefruit and citrus fruits in general, but since I moved to the Gulf Coast the satsuma has become the queen of my heart, or at least that portion of it devoted to fruit. It is sweet, piquant, easy to peel, modest in its production of seeds. Capping this greatness is the fact that it flourishes here and can be bought at roadside stands, not long off the tree. They’re in season now and I will eat a great many of them between now and the end of December or so. We planted a couple of satsuma trees last year but they don’t seem to be doing very well so far. Maybe next spring they’ll get established.

Those Catholics inclined to be suspicious of the Jesuits should remember that they brought the satsuma to this country from Japan.

A Couple of Brief Musical Items

Deal Hudson, shopping for headphones, introduces the clerk to classical music. It’s touching, and a good indicator of why this music will never die as long as there are people capable of playing it and listening to it.

From Terry Teachout, here’s a nice short appreciation of Johnny Mercer (actually from a longer piece which is not online). It was only ten or fifteen years ago (fairly recently for someone my age), and thanks to my old friend Robert, that I came to appreciate the classic American songwriters—Cole Porter Many of my favorite songs in that genre are those for which Mercer wrote the lyrics. Look at that list in Teachout’s piece; there are a lot of masterpieces there. Here’s one that knocks me out.

I admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for Andy Williams.

Here are the lyrics; a kind of poetry, indeed:

The days of wine and roses
laugh and run away
like a child at play
through a meadow land toward a closing door
a door marked “nevermore”
that wasn’t there before

The lonely night discloses
just a passing breeze
filled with memories
Of the golden smile that introduced me to
the days of wine and roses and you

The title phrase, as you may know, is from Ernest Dowson. Its dreamy fatalism was not Dowson’s last word on life and death; he died young, but not before entering the Catholic Church.

A Striking Observation from Belloc

Louise asked me, in the comment thread on the previous post, what I thought about Belloc’s The Great Heresies, especially the last chapter. So I re-read that chapter (I had read the book twenty or so years ago, in the 1980s sometime), and I’m impressed by its prophetic insight and accuracy. As I said in those comments, I would argue with certain details, but in general it’s a very insightful summary of the great struggle going on in the modern Western world. Considering that it was published 70 years ago, you might expect it to be more dated, but I think it remains substantially correct in its analysis of the situation.

There’s a lot I could say about it, but I’m not sure if or when I’ll get to it, and right now I want to mention this very striking passage:

...there you have the Modern Attack in its main character, materialist, and atheist; and, being atheist, it is necessarily indifferent to truth. For God is Truth.

But there is (as the greatest of the ancient Greeks discovered) a certain indissoluble Trinity of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. You cannot deny or attack one of these three without at the same time denying or attacking both the others. Therefore with the advance of this new and terrible enemy against the Faith and all that civilization which the Faith produces, there is coming not only a contempt for beauty but a hatred of it; and immediately upon the heels of this there appears a contempt and hatred for virtue.

Atheists would certainly object to the charge that they are indifferent to truth; yet the pursuit of truth as they see it is often a truncated, shrunken thing, limited mainly to the application of observation and logic to physical facts, which they call reason. Cut off from its ground in the intuitive knowledge of general truths on the one hand and the “pre-philosophy of common sense” on the other hand, reason, as it is often understood in atheism and especially in materialism, cedes most of what is truly human to the realm of emotion and subjective preference. Materialists take an obvious pride and pleasure in carrying to its logical conclusion the idea that thought is an illusion created by physical phenomena. But how anyone can assert such a thing and still expect reason to have an influence on people is beyond me; this is reason devouring itself, and a confirmation of Belloc’s view.

Of course it is possible for someone to disbelieve in God, in the sense that Christians use the word, and still honor reason in its fullest sense. But I am not at all sure that such a regard for reason is generally possible in a culture which is not pre-or non-, but post- and anti-, Christian. This is another of Belloc’s important insights; he sees, quite rightly, that what he refers to as the Modern Attack is consistent only in its aversion to the Faith. And a culture once having accepted the connection between God and Truth cannot readily discard the former and keep the latter.

And as for Belloc’s last two claims, well, look around at some of the products of the entertainment industry and for that matter the arts in general, and I think you’ll have a hard time denying that contempt for beauty and virtue are often in evidence. Certainly not all art and artists are affected by this impulse, but, just as certainly, many are. Is it not often the source of the delight in being “transgressive”?

And you see it in other areas of life, too: think of the hard-nosed capitalist types who sneer at the idea that the sheer ugliness of our commercial culture is an indicator of something deeply wrong with it. Or that morality should have any part in the decision as to what shall be bought and sold.

(The text of The Great Heresies is available online here.)

Troubled Waters

Mobile Bay, as seen from the beach near my house on the eastern shore during tropical storm Ida: a few pictures taken about 7 this morning, as the storm was passing over. If it still had an eye, it must have been to the east, because the wind was out of the north.

A hurricane in November... most unwelcome. Already the former Hurricane Ida has weakened to tropical storm status, though, which is fortunate, because it’s heading straight for us. I don’t really anticipate serious problems, but it’s always possible, because of where I live, that a tree falling in the right place could cut off both my physical and electronic access to the rest of the world. If that happens you might not hear from me for a couple of days. Just letting you know.

I hope I don’t end up with major grievances against this storm, because my mother’s name was Ida.

Polarization in the Church

Clare sent me a link to an interesting blog post about a Canadian Catholic’s encounter with the polarization in the American Church:

I loved my Canadian theology school and its gentle, very Canadian, refusal to fight over stuff.

Not so my American theology school, not so. When I got accepted into its program--and a great honour it was--I went to see one of my Canadian school's administrators, whom we all revered as a Genius, for advice.

"Don't get polarized," he said.

"Right!" I said. I wrote it down.

"And don't ever contradict KX."

"Don't ever contract KX," I repeated. I wrote that down too.

I spent a year and a half trying desperately not to get polarized before I lost my marbles and went home. When I went South, I had heard of the Culture Wars, but I did not realize how fiercely they were being fought in the American Catholic schools.

Read the whole thing; it’s both funny and sad.

I sympathize greatly with the blogger’s lament. There are good reasons for the culture wars in America, and there are very good reasons for orthodox Catholics to be unhappy about priests, nuns, bishops, and theologians who clearly reject fundamentals of the Faith. But the atmosphere surrounding these controversies often gets extremely hostile, reactionary, and paranoid on both sides. Far too often people simply sniff at each other for the signs that allow them to pigeonhole each other as liberal or conservative and therefore either an enemy or a friend, as applicable. I’m sure any Catholic who’s been aware of the intra-Church quarrels of the last few decades has had a lot of experience with this. Personally I’m pretty sick of it.

I don’t have anything to say to those progressives who have progressed pretty much out of the Church in everything except name. And I don’t expect to hear much from them except the same old denunciations. It seems to me that their number is dwindling and their influence waning; I think the clearly weakened belief among American Catholics at large has less to do with progressive theology than the general secularism of our society. But there are a lot of people who for lack of a better word can be called “liberal” theologically who are fundamentally orthodox but are sometimes considered heretics by self-appointed enforcers. I expect you know that type; they seem to have a sort of lust for searching out heterodoxy in others, and to get a sort of pleasure out of their outrage when they find it, or think they have found it. Among other things this practice makes orthodoxy look bad. And it’s time for the orthodox to focus their attention less on seeking out error and more on evangelizing, both inside and outside the Church.

The polarization is especially poisonous when the disagreement is really only political, but the culture wars reinforce this tendency: political liberals are suspicious of orthodoxy, because they think it involves right-wing politics, while political conservatives take liberal political opinions as markers of heterodoxy. But the Catholic faith has room for all sorts of political views, and those who truly want to be Catholic should be able to disagree in charity.

The Wire: An American Classic?

I just finished the last episode, and I’m inclined to think so. David Simon says he wanted to do a novel on film. I think he succeeded. Possibly the Great American Novel of its time.

But I am subject to enthusiasms, and possibly this one will wear off after a few days or weeks.

Update: Spoilers allowed in the comments. But if you’re going to post a spoiler, especially if it’s pretty significant, e.g. whether or not a character survives, please include a paragraph or so of non-spoiler stuff—garbage if necessary—to keep the spoilerage off the Recent Comments list.

Humongous or Just Great Big?

This is Ellen and her dog Comrade (hers and her husband’s). This is the dog I referred to in a comment, on the dog and cat post below, as “humongous,” a description with which she disagreed. Her theory seems to be that if it can sit on your lap it isn’t humongous. Though he isn’t exactly sitting on her lap.

And it’s true, he isn’t quite as big as a Great Dane, and not nearly as big as a St. Bernard. Or Boomer. So, ok, he’s just a great big dog. By the way, breed-wise, he’s a Blackmouth Cur.

A Mostly Wrong but Partly Right View of Dylan

Andrew Ferguson slams Bob in The Weekly Standard.

I don’t really mind him bashing the excessive and uncritical adulation that some people give Dylan. And I don’t at all mind him calling Dylan’s junk what it is. A friend of mine, very much a Dylan fan, once said “Every Dylan album has at least one bad song. Every song has at least one bad verse. Every verse has at least one bad line.” He wasn’t entirely serious, because he wouldn’t have said that of literally every album, song, and verse. But he had a point.

Still, the basic view of Dylan that Ferguson propounds—that he’s a cynical and dishonest misanthrope having a joke at the expense of credulous fans, especially among intellectuals, and that the widely held view of him as a lover and explorer of the entire American tradition of popular music is fraudulent—is wrongheaded.

I don’t have much time at the moment to say more, but my review of Modern Times from a few years ago pretty well sums up my view.

Over at All Manner of Thing there’s an interesting post about Dylan, including a video which discusses Dylan as a spiritual poet. I think (as I say in the comments over there) that Fr. Barron makes a bit more of Dylan than he deserves, but his fundamental point is sound. And, oddly enough, similar to my own.

And by the way, Ferguson is factually wrong about Dylan’s recent concerts when he says they are “...notable most for the uneasy sense among the audience that no one has the slightest idea what song they're listening to.“ That’s simply false; I’ve been to two of them, and they were excellent, in large part because Dylan assembles killer bands.

(Hat tip to First Things. Perhaps a slightly grudging hat tip, since the post is approving of Ferguson and the author, responding to comments, is equally mistaken about certain factual matters, e.g. “The Beatles are still popular with kids while Dylan is—as he always has been—an acquired taste for nostalgic Boomers.“ I expected this to be the case, actually, and have been surprised to find that it is not.)

A Dog and a Cat

A week or two ago in the comments on a previous post (I think it was the one about introverts) we were discussing dogs and cats, and the fact that some people are dog people and some are cat people. I said that I was of neither party. That was inaccurate. It would be more correct to say that I’m of both parties. We have two dogs and three cats, though one of the cats is half-wild and hangs around mainly to be fed and to put sandy footprints on the hood of my car. The dog and cat below are my favorites.

Andy, the little white dog, came to us more or less accidentally. My wife was trying to help person A, who didn’t want the dog, give him to family B, who thought they did, but changed their mind. So we took him from A but were unable to transfer him to B, and A didn’t want him back. That was six or seven years ago. I always said I would never have a little yapping dog, and I would not have picked Andy, but I’ve grown very fond of him. His bark is not irritatingly high-pitched and he doesn’t do that completely hysterical bit that some little dogs do.

To my mind there is no better image of pure exuberant physical joy than the sight of an excited dog running flat-out. Andy does this fairly often. He’s a bichon frisé, and is subject to something called the bichon buzz (or blitz) in which he runs around frantically for several minutes. I want a good picture of him in mid-buzz. This one isn’t very good, but it’s the best I have so far.

My wife is definitely a cat person. Having insisted that once the children were grown there would be No More Animals coming to live with us, she seems unembarrassed by the fact that she fell for a snow-white kitten which someone she works with was trying to give away. And that’s how we got Meme.

Where dogs are open, exuberant, affable, crude, dirty, and extremely sensitive and responsive to the people around them, cats are guarded, restrained, cool, elegant, clean, and not particularly interested in what people want of them, though they may like human company—Meme certainly does, and demands it pretty aggressively sometimes. Dogs are active, cats are contemplative. Meme in this picture could be taken to be admiring herself, but I see it rather as a sort of introspection, a dialog with her soul.

The pictures are better if you enlarge them (click on them), especially the one of Meme.

(There are a number of bichon buzz/blitz videos on YouTube. Here’s one.)

All Souls’ Day

By the time I finish writing this, it will probably have arrived.

I suppose All Saints’ Day is really more significant, and more important in the Church calendar. But it’s All Souls’ Day that touches me more. It’s among those who are longing for God and seeking him, without knowing what it is that they seek, that my heart lies: with all those who are wandering, and in mourning because they do not have that for which they long, and do not even believe that it exists.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.

That was in the Gospel for today’s Mass. I can’t express how much I long for it to be true.