Archive for July, 2005

Guilty Pleasures

This one is just for fun.

What things musical, cultural or culinary do you enjoy, which have little or no redeeming value, or which run contrary to your principles?

I am not talking about things which are objectively sinful; those are matters for your confessor, only about junk food of the soul or body, things which, while not in themselves evil, do not contribute to your sanctification, do not nurture your theosis.

Let me start.

My guilty pleasures:

Burt Bacharach music. What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love can bring tears to my eyes, probably because the local Top 40 radio station played it over and over in 1968 when Bobby Kennedy was killed. Even the schlocky stuff conjures up images of the mellow world of the sophisticated 60’s square, martini in hand. I also like other easy listening music, like Nat King Cole after he went pop, and Mel Torme.

The handful of 60’s existentialist Rolling Stones tunes: Paint it Black, Satisfaction, Get Off of My Cloud, Mother’s Little Helper, Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown. I’ve never been much of a Stones fan since, but boy did they capture urban alienation in those songs.

60’s psychedelic music: The Dead, Jefferson Airplane, pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd, Hendrix, The Byrds’ Notorious Byrds Brothers album, and the little known Millenium.

60’s hippie folk music: Donovan, the Incredible String Band, Nick Drake, Pearls Before Swine, Fairport Convention.

Post-punk 80’s music: Psychedelic Furs, X, early U2, Wire Train, Big Country.

90’s dreamy rock: the Cure, Catherine Wheel, Slowdive.

Wait, did I leave out the 70’s? You bet I did. Except for the early years of the decade, which really were still the 60’s, it was a musical wasteland.

Sentimental country music. Almost anything by Tom T. Hall, and about every song about betrayal or tragic death or one’s dear dead ma brings tears to my eyes.

Patriotic sentimental country music. There was a song out a year or so ago called Driving with Private Malone, I don’t know the artist, about a guy who buys an old classic car that was owned by a guy who died in Vietnam, and man, that song tears me up. (I am not counting the jingoistic country songs, ala America’s Gonna Kick Your Ass.)

Waitresses and nurses who call you "hon".

Heart-unfriendly Eastern European foods: Hungarian sausage, cabbage rolls, pierogis; a new taste acquired at Slavic church suppers. (Self interest dictates only occasional indulgence).

Cheese puffs. Hey, if I could afford the whole grain, organic parmesan ones, which must exist, I’d eat them. However I can’t, and the artificially orange ones make a great side dish to a turkey, sprout and avocado sandwich….

Cheap bourbon: Early Times, Heaven Hill, Evan Williams. I draw the line at Old Crow; can’t get past the name. I mean, what next?  Buzzard Pee?

Old TV shows from my childhood: Andy Griffith, Leave it to Beaver, the Rifleman, Bonanza.

Cowboy movies from the 40’s, 50’s, and early 60’s.

Dastardly Mash. What’s that, you say? Ben and Jerry’s sells several ice cream flavors in their stores that never make it to the grocery store. When I lived in Vermont, nearly twenty years ago, I would too regularly visit the original Ben and Jerry’s, in a converted gas station in downtown Burlington. There they sold Dastardly Mash: deep chocolate, raisins, pecans, almonds, chocolate chunks, and marshmallows. Thank God my time in Vermont was brief; if I had settled there I would be obese long ago.

Come to think of it, some of these pleasures are not so guilty. I can offer a pretty good defense for Nick Drake, Andy Griffith, and cabbage rolls.

Then there’s cheese puffs and Dastardly Mash….

So. What are your guilty pleasures?

Daniel Nichols

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Heat. Humidity. Sex.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the title, but the piece is perfectly safe reading.

Maclin Horton

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Cautious Optimism

UPDATE: Just as a reminder of what this is all about, the inimitable and indispensable Dawn Eden posts this nightmarish story. There’s plenty of room for argument about what one should be doing in this battle, but the one thing we can’t do is forget about it.


That’s my position on the Roberts nomination. As always, there is a fairly thorough discussion from many points of view at Open Book. I claim no great insight and no expertise at all, but it sounds to me that at a minimum there are grounds to hope that he will at least support moves toward more restrictions on abortion. And he seems to have clearer principles than people like Souter and O’Connor ever did, so maybe he won’t "grow" in the dreaded Washington sense–i.e., become more "liberal."

Certainly a lot of you will disagree with this assessment. Time will tell. But you know, if I had been an English king I probably would have been called "the Melancholy," so there’s something kind of squirrely going on when I find myself in the role of the more upbeat and optimistic person.

Maclin Horton

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To Pray As We Ought

On Sunday’s Epistle.

Maclin Horton

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I was able to catch the CNN (Paula Zahn) segment with Michael O’Brien and John Granger. Although as noted below I disagree with O’Brien on this particular question, I thought he acquitted himself very well. It was not, however, an effective TV performance–which is why I’m mentioning it. Of course nobody in his right mind expects a lot of depth from one of these TV "debates." But Granger seemed to be better suited or perhaps just better prepared to make the best of it.

That’s not particularly a compliment to Granger. He came across as a typical TV hawker of talking points: somewhat hyper, loud, seemingly intent on hammering on a few basic points. O’Brien was calm and seemed to be trying to speak carefully and coherently. You had the feeling that O’Brien’s mind was on the subject, not on his performance. And you could see Zahn was getting impatient with him. Which one would I have wanted to sit down and discuss the matter with? O’Brien. Who probably would be considered the "winner" in the face-off? Granger.

No wonder people can’t think straight anymore (or could they ever?). I am thinking of a couple of vulgar verbs with "TV" as the subject. In the interests of preserving a higher tone for this blog, I will forebear actually writing out the phrases here.

Maclin Horton

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Erstwhile Saviors

My pastor, who is a fine priest and whom I love dearly, in a homily a couple of weeks ago referred to the United States of America as the "greatest nation in the world." He did so in passing, while denouncing capital punishment: "even in this, the greatest nation in the world, we commit the atrocious sin of executing criminals."

As an aside, while I am against capital punishment, I find his vehement  opposition curious. He supports the war in Iraq, after all. How one can consider it an atrocity to execute convicted murderers while regarding the deaths of Iraqi civilians as acceptable "collateral damage" is beyond me. Even in killing enemy combatants we are most often killing some poor blighter uprooted from his dusty village by the local draft board, not a conscious and intentional murderer. In short, while I oppose executing criminals, it is pretty far down on my list of moral outrages.

But it was Father’s reference to the United States as the "greatest nation in the world," not his mention of the death penalty that caught my ear. I doubt the statement bothered anyone else in the congregation, aside from a young man who lives at the local Catholic Worker house. After all, we have heard the phrase since we were small children; it is a vital part of the American Creed.

But what could this statement possibly mean? Does the Christian who makes this claim suppose that this country has created a culture that uniquely glorifies God, that makes contemplation easier, virtue more readily attained? I trust this question answers itself.

Or is it claimed that America has achieved greatness in its religious art, architecture and music? While Americans have indeed created beautiful religious works, those works are in the end, aside from African-American spirituals, mostly derivative, most accurately European in style.

What then could he mean? Many will answer this by pointing to American religious freedom. While it is true that there is relative freedom of religion in this country, there is also a mostly unspoken understanding that this is to exist only in the private realm. In Poland, under communism, for example, public schools had crucifixes on classroom walls. Religious instruction took place within school walls. Try that in the most Catholic town in the U.S., in New Mexico, say, or Pennsylvania and see how much freedom we have.

It is similar with our other freedoms. Truly, there are many countries with fewer freedoms, and more egregious human rights violations, but it is also true that we are not unique in possessing the freedoms we have. ("America: not the worst country in the world"; now there’s a motto I could get behind.)

In fact, I can think of only one area where the U.S. possesses unrivaled greatness: that of raw military power. Surely the Christian cannot be affirming that it is in this that America’s status as "greatest" resides.

In saying all this I am not committing the opposite error, that of saying that America is uniquely evil, the worst nation on earth. While it is true that the U.S. is a great force for evil in the contemporary world, the largest exporter of weaponry, pornography, and a soul-killing popular culture, it is our military and economic power that permits this scale of evil, not some weird genetic predisposition to immorality.

Nor am I denying that is a good and natural thing to love one’s country. One can easily imagine an Irishman, or a Pole, or an Ethiopian holding that his is the most beautiful, or the dearest, or the most blessed country on earth. How comical it would be to hear him claim that it is the greatest.

Indeed, the notion that their nation is the greatest has existed in only a handful of peoples: the Romans, the Aztecs, the British, the Germans, the Russians. In each of these instances greatness has been perceived as bearing the obligation to carry its blessing to other peoples, by force if necessary.

If that sounds familiar it should: we 21st century Americans are in the grips of a messianic imperialism, the kind that has gripped segments of humanity from time to time.

And I fear we are in for the same kind of rude awakening as the other erstwhile saviors of mankind.

Daniel Nichols

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…is made by former CetT contributor Regina Doman in this Open Book posting .

If I may quote my own comment on one of several Open Book threads on this topic:

I’m willing to admit, if only for the sake of argument, that there’s
a legitimate abstract argument against the Potter books. And I have a
lot of respect for Michael O’Brien [another CetT contributor and a strong critic of the Harry Potter books]. But I just can’t see that these
books pose a serious danger.

This is subjective, and obviously I could be fooling myself, but I
think I have a reasonably good nose for the scent of sulfur and
brimstone, and I just don’t sense it in the Potter books. I can think
right off of two popular series that give off a far, far worse
spiritual odor: Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books and Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series….

Regina justifies, lucidly and in detail, my opinion. Go read, if the topic interests you.

UPDATE: for those who have cable TV, the Paula Zahn show tonight (Friday July 15) is titled, rather unpromisingly, "Pope vs. Potter". I wouldn’t suggest anyone bother watching it except that, according to Amy at Open Book, Michael O’Brien is going to be on. 8pm Eastern time, repeat at 2am Eastern.

By the way, I should say for the record that I don’t consider the Harry Potter books to be great literature, although they’re enjoyable. Having tried my hand at writing a fantasy novel myself, I have a lot of respect for anyone who can tell a good story.

Maclin Horton

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The Supreme Court vacancy finally gave me the motivation I needed to get this old essay of mine, Nothing at the Center, online. It’s about the metaphysical hole in the American scheme. That link is to my web site (it’s way too long for a blog post). I’ll also be putting it in the CeT archive in the next day or two, but I’m out of lunch hour.

Maclin Horton

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Actually a Sunday morning journal, with a Tuesday afternoon update.

Maclin Horton

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…I get it. I understand we are dependent on nature. I understand we’re a prideful civilization that thinks it can simply remake nature to suit us. I understand that we need reminders of this from time to time. Really, I do. I do.

Now please call off the hurricanes.

This is spooky. We’ve never had to worry about hurricanes this early in the year. Moreover, of the three named storms that have already hit, two came very near us, and this new one is presently headed straight for us.

Prayers appreciated.

Maclin Horton

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