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April 2014

The Beatles: Magical Mystery Tour

I did listen to this over the weekend, as I had hoped to do. I loved it.

Most of the first side is great, and it does have a kind of unity, though maybe that's an illusion created by the Sergeant-Pepper-style intro. "The Fool On the Hill" is as beautiful a tune as McCartney ever wrote. "Blue Jay Way" is haunting. And "Flying" connects them very evocatively. I think "Your Mother Should Know" would have been better placed as the second cut, and it could have used a bit more in the lyric department, but it's an engaging contrast. I agree with Robert Gotcher that "I Am the Walrus" is seriously damaged, almost ruined, by its lyric, which is mostly nonsensical and unpleasant, without the resonance that Dylan was able to get into his equally obscure lyrics. But musically it's very strong. 

And the second side contains five of the very best tracks the Beatles recorded during their psychedelic phase, or for that matter ever. Each one is at least as good as anything on Sergeant Pepper. They had been released as singles, but their juxtaposition here only increases their appeal and the impression of something like genius at work within the limits of pop music (much of that no doubt the work of George Martin). They make the album feel like two distinct suites of related songs, each one very strong.

As my reference to "sides" indicates, I listened to my LP copy, which is not a relic of the '60s but of the '80s, my original copy having vanished somewhere along the way, and which had only been played a few times. I was a little disappointed in the quality of the recording, in some songs more than others, and would like to hear some of the remastered ones. I realize most people these days won't hear the "sides" I referred to, at least unless they make a conscious decision to. But the division really works. This is definitely one of my three or four favorite Beatles albums.

The Canonizations

I always feel a little embarrassed about admitting this, but the official cult of the saints is one aspect of Catholicism that I've never really taken to. I don't have any argument with the theology involved in the honoring of saints, and the practice of seeking their intercession; it's strictly a matter of temperament and culture, of something that doesn't come naturally to me, and it's not a big part of my devotional life. I don't mind if you call it a residue of my Protestant background. I do pray sometimes to a few saints, and I do have my favorites, but they tend to be those whose fame rests in some large part on their writings, and I'm more interested in the writings than the persons. That's one reason why you rarely see a post here taking note of a saint's feast day: I usually haven't noticed it until it's already here, and too late to write something.

And so I haven't really paid that much attention to the canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. I have no serious reservations about either man. I'm reasonably well persuaded that the Second Vatican Council was needed, notwithstanding the many abuses which followed it. And  John Paul II was a great light to the whole world. The serious complaints about him seem to involve his management of the internal affairs of the Church, and perhaps the criticism is justifiable. Certainly his support for the evil Fr. Maciel is is a mark against his judgment, but not necessarily against his virtue. I am more or less of the same mind as William Oddie, who says in the Catholic Herald that John Paul achieved nothing less than the rescue of the Council from its abductors.

But I am a little worried by the procedure. John Paul's canonization has been swift, and John's has proceeded without the usual second miracle. Since canonizations are supposed to be infallible, it seems like an awfully big investment of the Church's authority, and caution is in order. I was bothered by John Paul's speeding-up of the process, and no less so by its application to him.

What do you think?

52 Guitars: Week 17

Richard Thompson

When I decided to do this series I immediately started a list of people I wanted to include, and I got up to about thirty or so entries about as fast as I could type.  Richard Thompson's name was among them. But I've actually been sort of dreading the post on him--not because I don't like him a great deal, but because I knew it was going to be difficult to pick two or three things to post, and for that matter just to focus on his guitar work, and not discourse at length on his songwriting.

At this point in his career I think it's very justifiable to put him in the rank of popular musicians that includes Dylan and Cohen and Waits, those who have created a body of work that has remained of high quality over a span of decades (ok, Dylan has some lengthy lapses, but he still makes the grade). I don't think I've heard more than half of Thompson's work, perhaps less. But on the basis of that, I think the songs he wrote when he was half of Richard and Linda Thompson represent his absolute best, which means they're among the absolute best, period, with later work perhaps not quite as consistently good, but still better than most everything else out there.

Back to Thompson the guitarist: his playing is usually at the service of a song, so you can't find a lot of stretched-out jams or purely instrumental pieces among his work. And how do you pick, out many?...a couple of hundred?...songs that he's recorded, two or three that really show off his guitar work? And you want to do justice to his writing while you're at it.

As it turned out I got lucky when I started looking on YouTube, and found these three videos almost immediately. I didn't want to concentrate exclusively on the Richard and Linda Thompson period. But it would be a shame to leave it out, too. And here is a live version of a song which is one of the best-known of that period. It happens to be one on which Linda plays a lesser part, and partly for that reason is a perfect instance of RT's own sensibility, or at least of his harder-rocking side (not to mention the grim theme). I don't know how you'd describe his vocabulary but it doesn't sound like anyone else's.

"Shoot Out the Lights"


To head off any impression that his guitar skills aren't what they used to be, here's a recent performance of a song from Hand of Kindness, his first post-Linda album.

"Tear-Stained Letter"


Had he chosen to, he could have made a career as a folk-acoustic guitarist like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Here he is live at the Cambridge Folk Festival, 2011, acoustic.

"Uninhabited Man" and "Johnny's Far Away"


I figure he wears that beret all the time because he's bald.

I do have one reservation about him, and it's probably caused me to listen to him less than his songs deserve: I don't care much for his voice. A lot of people love it, and I've tried, but I just don't care a great deal for it. He's perennially described as "under-rated" and "under-appreciated," and I've wondered if perhaps part of the reason for that is that a lot of people have my reaction. Well, in any case, I think by now most serious music fans recognize his achievement, and there are enough people who appreciate his work to keep him doing it. 

There's a reason, by the way, for his appearing immediately after Blind Willie Johnson. When he was with Fairport Convention (you know them, right?--the greatest of the folk-rock bands), they did a thing based on "Dark Was the Night" which they called ""The Lord Is In This Place...How Dreadful Is This Place":


A Little More Blind Willie Johnson

I was going to say, about "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," that it's a sound that's sort of stereotypical for the blues in a movie or TV way. I know, it's not a blues at all, either musically or thematically--it's religious. But sonically it's the kind of thing a movie or TV producer throws in to suggest blues, and/or the rural South or maybe West of the first half of the 20th century. And in that respect it's very misleading. I have a fairly wide, though not encyclopedic, acquaintance with the country blues--the acoustic blues recorded in the 1920s and '30s--and I don't know of another recording from that period that sounds anything like this.

In fact the blues is as likely as not to sound pretty upbeat, even when the lyrics are bleak, and the lyrics often contain a lot of humor. It wasn't played only on street corners and in the fields--it was party music as well.

Anyway, the same is true of gospel, which was mostly what Blind Willie Johnson played. Here are a couple of much more typical tracks. 



 I'm pretty sure he didn't write either of these, as they show up fairly often in the repertoire of other artists, including '60s folk revivalists. You can read about Blind Willie Johnson here. In case you don't want to bother with that, here's something fascinating that I learned from it:

"Dark Was the Night" was also included on the Voyager Golden Record, copies of which were mounted on both of the Voyager Project unmanned space probes. Carl Sagan, who was involved with the selection of the contents of the record, chose the song as he believed it properly encapsulated the essence of loneliness that mankind often faces. 

The fact that Carl Sagan chose it is interesting, and a bit touching, really. But Blind Willie Johnson could have taught him something more. It's a good example of God hiding things from the learned and revealing them to the little ones, intellectually speaking.

Well, it looks like TypePad's crisis may really be over this time. Let's hope so. This was reportedly an extortion attempt: pay us and we'll leave you alone, but there's no word on who or where it came from. Pretty despicable. Makes me think of stocks and flogging.

Remarkably, Lent Has Ended Again

I did a bit more for Lent this year than I usually do--not a great deal by any means, but a bit more. And I found it almost too easy, and over more quickly than I expected. I do not love Lent, and agree with the priest I heard on Ash Wednesday, that it really ought to last twenty days instead of forty. It's along about the fourth week that in years past I've felt that it really ought to be about over, and that I didn't think I'd be able to maintain for another three weeks what meager discipline I had so far managed.

This year it just didn't seem to last that long. And that's in keeping with my general experience these days, which also seems to be the common experience of people getting well up in years. The past ten years, which have seen my transition from late middle to early old age, went swiftly. It's hard to believe that I've been doing this blog for ten years, and that it's been eight since my youngest child left home. From ten years old to twenty was an epoch, and from twenty to thirty an age, but from fifty-five to sixty-five an afternoon.

Also related to the relatively easy time I had with Lent is an apparent paradox of aging: although time seems to pass more quickly, I'm more patient. It's only apparent, though, and only at first glance: though it might make sense that the consciousness of how little time remains would make one less tolerant of delay, one also sees time spent waiting for something as much shorter and more bearable. At five a child in January feels a deep grief that Christmas is past and hardly understands that it will ever come again; at sixty-five one knows that it's just around the corner.

But the sixty-five-year-old doesn't feel the same intense joy as the child, either; repetition and apparent frequency dull the experience. Suppose one were immortal, and could have the old person's sense of time passing ever more swiftly, without losing the child's thrill at the approach and arrival of some longed-for event: the times between would shrink toward zero, and one might arrive eventually at a single point of ecstacy.

Could we endure it? Not as we are, no. Christ is risen: alleluia.

I had something partly written that I was going to post, but TypePad has been down much of the day. Apparently they've been the object of a denial-of-service attack, which renders a web site inoperable by flooding it with computer-generated traffic. So, later, but I do want to wish everyone a happy Easter. Or, since it's late in the day now, a hope that yours was a good one.

The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon him is incapable of finding him. For it already implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening; by no longer acknowledging as real anything but what we can experimentally test and grasp. To think like that is to make onself God. And to do that is to abase not only God, but the world and oneself, too.

From this scene on the pinnacle of the Temple, though, we can look out and see the cross. Christ did not cast himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple. He did not leap into the abyss. He did not tempt God. But he did descend into the abyss of death, into the night of abandonment, and into the desolation of the defenseless.

--Benedict XVI, whose birthday is today (via Magnificat)

Goodbye to Milo

Somewhere between ten and fifteen years ago, my wife and I acquired a cat named Milo. He came to us by way of one of our sons, who had adopted the cat toward the end of his time in college, and named him Milo after the boy in The Phantom Tollbooth. Our son then took a job in France, which of course meant he had to find another home for Milo. We didn't mind taking him--one cat more or less didn't make that much difference. Over the past twenty years we've had a total of three dogs and five cats, including Milo, and I can't remember how many of the other cats were here when he arrived: at least two, I'm sure.

For the most part they lived outside. One big lazy male named Kristoff had stayed inside for much of his life, but his presence in the kitchen had become very aggravating to my wife: he would sprawl in the middle of the floor, so that you could hardly move in the small space without tripping over him, and absolutely refuse to move; to get him out of the way you had to just give him a shove with your foot and slide him across the floor. So he was forced to live outside for a few years, until one day he just wasn't there anymore. We never knew what happened to him, but there is a good deal of undeveloped (and I hope undevelopable) land around our house, and the chances are probably good that he got into a scrap with some bigger animal. But we allowed ourselves to hope that maybe he had just been taken in by a family who would support him in the style to which he had been accustomed.

Milo, on the other hand, was only half-civilized, and preferred to be outside. He didn't especially like to be petted, he never sat on anyone's lap, and when we allowed him in, he was soon at the door asking to be let out again. We fed him on the front porch, and he showed up looking for food twice a day. He was ornamental, being of a soft gray color with yellow eyes, and I suppose he did his part to keep rats and mice away. He often lay around in the yard sleeping during the day, and made the crawl space under the house his retreat. I always left the door to the crawl space propped open a bit for him.

Beyond feeding him and giving him an occasional bit of petting when we were outside and he seemed to want it--he didn't like very much of it, and got mean if it went on very long--we really didn't have that much to do with him. The outdoor semi-wild life seemed to be his preference, though it was clearly hard on him at times, as he sometimes showed up with ugly cuts, and acquired a notched ear. A couple of his claws suffered some kind of permanent damage and couldn't be retracted.

I worried about him during hurricanes, especially Katrina, which brought water further up toward the house than any other. I was afraid he would take refuge in the crawl space and be trapped there by the rising water. But it didn't come quite that far, and as with other hurricanes, he appeared again a day or so after the storm, seeming none the worse for the experience.

Five years or so ago he suddenly grew very thin, so thin that his shoulder blades were visible. I thought maybe he had worms, but when worm medicine didn't help I took him to the vet. The vet couldn't find anything in particular wrong. In time he got better, and returned to something closer to his old self.

But then a couple of years later he lost weight again, and looked generally very unhealthy. Another trip to the vet produced no diagnosis. Again he improved on his own, though this time he never seemed to get quite back to where he had been, and seemed considerably less lively. Well, he was getting up in years by then, for a cat, so I let it go. He went through that weight loss and gain once or twice more. Sometime last fall he grew emaciated again, and didn't get better. And he was noticeably slower and weaker in his movements.

The winter just past was an unusually cold one for this area, as for most of the country. Previously I hadn't worried much about Milo in the winter, since temperatures rarely get below freezing and I figured it would still always be warm enough under the house, which was where he seemed to spend all his time in cold weather. But since it was so much colder than usual, and he didn't seem to be in good shape, I started bringing him in at night. This didn't work out too well, as he had forgotten how to use a litter box. So I only allowed him in when the temperature got down near or below freezing.

By mid-March or so we were past anything that could reasonably be called cold, and Milo was no longer invited in overnight. But he had developed some curious habits; he was ravenously hungry, always begging for food, and apparently very thirsty, but only for fresh flowing water. We developed a routine: he came to the door, I let him in, he ran to the bathroom and jumped into the tub and waited for me to turn on a thin stream of water, which he would lap at for five or ten minutes at a time. And he was thinner than ever. And he had become more desirous of human contact: when inside he would demand, very aggressively, to be petted, coming up to your chair if you were sitting, sinking his claws into your leg, and butting you with his head. "There is something wrong with this cat," I'd been saying to my wife for a couple of months. "I think I'm going to take him to the vet again." But I didn't do anything about it.

For some months he seemed to have abandoned his residence under the house and taken to the woods, even in the coldest weather. Across the street from our house there is a small creek, and on the other side of the creek there is a sort of hollow in the bank under the roots of a big magnolia. That apparently was his new hideout; I saw him emerging from it a couple of times.

From that vantage point, where he could see all the comings and goings on the street, he began a few weeks ago an even stranger routine. I walk our two dogs down to the bay and back every morning around 7, and every night around 10, and he began joining us on those walks, to which he'd never paid any attention before. For the first few times he did it, he followed very cautiously twenty or thirty feet behind us. But before long he began to lead the way. At the bay the dogs are always running around (as far as their leashes permit) investigating things, but Milo mostly just stood there. Once or twice when the water was very calm he went down to the very edge of the beach and sat on his haunches staring out across the bay, for all the world as if he were contemplating the vastness of it.

I'm hoping to retire at the end of this year, and I decided that when I did I would re-civilize Milo. He was too old and sickly to be living more or less in the wild, but we couldn't leave him in the house all day with both of us gone for ten or eleven hours. So I thought that when I was no longer going off to work every day I would make him a house cat again. His new companionableness had made me fonder of him, and more determined to bring him in from the wild and make his old age more comfortable.

Last weekend he abruptly became much less interested in eating, and seemed to get a little weaker. "I am definitely taking this cat to the vet," I said. We talked about taking him to a different vet, one who had formerly been at the clinic where we take all our animals but now had established her own practice, and who had seemed to be a better diagnostician than the other doctors there. I looked up her number, but didn't call. Monday went by. Tuesday. Wednesday. Milo had eaten almost nothing.  On Wednesday night I noticed that he had trouble scrambling into the bathtub for his drink. I will call that vet today, I thought on Thursday. But I was busy at work and forgot about it.

On Thursday night he didn't appear at the door within a few minutes of our getting home from work, as he usually did. He didn't appear for the walk to the bay with the dogs and me. Just before bedtime, I called him again, and this time he came, very slowly, more or less dragging himself from under the house. He got as far as the bottom of the steps, a distance of only ten feet or so, and collapsed. I picked him up and carried him into the house. I tried to give him water but he wasn't interested. He walked around for a bit, very weakly, and finally settled on the mat in the front bathroom, where he'd always slept when we let him in when it was cold out.

When I got up on Friday morning I thought at first that he was dead. He had moved a foot or so off the mat and was lying in the doorway of the bathroom.  He was almost completely still. I picked him up and he made a very weak sound. I figured that at this point it was too late for the vet. I briefly considered staying home from work, but I was needed there and really didn't think there was anything I could do for Milo: either he would recover, or he wouldn't, most likely the latter. I laid him on a towel and pulled it partway over him, because his body temperature seemed low. He mewed very weakly a few times as I arranged him but otherwise was perfectly still.

I went to work. When I got home Friday evening he was dead, and I think had been dead for some time, because he was quite stiff. Yesterday afternoon I buried him on the hill behind the house.

Why am I writing about this at such length?--it's a perfectly ordinary incident; pets die every day, and why go on about it? Well, I really don't know. But Milo's death saddened me more than I expected it to. I'm not the kind of pet owner who gets extremely emotional about dogs and cats or refers to them as his children. Most of our pets have come to us by accident, by way of our children, like Milo did. If there is any one of our current lot that I'm strongly attached to, it's the little bichon, Andy. (We have Andy because my wife acted as an intermediary between his owner, who wanted to get rid of him, and a family who thought they wanted him; the deal fell through and Andy ended up with us.) But I had grown more fond of Milo over the past month or so, and liked the idea of re-domesticating him; I envisioned us retiring together.

And I feel like I let him down. I wish I'd taken him to another vet last year, or even last month; I'm pretty sure that last week was already too late. I'm not confusing him with a person. I don't think I had the sort of duty toward him that I would have had toward a person. But I do think we have a serious responsibility for these small creatures who come under our care, and I should have done a better job of it. Never mind that he lived better than the vast majority of cats who have ever walked the earth; I could have done better.

And the death of a pet always provokes, apart from the eternal question of death itself, questions and speculation about the relationship of animals to eternity. One needn't fall prey to "all dogs to go heaven" sentimentality to feel that there is something seriously wrong with the idea that when a loved animal dies it is dead forever, and you'll never see it again, even in heaven. Maybe that's true, and if it is we will understand why it is true and not be given pain by it. But from our earthly point of view it's hard to accept. The worst thing, of course, as most parents have to learn, is seeing a child lose a beloved pet. But it bothers the grownups, too, even old people who have seen it often. Perhaps it may bother an older person more than the middle-aged, who have more pressing concerns, because age may bring with it a great sad sympathy for everything mortal.

I have a speculation which I thought was only mine until recently, when I came across it in someone else's writing (more about which in a week or two). Perhaps, although no individual animal has an immortal soul, there is a personal spirit that belongs to every species, an angel if you like, or a sort of Platonic dog-ness or cat-ness or bird-ness, but conscious, in which the essence of all the individual creatures is somehow contained and embodied, and in which each individual exists in some sense eternally, because the soul or spirit of the entire species is eternal. And perhaps in meeting, one day, those spirits, we will also be able to know again the animals we loved here.

It's only a speculation, and I have only the vaguest inkling of what I might mean by it. But there are a lot of things in creation of which we can have only the vaguest inklings.


Milo, in good health and not excessively friendly, 2009.


52 Guitars: Week 15

Michael Hedges

Here is the third (not in any significant order) of the Windham Hill guitarists who attracted so much attention (well, relatively speaking) in the late '70s and early '80s. I can't say he is my favorite, but he's pretty spectacular from the technical point of view. Breakfast in the Field and Aerial Boundaries were in the collections of the same people who liked Ackerman and de Grassi. I always wondered how he made the sounds in "Aerial Boundaries" (from the album of the same name), and didn't really see how it was possible for one person with one acoustic guitar. Well, here's a live performance proving that it is. I think he has some electronic help in creating that huge booming sound, but the actual production of the notes seems to be all him.


I was not previously familiar with this one, "Because It's There," but I think the strange instrument he plays does appear on some of the albums.


Hedges apparently didn't want to be known only as an instrumental virtuoso, and his later albums included vocals, and his own songs as well as covers. I haven't heard much of that; it's good, but not as appealing to me as his guitar work. He died way too young, in a 1997 car crash, at the age of 43.

A Note on Versification

Anthony Daniels, in the February issue of The New Criterion, on the experience of being asked to be one of the judges in a poetry contest:

One of the problems for a novice judge is to know how far to take extra-poetic considerations into account, indeed to know what they actually are, especially in an age of free verse. There are no guidelines laid down, as in (for example) the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, and where almost any string of words could be considered verse, chopped up the right way:

There are no guidelines laid down,
As in (for example)
The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis,
And where almost any string of words
Could be considered verse,
Chopped up the right way.

The Pope Would Have Made a Good Husband

One of my first reactions to Francis was that he has the gifts of a really good parish priest. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, especially the former, spoke strongly and warmly about marriage. And these remarks by Francis are not different in substance. But they have a personal and down-to-earth charm that communicate a more immediate sense of the reality of marriage than the other two generally did. It almost sounds as if he'd been married himself. It's a good instance of the winning quality that has attracted so many people to him.

It is true that there are so many difficulties in married life, so many, when there is insufficient work or money, when the children have problems. So much to contend with. And many times the husband and wife become a little fractious and argue between themselves. They argue, this is how it is, there is always arguing in marriage, sometimes the plates even fly. Yet we must not become saddened by this, this is the human condition. The secret is that love is stronger than the moment when there is arguing, and therefore I always advise spouses: do not let a day when you have argued end without making peace. Always! And to make peace it isn’t necessary to call the United Nations to come to the house and make peace. A little gesture is sufficient, a caress, and then let it be! Until tomorrow! And tomorrow begin again. And this is life, carrying on, carrying on with courage and the desire to live together. And this is truly great, it is beautiful! Married life is such a beautiful thing and we must treasure it always, treasure the children. On other occasions in this Square I have mentioned something else which is so helpful for marriage. There are three words that always need to be said, three words that need to be said at home: may I, thank you, and sorry. The three magic words. May I: so as not to be intrusive in the life of the spouses. May I, but how does it seem to you? May I, please allow me. Thank you: to thank one’s spouse; thank you for what you did for me, thank you for this. That beauty of giving thanks! And since we all make mistakes, that other word which is a bit hard to say but which needs to be said: sorry. Please, thank you, and sorry. With these three words, with the prayer of the husband for the wife and vice versa, by always making peace before the day comes to an end, marriage will go forward. The three magic words, prayer and always making peace.

You can read the whole address here.

The View From A Few Hundred Years Out

Every philosophical school must eventually grow stale, and a hindrance rather than an aid to further thought (though if it has sufficient vitality it may recover). And if it has met with worldly success nothing is more to be expected than that this should happen precisely at the moment of its greatest triumph, when it is no longer the adventure of the gifted but the refuge of the conventional, and for the former no longer a school but a prison.

So it was with the naturalistic skepticism of the Enlightenment, which, in the early years of the century, took decisive (if still contested) command of society, but simultaneously became the unexamined faith of that herd of independent minds which had first been described some fifty years earlier.

--Gilbert Keith Orwell, S.J., An Introduction to the Study of the Twenty-First Century, Nairobi, 2348.

I posted this on Facebook a couple of days ago as a sort of oblique comment on the disturbing incident at Mozilla. If you have managed remain unaware of that situation: Mozilla is the company that produces the Firefox web browser, and the long-time employee, also one of the founders, who had just been appointed CEO, was immediately forced out because he had donated to a political campaign opposing same-sex marriage.

Naturally I want to say some pretty harsh things about that, but the voice that tells me "why bother?" commenting on such things prevailed, and I started thinking about the bigger picture, which led to the bit of future history above. Which, by the way, was a lot of fun to write. We may hear more from Fr. Orwell.


This is one of those things that seem to happen more and more often now, which are shocking and yet not at all surprising. Possibly the single most disheartening thing about it is not the malice of many of the s-s-m supporters, but this blog post by someone near the top at Mozilla (I'm not sure exactly what "executive chairwoman" means--of the board of directors, I guess). I would have had more respect for this statement if it had simply said "There is no room at Mozilla for people who oppose same-sex marriage." Instead, she handed us this lump of partially melted margarine. It's significant that insofar as there's any sense to be made of the statement, her only concern seems to be the feelings (the feelings, which are the voice of God when they come from the right people) of those who objected to Eich's appointment, her only regret that they had appointed him in the first place, and then not dumped him quickly enough. It's a measure of the insularity in which such people dwell that there seems almost no indication that objections from the other side even entered her field of vision.

Well, they have now. Mozilla has a page for user feedback, and this is what it looks like as of Sunday afternoon:


You will observe (if you are the sort who cares about web browsers) that this screen shot is from Internet Explorer. Like most people who use the web a lot, I abandoned IE years ago. But this is version 11, and it's really pretty decent. I've removed Firefox, and I let Mozilla know, and why. I don't know if there are enough people doing so to make them feel the loss; I hope so. This is a personal inconvenience, as I had just last week decided to make Firefox my main browser. (I'm under no illusions about Microsoft, by the way; I think it also officially supports same-sex marriage. But they haven't spit on those who disagree. Yet. There are other less well-known browsers out there which I'll be looking into.)

If you want to read more about the controversy, these three posts at Neo-neocon are good starting points--she has links to a number of other discussions and commentaries, many of which come from people who either support or don't object to gay marriage, but are disturbed by the attempt to declare those who disagree unacceptable to society. One of the most striking things about Mozilla and its supporters is their emphasis on the necessity of a recantation. Who'd have thought the Inquisition still had so much influence?

52 Guitars: Week 14

William Ackerman

The founder of Windham Hill and one of its best-known artists, Ackerman's guitar style is less complex than Alex de Grassi's (see guitarist #13 from last week), or Michael Hedges's (next week). But he has, at least on his early albums, a gift for sweet, wistful, memorable melodies. Both these pieces are from his second Windham Hill album, Childhood and Memory. (Before founding Windham Hill he made an earlier album, The Search for the Turtle's Navel, which in both its music and song titles is clearly heavily influenced by John Fahey.)


"The Velvet Gentleman," which I believe is a reference to Erik Satie:


"The Wall and the Wind"


I have not by any means heard all of Ackerman's work, but from what I have heard it seems to me that the albums that came after these first three or four are considerably less appealing. I own one of those later ones--I can't remember which one, and don't want to dig into the closet to find out--and remember listening to it several times, waiting for it to click, and being disappointed. It included other instruments, and seemed bland and New-Age-y in a bad way, lacking the sort of post-flower-child prettiness of Childhood and Memory, which I suspect is his best overall. Like, apparently, much of the best of the Windham Hill catalog, it's out of print, but I believe most of it is included in this YouTube playlist. I would have included those versions but embedding is disabled on them. Used copies on both vinyl and CD seem to be pretty readily available at reasonable prices.

Ten Books

I've thought about this off and on since discussion on this post got into the desert island list area.  Following the example of a couple of people in that conversation, I decided to try it with ten books.  Here they are; you'll note that I remain unable to make a final choice in a couple of cases:

  1. The Bible
  2. Either the Book of Common Prayer or the Book of Divine Worship *
  3. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
  4. C.S. Lewis, either the Narnia books or the space trilogy **
  5. Complete Shakespeare
  6. T.S. Eliot, Complete Poems and Plays
  7. Flannery O'Connor, Collected Works
  8. Something by Walker Percy, probably either Lost in the Cosmos or Love in the Ruins
  9. Raymond Chandler, Library of America collection **
  10. A very large well-chosen anthology of 19th century English poetry

* 1928 U.S. BCP, no doubt. Not entirely sure what's in one and not in the other, so I'd have to compare them.

** Cheating: multiple physical volumes.

I really would prefer Ross Macdonald to Chandler, but there is no comparable collection of his works. There are a couple of out-of-print volumes that include three novels each, and if I can have two volumes of Chandler why can't I have two volumes of Macdonald? I don't care that much about Eliot's plays, but since there's a single volume that includes them, why not? I think I'm leaning to Lost in the Cosmos for Walker Percy. I seriously considered The Habit of Being as my Flannery O'Connor selection, but the collected works includes a number of letters, so that should do. I'd really like some Dickens, too, maybe Bleak House or David Copperfield or Great Expectations.  And some Dostoevsky. The poetry anthology must include both the Romantics and the Victorians. It could go very light on Byron and Shelley to make room for big chunks of Idylls of the King and most of Hopkins.

The Book of Divine Worship, by the way, is a Catholic adaptation of the Book of Common Prayer, created in the early 1980s for the Anglican Use parishes. There's a PDF here. I like the Coverdale Psalms a lot.

Please post your own list in the comments if you like.

If we want to keep company with God, we must be prepared to let him remind us of his ways, not at the times that suit us, but at the times that suit him. If, through our use of the Bible, through our reading and meditation, we let him into our hearts, below the level of our deliberation, that means that we hand over to him the right to choose how and when to present himself to our consciousness. We all like keeping God in a cupboard with the best china and family silver, to look at when we feel inclined. But the living God chooses his own times, and will come when he is not wanted.

--Fr. Simon Tugwell, O.P. (from Prayer: Living With God, quoted in Magnificat)