Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Few Poems around a Common Theme

The Country Of Marriage


I dream of you walking at night along the streams
of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs
of birds opening around you as you walk.
You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.


This comes after silence. Was it something I said
that bound me to you, some mere promise
or, worse, the fear of loneliness and death?
A man lost in the woods in the dark, I stood
still and said nothing. And then there rose in me,
like the earth's empowering brew rising
in root and branch, the words of a dream of you
I did not know I had dreamed. I was a wanderer
who feels the solace of his native land
under his feet again and moving in his blood.
I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped
my track was there to steady me. It was no abyss
that lay before me, but only the level ground.


Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.


How many times have I come to you out of my head
with joy, if ever a man was,
for to approach you I have given up the light
and all directions. I come to you
lost, wholly trusting as a man who goes
into the forest unarmed. It is as though I descend
slowly earthward out of the air. I rest in peace
in you, when I arrive at last.


Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange
of my love and work for yours, so much for so much
of an expendable fund. We don't know what its limits are--
that puts us in the dark. We are more together
than we know, how else could we keep on discovering
we are more together than we thought?
You are the known way leading always to the unknown,
and you are the known place to which the unknown is always
leading me back. More blessed in you than I know,
I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing
not belittled by my saying that I possess it.
Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing
a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only
accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light
enough to live, and then accepts the dark,
passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I
have fallen tine and again from the great strength
of my desire, helpless, into your arms.


What I am learning to give you is my death
to set you free of me, and me from myself
into the dark and the new light. Like the water
of a deep stream, love is always too much. We
did not make it. Though we drink till we burst
we cannot have it all, or want it all.
In its abundance it survives our thirst.
In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill, and sleep, while it
flows through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us, except we keep returning
to its rich waters thirsty. We enter,
willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.


I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark,
containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning.
I give you the life I have let live for the love of you:
a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road,
the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life
that we have planted in the ground, as I
have planted mine in you. I give you my love for all
beautiful and honest women that you gather to yourself
again and again, and satisfy--and this poem,
no more mine than any man's who has loved a woman.

Wendell Berry

The Wedding Vow


I did not stand at the altar, I stood
at the foot of the chancel steps, with my beloved,
and the minister stood on the top step
holding the open Bible. The church
was wood, painted ivory inside, no people—God’s
stable perfectly cleaned. It was night,
spring—outside, a moat of mud,
and inside, from the rafters, flies
fell onto the open Bible, and the minister
tilted it and brushed them off. We stood
beside each other, crying slightly
with fear and awe. In truth, we had married
that first night, in bed, we had been
married by our bodies, but now we stood
in history—what our bodies had said,
mouth to mouth, we now said publicly,
gathered together, death. We stood
holding each other by the hand, yet I also
stood as if alone, for a moment,
just before the vow, though taken
years before, took. It was a vow
of the present and the future, and yet I felt it
to have some touch on the distant past
or the distant past on it, I felt
the wordless, dry, crying ghost of my
parents’ marriage there, somewhere
in the echoing space—perhaps one of the
plummeting flies, bouncing slightly
as it hit forsaking all others, then was brushed
away. I felt as if I had come
to claim a promise—the sweetness I’d inferred
from their sourness, and at the same time that I
had come, congenitally unworthy, to beg.
And yet, I had been working toward this hour
all my life. And then it was time
to speak—he was offering me, no matter
what, his life. That is all I had to
do, that evening, to accept the gift
I had longed for—to say I had accepted it,
as if being asked if I breathe. Do I take?
I do. I take as he takes—we have been
practicing this. Do you bear this pleasure? I do.

Wonder as Wander


At dusk, on those evenings she does not go out,
my mother potters around her house.
Her daily helpers are gone, there is no one
there, no one to tell what to do,
she wanders, sometimes she talks to herself,
fondly scolding, sometimes she suddenly
throws out her arms and screams—high notes
lying here and there on the carpets
like bodies touched by a downed wire,
she journeys, she quests, she marco-polos through
the gilded gleamy loot-rooms, who is she.
I feel, now, that I do not know her,
and for all my staring, I have not seen her
—like the song she sang, when we were small,
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
how Jesus, the Savior, was born for, to die,
for poor lonely people, like you, and like I
—on the slow evenings alone, when she delays
and delays her supper, walking the familiar
halls past the mirrors and night windows,
I wonder if my mother is tasting a life
beyond this life—not heaven, her late
beloved is absent, her father absent,
and her staff is absent, maybe this is earth
alone, as she had not experienced it,
as if she is one of the poor lonely people,
as if she is born to die. I hold fast
to the thought of her, wandering in her house,
a luna moth in a chambered cage.
Fifty years ago, I’d squat in her
garden, with her Red Queens, and try
to sense the flyways of the fairies as they kept
the pollen flowing on its local paths,
and our breaths on their course of puffs—they kept
our eyes wide with seeing what we
could see, and not seeing what we could not see.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Nine Mile

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Think About Land

By Dr. E. F. Schumacher A talk originally published by The Catholic Housing Aid Society Our thanks go to Ted Power, whose efforts have helped us to ensure that this article is an accurate reproduction of Schumacher's original essay.
That there should be a massive housing problem in an affluent society is surely an immense and intolerable paradox. Many years ago, as we all remember, we were told by the highest political authority that we had never had it so good. And since then, according to all the statistics, we have had substantial further economic growth. But the prob1em of housing, indeed the problem of homelessness, has grown rather than diminished. Now all this is very strange. Today it takes less labour than ever before to build a house and it can be built faster than ever before. Is it shortage of land that holds us back? Assuredly not. Is it shortage of cash? There is more money knocking about now than ever before, and it is always becoming more abundant. We are told that the national income is currently rising at the rate of 5% in one year.Now 5% additional national income is two thousand million pounds. Well, this should be enough to buy a lot of houses; but it doesn’t happen that way. All the money that is generated by so-called progress is already bespoken; and it doesn’t go into housing. It goes into - well, you know where it goes- into all sorts of things such as motoring, more air travel, more Channel crossings. But the housing shortage remains. We can and did build Concorde. It has cost us immensely more than anyone had originally thought it would, but we’ve done it. And there’s Maplin, there’s the Channel tunnel. Of course we can do it. What is a mere thousand million pounds? Why should we be able to do all these things and yet be unable to solve the housing problem?We are doing all these other things because there is a demand. A demand? How do we know? Maplin is many years ahead, the Channel tunnel is many years ahead. How do we know of a demand for these services? Ah! It has all been worked out. It has all been ascertained, don’t you know? It has been calculated. The trend shows that the number of people going to or coming from the continent over the Channel will rise remorselessly from 23.7 million in 1970 to 49.7 million in 1980 and to 97.7 million in 1990. Didn’t you know this?I can also tell you the number of passengers with vehicles that will cross the Channel: 4.1 million in 1970, 9.6 million in 1980, 20.1 million in 1990, and on these figures of course the only rational thing to do is to provide these facilities. Because we pretend to know all these things, we have to build Maplin, and we have to build the Channel tunnel. But somehow we don’t have to build houses. Who has drawn the curve to tell us how many people will be homeless in 1980 or in 1990?How many people will be homeless when all these tourists come and go again? Surely there is a demand for houses, for homes; but much of this demand is not what we call effective, because the people who need accommodation, as we all know, cannot afford it.So we might say: well, society does not care enough to meet a demand that is not effective. But is this quite fair? A lot of people in society certainly care; and look at the legislation that has been passed during recent decades. Any number of laws have been passed to help the homeless and to help the slum dweller but they have never solved the problem. They have almost invariably helped the rich to become richer and left the poor in an even more hopeless situation - although the number of the poor may have shrunk. In fact, all the solutions have turned out to be a part of the problem; and it has emerged quite clearly that there is a root to this problem and until this root is tackled nothing will be of much avail.But where is the root of this problem? Well I don’t claim to be an expert on housing but I have given a lot of thought to this; I have used a lot of these innumerable reports that have been written; and I believe that the root lies in the private ownership of land.Of course, this is no original conclusion at all. Over the ages, people have pleaded for the abolition of the private ownership of land - and not Karl Marx only- but nothing has happened. Why has nothing happened? Because the only answer has seemed to lie in nationalisation.There is the theory that in order to nationalise, in a decent democratic society, you must buy out the private owner. But how could anyone successfully advocate such a buying-out policy? Of course there are others who say: ‘Don’t buyout, instead upset all existing arrangements and confiscate’.But how could anyone seriously advocate confiscation? If it is a matter of buying out, how could any Government even find the required amount of money? On this point in the debate on the public ownership of land we have got stuck. There is really a double point. First of all public ownership, it is thought, can be achieved only by buying out the private owner and this would cost an enormous amount of money which no one is prepared to raise; but second, and even more importantly, it is thought that public ownership of land will automatically and inevitably mean some type of central administration; and both these prospects are indeed daunting and unacceptable.The question, however, is this. Why precisely do we want to change land ownership? And the answer seems to me to be quite clear: to inhibit land speculation, to inhibit the private exploitation of the scarcity-value of land, to inhibit as we might say the ‘cornering’ of land, You know what cornering means - for instance, someone buying up (and this has often happened) the total crop of a commodity which others must have in order to live and the supply of which cannot be increased as prices rise. That is called cornering; and land is the ideal article for cornering. No one can exist without some land base. With growing numbers - growing mobility, growing production, growing trade - there’s no doubt that (quite apart from inflation) land values move on a one-way street. Anyone who corners land only has to wait to grow rich. I suggest it follows that the type of private ownership that may be appropriate for many man-made goods - the supply of which can be increased by human work and invention - cannot possibly be appropriate for land.
What then are the alternatives if nationalisation, as commonly conceived, is not an acceptable answer? Let’s look for a middle way, a new type of arrangement which avoids the pitfalls of simple private ownership and equally those of simple nationalisation. Can we find an ownership model with respect to land (and perhaps even with respect to some of the structures on land) which first of all eliminates private land speculation; which secondly eliminates the private windfall gains that inevitably arise and that accrue to anyone who corners the land; which thirdly does not call for compensation payments to those owning the land now; and which fourthly causes the minimum of disturbance to those who now manage and utilise the land in any manner whatsoever provided it is permitted by law?Now you may say, this is a tall order; but let’s think about it. And I would invite you to consider the following train of thought. Every piece of land in the United Kingdom has a certain value or price as of now. If the owner wanted to sell it he would have some sort of idea, perhaps after taking professional advice, of what it would fetch. Let us say this value would be ascertained for every piece of land in the United Kingdom - no doubt quite a big job but by no means an impossible one. Of course this value would reflect the current zoning arrangements and many other price-determining factors. Now this value or price I shall call the registered value as of July 1973, expressed in pounds sterling of present purchasing power. To take care of inflation the Government could publish an index showing what the pound sterling of July 1973 will be worth in pounds sterling of any later date. The registered value can thereby be easily adjusted for inflation when occasion for such adjustment arises. I suggest that if an owner wants to sell land he should not obtain more for it than the registered value as up-graded in terms of sterling for inflation. The sale of his land has to be effected via the local authority - which, however, plays a totally passive role unless it, itself, wishes to purchase the land. If it does not wish to buy, the private purchaser can pay the private vendor only the registered value, adjusted of course for inflation; and not a penny more.But what if, through re-zoning or some other change, the land has become much more valuable? If this is so, there will be many people wishing to buy the land and the highest bidder will get it; but the vendor will receive only the registered value and the surplus will accrue to what I shall call the local authority land fund. And what becomes of the registered value then? If a higher price has in fact been paid in the manner described then this becomes the new registered value. But what happens if a piece of land is for sale but no buyer can be found to pay the registered value? A transaction between vendor and purchaser may then take place at the lower price, which then becomes the registered value.In short, the current owner and any subsequent buyer is deprived of the chance of making any windfall profits through land ownership; all such profits go automatically into the public hand, what I call the local authority land fund. In those exceptional cases where a particular piece of land declines in value he may indeed not recover his purchase price; but that is the risk he takes in buying land; or, if you like, the price he pays for the immense privilege of land ownership.I commend this scheme to you for further thought. I claim that it would produce a genuine middle-way solution to the problem of land ownership. It would not in any way impair the freedom of existing landowners to continue in their legitimate activities. Their situation remains exactly as at present, without the slightest disturbance. The new dispensation becomes active only as and when the landowner wishes to get rid of his land - in other words, wishes to cease being a landowner.I suggest that such a scheme would greatly increase the ability of local authorities to obtain land for public needs at fair prices and would certainly siphon into the public hand all windfall gains arising from the growing scarcity of land; but only as and when there is a sale from willing seller to willing buyer. In short, market forces are allowed to operate as regards land transactions between private individuals, seller and buyer; but they do not lead to the acquisition of private fortunes; and the public hand - the local authority- is fully protected against private profiteering.
I shall not go into any further details here; they can all be settled once the principle has been adopted. Nor am I saying that. if the land problem is resolved in this way, all housing problems will be solved automatically. But I do feel that everything would become a lot easier.Now let me move on to another line of thinking. For quite some time I have been particularly interested in the question of the proper scale of things. This question seems to me to be the most neglected subject in modern society. “To the size of states,” said Aristotle two thousand three hundred years ago, “there is a limit as there is to other things, plants, animals, implements; for none of these retain their natural power when they are too large or too small, but they either wholly lose their nature or are spoilt.” It’s hard to equal the language of the ancients. Imagine a small island, a small island community of two thousand people. One day a boat arrives and unloads a man who has just been released from prison on the mainland. The discharged prisoner returns home. Will this community have any difficulty in looking after this one man, giving him a bit of human contact, finding him work and re-integrating him into society? Hardly. And now imagine an island community twenty-five thousand times as big, of some fifty million people, and every year twenty-five thousand discharged prisoners return home. It is then the task of various ministries to get them back into normal life together with a number of harassed and over-worked probation officers. What a problem! In fact a problem that has never yet been satisfactorily dealt with.Now it seems to me that somehow, somewhere, there is a very big lesson to be learnt here. Or imagine that instead of one solitary discharged prisoner presenting his problem to a small island community of 2,000 people, a homeless family of five people appeared - or even two such families of ten people in all. Surely the community would find ways and means to ensure adequate shelter for these two families. But multiply the scale of the situation by twenty-five thousand a community of fifty million people trying to cope with two hundred and fifty thousand homeless people. What a problem! Ministries, officials, rules, regulations, financial arrangements, immense efforts to cope with immense difficulties, and (going by experience) never an adequate solution.I have just published a book with the title ‘Small is Beautiful’ and I received a letter which explains this strange and challenging problem of scale from a mathematical point of view. I quote:
“The crucial point is that as a monolithic organisation increases in size, the problems of communicating between its components go up exponentially. It is generally reckoned that the maximum size of a productive scientific research team is twelve; over that size everyone spends all his time finding out what everyone else is doing.”
Some twenty years ago, working for the National Coal Board, I became interested in the problem of accidents in the pits. At that time we had two hundred and fifty thousand accidents a year. Someone drew my attention to a mine outside the National Coal Board, which did not actually produce coal but some other mineral by exactly the same methods of extraction as we applied in the coal mines. The accident rate at that mine was much the same as in the coal pits. One day the management in charge of this one single mine decided to do something about these accidents and virtually abolished them. So we studied their methods, which were perfectly straightforward, and said to ourselves: “What they can do, we can do”. They had one mine, we had six hundred; but then our resources, staffs, etc. were certainly in proportion the same as theirs. So the National Coal Board said, “When it is a matter of people getting hurt or killed, we cannot afford to lose any time. Let us apply these proven methods of accident prevention in all six hundred collieries right away.” We did not succeed - although of course, in the twenty years since then, the safety record of the coal mines has improved beyond recognition. But at that time, I repeat, we did not succeed the way this outside firm with only one mine to worry about had, in fact, succeeded.It took me a long time to understand this strange and paradoxical thing. If one able safety engineer with his team can succeed in one mine, why can’t six hundred able safety engineers with their teams succeed in six hundred mines? The answer is that one man requires no administrative superstructure to do his work; he himself, as team leader, is the superstructure; but six hundred team leaders do require (or everybody appears to think they do) an administrative superstructure.And now let me make this point: administration to be well done is a very difficult job which requires a very high level of intelligence. It is much more difficult than accident prevention underground. It follows that only the best talent is good enough for administration; and if you need an administrative superstructure because of the scale of the operation (six hundred mines instead of one) then you simply cannot avoid your best people being sucked into administrative posts; and then only the second or third rate people remain to do the job itself.I am making this point very seriously against the people who say, “Yes, we set up a big structure, but of course it must not be bureaucratic.” If it is not to be bureaucratic it will absorb all the best talents you have at your disposal. And this is not all. Once you need an elaborate administrative superstructure, the people who actually do the work cannot give the best that is in them because they are being administered (and this is nobody’s fault) by people far away whom they have probably never met except at impersonal briefing meetings.This experience, reinforced by many similar ones in the last twenty odd years, has led me to the conviction that small is beautiful - where small, of course, does not mean infinitely or absurdly small but the order of size, or scale, which the mind can fully encompass, - so that large administrative superstructures can be dispensed with.Good administration, let me repeat, demands superlative talents and intelligence; and bad administration is the worst of all evils. So this whole question of scale I consider to be absolutely central and one of the most neglected questions in the modern debate. I quoted Aristotle and repeat: “When things become too large or too small they either wholly lose their nature or are spoilt”, or as my grandmother used to say “Everything too is of evil”.Finally, let me put to you yet another train of thought. I started by saying that it was very strange indeed that we, an affluent society, should have failed to solve the housing problem; and indeed that failure is quite inexcusable considering that it makes a mockery of all talk about social justice. It also makes a mockery of all pretensions to economic rationality, because the social costs of inadequate housing, the costs in terms of delinquency, crime, ill-health, mental break-downs, unemployability - all these social costs are beyond computation; and I have no doubt whatever that they immensely outweigh the real costs of adequate housing.But be this as it may, I do not wish to leave you with the impression that the current affluence of Britain, or indeed of Western Europe, is an achievement unlikely to be challenged or disturbed. This so-called achievement is based on certain specific and temporary practices and constellations which are, to put it crudely, on the way out. When I say practices, I mean living on capital instead of income. A vital part of our capital today is oil: a non-renewable product over the provision of which we, in Western Europe, have virtually no control at all. And the constellation is a moment in history during which we can still obtain this oil, a constellation of power which is rapidly changing. The world economy (and this means primarily the affluent twenty per cent of mankind) is demanding an increase of oil supplies of 7% every year, while a growing number of oil-producing countries, to secure their own longer-term future, have already decided not to let their oil output rise beyond the 1971 level, The countries which have already taken this decision are Venezuela, Libya and Kuwait; and they, between them, account for more than one third - thirty-five per cent to be exact- of all the oil that flows into international trade. Are we prepared for an oil crunch? How vulnerable is our affluence in case of an oil supply crunch? What is the meaning of those projects which I quoted (of the number of Channel travellers with cars, or without cars) in the event of real difficulties, in terms of price or quantity, with oil?If we continue to think that we can live it up today because our children are bound to be richer, more affluent than ourselves, then I suggest we are making our calculations without asking the people who are, in effect, making this affluence possible. Therefore, does not all this point towards the need for a fundamental reorientation of what has been called our life-style? And this includes some of what my political friends call ‘the system’, a reorientation towards a much more decentralised pattern, a much greater autonomy and self-reliance of small communities and, above all, a much more flexible, just and rational use of land - apart from very many other things.

Trees and the Nature of Work

"A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices that will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has his mind precisely against what is wrong with us. . . . What I am saying is that if we apply our minds directly and competently to the needs of the earth, then we will have begun to make fundamental and necessary changes in our minds. We will begin to understand and to mistrust and to change our wasteful economy, which markets not just the produce of the earth, but also the earth's ability to produce." - Wendell Berry

I was recalling last night a story narrated by a good friend of both Tolkien and the Lewis Brothers, who would often accompany these three on walks across the English countryside. The Lewis Brothers would set the pace with an eye more toward exercise while Tolkien would wander rather behind looking at all the flora and fauna they passed. The friend, whose name escapes me, would serve as an insight, holding the two paces together by encouraging Tolkien to catch up and the Lewis Brothers to slow down. Once when he was heading back to accompany Tolkien he heard a chainsaw start up in the distance and Tolkien mutter under his breath, "Orcs!" At the time the friend had no idea what that term meant, as this was well before the Trilogy or the Hobbit graced this earth.

Given that context, it may not surprise you that as I walked to work today I was struck by an avenue of trees some 150-200 feet high, verdant with spring life, dripping rain down on me as I walked underneath their canopy and dark boughs. It wasn't quite the experience on ents that I have had, but they encompassed the silence and ancientness of many of the scenes in Fangorn and Lothlorien. I've been blessed with the opportunity on many occasions of hiking in old-growth forests in the Cascades: clambering over windfall cedars some ten feet in diameter, trail-running the soft beds of leaves and needles devoid of underbrush past living towers three hundred feet tall, and counting the brief years of humankind back several centuries in growth rings. There is something beyond the ken of us humans in these trees.

Wells of memory, life-forms radically different from yet intrinsically necessary to our own.

Schumacher in his wonderful little essay, Buddhist Economics mentions that,

The teaching of the Buddha, on the other hand, enjoins a reverent
and non-violent attitude not only to all sentient beings but also, with
great emphasis, to trees. Every follower of the Buddha ought to plant a
tree every few years and look after it until it is safely established, and
the Buddhist economist can demonstrate without difficulty that the
universal observation of this rule would result in a high rate of genuine
economic development independent of any foreign aid. Much of the
economic decay of southeast Asia (as of many other parts of the world)
is undoubtedly due to a heedless and shameful neglect of trees.

I tend to agree with this... Fr. Josef had me keep a garden as a teenager because he said it was good for a young adult to be close to the earth, to remember where he came from and where he was going. We're too hasty nowadays and many wise ones bemoan the fact.

As Treebeard says,
I can see and hear (and smell and feel) a great deal from this, from this, from this a-lalla-lalla-rumba-kamanda-lind-or-burume. Excuse me: that is a part of my name for it; I do not know what the word is in the outside languages: you know, the thing we are on, where I stand and look out on fine mornings, and think about the Sun, and the grass beyond the wood, and the horses, and the clouds, and the unfolding of the world. ... Hill. Yes, that was it. But it is a hasty word for a thing that has stood here ever since this part of the world was shaped.

Lonergan says that being hasty and not considering all the further pertinent questions is what has caused every civilization from the beginning of the world to eventually collapse.

We need to keep something of the memory that calls to us from trees. Tolkien notes this so well in his description of Treebeard's eyes,

"One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long, slow, steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present: like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake. I don't know but it felt as if something that grew in the ground — asleep, you might say, or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky had suddenly waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care that it had given to its own inside affairs for endless years." - Two Towers, Treebeard

So, go out and plant a tree, clamber around in one, ponder one, and revel in their memory and life.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I Won't Forget You My Friend

As I was driving to work a few days ago I heard a song by Pink (yes, one of my long-time favorites) and it reminded me of several friends with whom I've lost contact... usually for no particular reason. It's so easy to just drift apart you know? You can spend some of the best hours of your life with a person and three years later not know them at all. Anyway, I think Pink's song really speaks to that, though she is talking particularly about a boyfriend she ostensibly had I see it as a song about the loss of friendship.

I'll just quote a few lines:

Remember when we were such fools
And so convinced and just too cool
I wish I could touch you again
I wish I could still call you friend
I'd give anything
When someone said count your blessings now
For they're long gone
I guess I just didn't know how
I was all wrong
They knew better

I'll keep you locked in my head
Until we meet again
Until we
Until we meet again
And I won't forget you my friend
What happened?

It's hard. There is a fellow named Bryan Steele whom I was awesome friends with even though we just spent a week together in 2001 we kept up for several years via email and phone... but then just lost contact. I'll think about him occasionally and wonder where he is, what he's doing...

There have been a few people I was really good friends with that have become just friends... we don't talk as much, we've drifted away in distance and life. But I miss them. Sometimes a lot. Friendship is an amazing thing that way. Here's another song that speaks to that by Sugar Ray (kudos Stashu, wherever you are)

Now this is somethin' from back in the day
I'll always remember Run DMC
And all the good times
That we had on the beach
Stealing sips from a paper cup
And making out in the sand
Maybe I'm dreaming
Can you tell me

[Chorus]Do you remember
The summers that lasted so long
June til September
Was our time to sing our songs
Do you remember
All of us together
As we grew up under the sun

I'll always remember everything we do
Rockin' the eighties blastin' KROQ
I remember Culture Club
The Clash, and Men Without Hats
Seems kind of funny right now
But it's taking me back
We'd always sing along
And laugh out loud at ourselves
Don't want to stop dreaming
Can you tell me

[Chorus]Do you remember
The summers that lasted so long
June til September
Was our time to sing our songs
Do you remember
All of us together
As we grew up under the sun

I want to rewind every time'
Cause the words have so much meaning
They were there when nobody cared
Always knew what I was feeling
Stay tonight don't leave me reminiscing
All I do is wind up missing you
And you missing
Are you missing me
na na na

[Chorus]Do you remember
The summers that lasted so long
June til September
Was our time to sing all the songs
Do you remember
All of us together
As we grew up under the sun

So, here's to all our friends: past, present, and future. You're the best, I love you, I miss you, and I hope all is well. I Won't Forget You My Friend.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Riding the Bus and Subjectivity

So, I just finished an excellent essay by my good friend Paul on Personalist Thomism, a movement that I see as solving in a great part many of the abuses against the human person that the 20th Century has spawned. Maybe I'll upload his essay once/if I obtain his permission. In the meanwhile I highly recommend anything by Fr. Norris Clarke of Fordham University or JPII of the World ;-)

Anyway, the main drive of the paper as I see it is the irreducibility of the person to an object. Persons are ALWAYS inherently subjects. Now, by subject is meant someone who does the same kinds of things you do: think, will, participate in an interior life, love, dream. Everyone you meet is like this, whether you take the time to notice it or not.

I have a thought though... see, when we interact with other human beings, unless we can really befriend them they tend to just interact on the level of objects in our world... not in a necessarily dehumanizing way, just in a friendship of utility way. I find that when I "people watch" in some place like a bus or coffee shop (not anything like Hitchcock's Rear Window, that is just weird, thanks Paul), it is very easy to see them as subjects. Why? Because of the silence. They are participating in their interior life, a life that I will never participate in, a life that, if I am lucky, I will be able to catch glimpses of by spending my entire life getting to know one person.

There is a phrase I can't recall the origin of but speaks to this in a very Lewisian sense, "The only response to the presence/face of the infinite is silence." Here you are sitting in a group of strangers (it happens a lot) and it overwhelms you... all these little infinities off in their own - not little, never little - vast worlds. Can't you just sit back and glory in the wonders all around you?

That, my friends, is why I like riding the bus.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Random Memories

You know how you're wandering around listening to music and all of a sudden you're taken back? Your history washes over you like a wave, the good, the bad, and mostly the absurd.

Here are a few memories that I recalled recently:

When we lived on our five-acre property out in May Valley we used to have huge gatherings for Mother's Day, Birthday Parties, and a lot of different events. E, A, G and I used to hide in the thorn bushes at the end of our driveway and attack the cars that came with bows, arrows, and spears... just to make sure they knew what driveway was ours.

There was this huge, 200 foot cedar tree in our big field that I used to climb during windstorms and be tossed about like a doll... it was wild. Rain, wind, thunder... ahh.

One Sunday School our teacher gave us little cherry tomato plants to take home for Mother's Day. I planted mine on a little hillock and Dad mowed it over. I cried. I think it was dead already but... mowing is a hard way to go. :-)

Oh, speaking of mowing... I did most of the mowing because E and Dad have allergies. Our big field took exactly 2 hours (a lot of rosaries) to mow on our riding mower. I could do it with my eyes closed. We used to soup up our mower and drive around like wild banshees with a huge trail of smoke behind us. We also used to take it off jumps and drag stumps out and go though alder groves with it. It was an amazing mower. They don't make them like they used to.

We used to jump the fence running around the landfill and play in the mile buffer zone between us and the landfill. There was this creek that we would build boats for and sail them... with our GI Joes and Legos. A lot of our games involved those. We would run fishing line from treetops to our bedroom window and use those little green berry baskets to carry messages back and forth.

I used to save a lot of my money for Radio Shack and I'd pick up wire and buzzers and motors and lights. I made this contraption out of foil, and wire and put it under the front doormat so that it would make a buzzer go off in my room when someone stepped on it (completing the circuit). I always wanted to make something with this used washer machine motor I found but I couldn't come up with sufficient electricity to power it. I stayed away from wall sockets because I had shocked myself so often. I made an anti-burgle device for my upper bunk by running wires from the socket to various wires on my ladder. It didn't work.

I remember we had this huge cathedral ceiling and we put a crucifix up in the middle above the alcove and had lamps on either side that made it look like the crucifix had wings when we had both of them on. It was cool.

I had a teddy bear named berry and made him clothes... usually out of felt and staples because while I could sew it took too long. He had a bed right by mine in the very corner of the ceiling sloping down.

I had this "study" underneath the house in the dirt 4 foot ceiling basement. I had a desk, ran electricty, had an olllllldd computer and a little lamp.

E and I used to climb these huge trees by taking pieces of 2X4 and 2X2 and nailing them all the way up the tree. We would get 50 feet up no problem and then build a fort. We made the first 2-3 steps pivot on one nail so the little kids couldn't climb up. We would fall out of our forts on occasion. But mostly we shot arrows from them and read books.

I remember I fell in love with Huckleberry Finn and went without shoes whenever i could and jumped out of windows and made a hut like his raft. We had this amazing tree formation that we called Jumping fort because these trees had bent over and were covered in moss and we could climb and jump and hide underneath and use them as elevators going maybe 5-6 feet up. It was sweet.

We used to pretend we were Barsarks too where we would run through the forest with our shirts off and not feel the thorns and branches cutting us. AH Vikings!

I used to make maps all the time too... crosscut, aerial, topographical... it was fun.

"Ah me! Ah Life!"

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Meditation on Gift

I was pondering gift today... in a similar manner to an earlier post (circa 2005). And the idea of gift really is essential to getting through life in an worthwhile way. Realizing that your left hand, your nose, your pair of shoes, your hair, the food you eat, your taste buds, the fact that food tastes good in addition to keeping you alive, your eyes, your sight, the beautiful and ugly things you get to see, waking up, being able to dream, meeting friends, smiling at other people, that there are other people, that you can read, that you can understand what you read, that you can pray, that you can stub your toe, that you can burn your tongue... all is a gift from God and need not be that way at all.

If I can really appropriate that awareness and deep sense of gratitude that stems from such an awareness... I really cannot be unhappy ever again. I can be awed at the breath coming through my nose and the fact that there is a floor beneath my feet that I can walk on. I can wonder at the fact that I don't fall right through the earth and that I can communicate with other people. The radical givenness or conntingency of existence is a means for joy and hope... because it could be so many other worse ways... but it isn't. Yay for Puddleglum and Chesterton!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Architect of Spears by GKC

The other day, in the town of Lincoln, I suffered an optical illusion
which accidentally revealed to me the strange greatness of the Gothic
architecture. Its secret is not, I think, satisfactorily explained in
most of the discussions on the subject. It is said that the Gothic
eclipses the classical by a certain richness and complexity, at once
lively and mysterious. This is true; but Oriental decoration is equally
rich and complex, yet it awakens a widely different sentiment. No man
ever got out of a Turkey carpet the emotions that he got from a cathedral
tower. Over all the exquisite ornament of Arabia and India there is the
presence of something stiff and heartless, of something tortured and
silent. Dwarfed trees and crooked serpents, heavy flowers and hunchbacked
birds accentuate by the very splendour and contrast of their colour the
servility and monotony of their shapes. It is like the vision of a
sneering sage, who sees the whole universe as a pattern. Certainly no one
ever felt like this about Gothic, even if he happens to dislike it. Or,
again, some will say that it is the liberty of the Middle Ages in the use
of the comic or even the coarse that makes the Gothic more interesting
than the Greek. There is more truth in this; indeed, there is real truth
in it. Few of the old Christian cathedrals would have passed the Censor
of Plays. We talk of the inimitable grandeur of the old cathedrals; but
indeed it is rather their gaiety that we do not dare to imitate. We
should be rather surprised if a chorister suddenly began singing "Bill
Bailey" in church. Yet that would be only doing in music what the
mediaevals did in sculpture. They put into a Miserere seat the very
scenes that we put into a music hall song: comic domestic scenes similar to
the spilling of the beer and the hanging out of the washing. But though
the gaiety of Gothic is one of its features, it also is not the secret of
its unique effect. We see a domestic topsy-turvydom in many Japanese
sketches. But delightful as these are, with their fairy tree-tops, paper
houses, and toddling, infantile inhabitants, the pleasure they give is of
a kind quite different from the joy and energy of the gargoyles. Some
have even been so shallow and illiterate as to maintain that our pleasure
in medieval building is a mere pleasure in what is barbaric, in what is
rough, shapeless, or crumbling like the rocks. This can be dismissed
after the same fashion; South Sea idols, with painted eyes and radiating
bristles, are a delight to the eye; but they do not affect it in at all
the same way as Westminster Abbey. Some again (going to another and
almost equally foolish extreme) ignore the coarse and comic in
mediaevalism; and praise the pointed arch only for its utter purity and
simplicity, as of a saint with his hands joined in prayer. Here, again,
the uniqueness is missed. There are Renaissance things (such as the
ethereal silvery drawings of Raphael), there are even pagan things (such
as the Praying Boy) which express as fresh and austere a piety. None of
these explanations explain. And I never saw what was the real point about
Gothic till I came into the town of Lincoln, and saw it behind a row of

I did not know they were furniture-vans; at the first glance and in the
smoky distance I thought they were a row of cottages. A low stone wall
cut off the wheels, and the vans were somewhat of the same colour as the
yellowish clay or stone of the buildings around them. I had come across
that interminable Eastern plain which is like the open sea, and all the
more so because the one small hill and tower of Lincoln stands up in it
like a light-house. I had climbed the sharp, crooked streets up to this
ecclesiastical citadel; just in front of me was a flourishing and richly
coloured kitchen garden; beyond that was the low stone wall; beyond that
the row of vans that looked like houses; and beyond and above that,
straight and swift and dark, light as a flight of birds, and terrible as
the Tower of Babel, Lincoln Cathedral seemed to rise out of human sight.

As I looked at it I asked myself the questions that I have asked here;
what was the soul in all those stones? They were varied, but it was not
variety; they were solemn, but it was not solemnity; they were farcical,
but it was not farce. What is it in them that thrills and soothes a man
of our blood and history, that is not there in an Egyptian pyramid or an
Indian temple or a Chinese pagoda? All of a sudden the vans I had
mistaken for cottages began to move away to the left. In the start this
gave to my eye and mind I really fancied that the Cathedral was moving
towards the right. The two huge towers seemed to start striding across
the plain like the two legs of some giant whose body was covered with the
clouds. Then I saw what it was.

The truth about Gothic is, first, that it is alive, and second, that it is
on the march. It is the Church Militant; it is the only fighting
architecture. All its spires are spears at rest; and all its stones are
stones asleep in a catapult. In that instant of illusion, I could hear the
arches clash like swords as they crossed each other. The mighty and
numberless columns seemed to go swinging by like the huge feet of imperial
elephants. The graven foliage wreathed and blew like banners going into
battle; the silence was deafening with ail the mingled noises of a
military march; the great bell shook down, as the organ shook up its
thunder. The thirsty-throated gargoyles shouted like trumpets from all
the roofs and pinnacles as they passed; and from the lectern in the core
of the cathedral the eagle of the awful evangelist clashed his wings of

And amid all the noises I seemed to hear the voice of a man shouting in
the midst like one ordering regiments hither and thither in the fight; the
voice of the great half-military master-builder; the architect of spears.
I could almost fancy he wore armour while he made that church; and I knew
indeed that, under a scriptural figure, he had borne in either hand the
trowel and the sword.

I could imagine for the moment that the whole of that house of life had
marched out of the sacred East, alive and interlocked, like an army.
Some Eastern nomad had found it solid and silent in the red circle of the
desert. He had slept by it as by a world-forgotten pyramid; and been woke
at midnight by the wings of stone and brass, the tramping of the tall
pillars, the trumpets of the waterspouts. On such a night every snake or
sea-beast must have turned and twisted in every crypt or corner of the
architecture. And the fiercely coloured saints marching eternally in the
flamboyant windows would have carried their glorioles like torches across
dark lands and distant seas; till the whole mountain of music and darkness
and lights descended roaring on the lonely Lincoln hill. So for some
hundred and sixty seconds I saw the battle-beauty of the Gothic; then the
last furniture-van shifted itself away; and I saw only a church tower in a
quiet English town, round which the English birds were floating.

Monday, January 21, 2008


Sexual freedom is damaging to students. But health officials must not judge.

Thursday, December 14, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

"My patients were hurting, they looked to me and what could I do?" So confesses an anonymous campus physician in the beginning of her startling memoir. Over the course of 200 pages, she tells story after story about suffering young women. If these women were ailing from eating disorders, or substance abuse, or almost any other medical or psychological problem, their university health departments would spring to their aid. "Cardiologists hound patients about fatty diets and insufficient exercise. Pediatricians encourage healthy snacks, helmets and discussion of drugs and alcohol. Everyone condemns smoking and tanning beds."

Unfortunately, the young women described in "Unprotected" have fallen victim to one of the few personal troubles that our caring professions refuse to treat or even acknowledge: They have been made miserable by their "sexual choices." And on that subject, few modern doctors dare express a word of judgment.

Thus the danger of sexually transmitted diseases is too often overlooked in the lifestyle choices of the young women at the unnamed college where the author works. But the dangers go far beyond the biological. A girl named Heather, for instance, has succumbed to an intense bout of depression. The doctor presses her to think of possible causes. She can't think of anything. Then she says: "Well, I can think of one thing: since Thanksgiving, I've had a 'friend with benefits.' And actually I'm kind of confused about that."

Heather continues: "I want to spend more time with him, and do stuff like go shopping or see a movie. That would make it a friendship for me. But he says no, because if we do those things, then in his opinion we'd have a relationship--and that's more than he wants. And I'm confused, because it seems like I don't get the 'friend' part, but he still gets the 'benefits.'" It finally dawns on her: "I'm really unhappy about that. It's hard to be with him and then go home and be alone."

Heather is not an unrepresentative case. The author meets patients who cannot sleep, who mutilate themselves, who exhibit every symptom of psychic distress. Often they don't even know why they feel the way they do. As these girls see it, they are acting like sensible, responsible adults: They practice "safe sex" and limit their partners to a mere two or three per year.

They are following the best advice that modern psychology can offer. They are enjoying their sexual freedom, experimenting, discovering themselves. They can't understand what might be wrong. And yet something is wrong. As the author observes, surveys have found that "sexually active teenage girls were more than three times as likely to be depressed, and nearly three times as likely to have had a suicide attempt, than girls who were not sexually active."

And should all this joyous experimentation end in externally verifiable effects--should girls find themselves afflicted with a disease or an unwanted pregnancy--then (and only then) do their campus "women's health" departments go to work for them. They will book the abortion, hand out a condom or prescribe a course of antibiotic treatment. And then they will pat their young patients on the shoulder and send them back into the world, without an admonishing word about the conduct that got them into trouble in the first place.

"Look at how different health decisions are valued," the author advises. "When Stacey avoids fatty foods she is being health conscious. . . . When she stays away from alcohol, she is being responsible and resisting her impulses. For all these she is endorsed for keeping long-term goals in mind instead of giving in to peer pressure and immediate gratification. But if she makes a conscious decision to delay sexual activity, she's simply 'not sexually active'--given no praise or endorsement."

If anything, the more "transgressive" the behavior, the greater the reluctance to judge. On a University of Michigan Web site, "'external water sports' is described as a type of 'safer sex.'" (The phrase has nothing to do with a swimming pool.) At Virginia Commonwealth University, "cross-dressing is called a 'recreational activity.' " The sexual advice blog "Go Ask Alice," sponsored by Columbia University, provides helpful hints to students on ménages à trois ("Nothing wrong with giving it a try, so long as you're all practicing safer sex"), swing-club etiquette and phone sex ("Getting Started").

When the author treats Brian, a young homosexual man who is engaged in "high-risk behavior with multiple people," she discovers that, by policy, she cannot insist that he be tested for HIV. And if he were to submit to voluntary testing, and the tests were to prove positive, she would not be allowed to report this information to the local department of health--although of course she would be required to do so if he had contracted any other communicable disease. Isn't promoting health, even saving lives, "worth the risk of feeling judged?" Apparently not.

And yet, not all judgments are to be avoided. The author of this vivid and urgent book has published it anonymously precisely because she fears that if her employers and colleagues heard her unwelcome views, they would judge her negatively--and punish her, personally and professionally. The anonymity, however understandable, is a shame: Her cause could use a visible and vocal crusader.

Ms. Crittenden is the author of "What our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes The Modern Woman." "Unprotected" is available for sale at the OpinionJournal bookstore here.

What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us
Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman



Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Effects of Traveling

Now, I am a huge fan of traveling and seeing the world, despite my limited travels. I have many friends whom I both respect and admire who also swear by traveling and seeing the world.

But two great men whom I hold in high regard say things to the contrary: GK Chesterton and Adam Smith.

"I have never managed to lose my conviction that travel narrows the mind." - What I Saw in America CW 21:37 GK Chesterton

Adam Smith mentions in the Wealth of Nations that parents send their children to study abroad when "they become tired of watching them deteriorate before their eyes and send them to deteriorate before someone else's"

I'm still pondering this disjunct. What are your thoughts?

Here are some further reflections on the topic that may answer the question, I think they do to my mind.

Two thoughts that might serve as an answer:

1) In Chesterton's essay "On certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family" he warns against travel as a means of escaping real life and the richnesses therein. I quote, "[the escapist traveler] can visit Venice because to him the Venetians are only Venetians; the people in his own street are men. He can stare at the Chinese because for him the Chinese are a passive thing to be stared at; if he stares at the old lady in the next garden she becomes active. He is forced to flee, in short, from the too stimulating society of his equals - of free men, perverse, personal, and deliberately different from himself... They do not seek to destroy his principles and assert their own; the stranger monsters of the suburban street do seek to do this." Thus, it seems as long as one is grappling with reality and the harshness on one's neighbor, travelling would merely help in the pursuit of that task. But you have to be careful that it is not an escape from the duty of living.

2) When in doubt refer to Hobbits; they are an everlasting wellspring of commonsense and wisdom. Most Hobbits did not see the need/reason/desire for travelling further than the bounds of their own Shire. Even Bree was a distance that only few Hobbits breached. However, that was one extreme in the story. The other extreme was Gandalf, the Wandering Wizard and while he is arguably the best character in the trilogy, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin feel almost sorry for him as he "has no place to rest his head." Indeed, one of the major differences between Saruman and Gandalf is their respect for the homely lifestyle of the Hobbits. I think the exemplar of the middle route (as well as many other elements in the story) is Sam. He loves home, deeply, and it is only love that can bring him to part with it. He is grounded in the domestic: gardening, beer, old men. At the same time he has a deep wonder of the outside world. He is not escaping from something at home; he (for love of Frodo) is exploring the wonders of the world in wonder while pursuing a specific task of great import. He learns to love the outside world as well, but only in juxtaposition to the inside world of the Shire that remains his deepest love. This, to me, is the real focus of travel, not only to have a sense of wonder in seeking out the richness and beauty of the world, but also to appreciate the home and the domestic that much more in contrast.