Archive for October, 2013


  • The maple tree on my route, which had been butchered last week, all its branches lobbed off, and which I had expected to be taken down, in fact remained standing until today, a huge, limbless thing, an obscenity. It seemed particularly blasphemous to cut this tree right as it began its autumn transformation, the Sugar Maple’s moment of glory. But today, the whole thing was down, leaving only a big stump. And the workmen began dissembling  the majestic black oak in the back yard. On Saturday I saw the owner and asked him why he was having all his trees destroyed. He said that they made his house so shady that it was mildewing, that his home was being ruined. I saw that his siding was, in fact, mildewed and that his roof had some greenish stuff on it. Thinking about it, though, I figure that this house is around forty years old, the trees well over a hundred. The cost of removing these huge trees must be considerable. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to just repair the siding and the roof? It probably would not cost more, and it would certainly last the rest of his life (he is sixty or so) and at least he wouldn’t be giving God the finger. To be merciful, the man lost his wife a year or so ago; he may be suffering pains that I cannot comprehend.
  • People keep telling me that I look young for sixty. Maybe, but when I look in the mirror I just think that I sure look old for me.
  • I have become increasingly socially awkward. The problem is that while I have never liked crowds, I do not now identify with any segment of the population enough to feel at home anywhere. That used to be the saving grace of socializing, the “Yay us!” moments. But these days Catholics drive me crazy, most of them, conservatives drive me crazy, liberals drive me crazy. The Orthodox, in the rare event that I find myself among them, also drive me crazy. And don’t even get me started on the evangelicals, let alone the fundamentalists. I fear I am becoming a crank. If I go to parties, even parties for my kids, I end up standing around alone and awkward, or at the very best making the smallest sort of small talk, bored out of my skull. Or I inadvertently say something that offends someone. I have some introverted friends who are braver than I, who never go anywhere, who don’t care if they are perceived as rude or snooty. I envy them, but am burdened by the weight of The Way I Was Raised, which is to be polite and friendly, however that goes against the grain.
  • I am at an age where a couple of times a year or so I hear that a friend from long ago has died. And so a few days ago, via a Facebook obituary, I learned that an old friend, Kevin Carpenter, had made his exit. While I always feel sad when I hear such news, Kevin’s death affected me deeply. I wondered at this, as while we shared a lot of time and altered states together when we were young, we were never really close; indeed, I don’t ever remember having a one-on-one serious conversation with him until a few years ago, when we reconnected on Facebook and sent several private messages back and forth. I realized that my reaction was tied to the fact that Kevin was four years my junior. While four years difference in age is meaningless now, when I was 18 or 20 it was a big deal. Kevin always hung around older people, and he assumed an air of serious coolness to make up for it. But I thought of him as a kid, and always felt protective of him, even when I was, technically, contributing to his delinquency. As with a lot of my hippie friends, I gradually lost touch with Kevin, at first because their excursions into harder drugs coincided with my spiritual quest, which culminated in an embrace of a sort of hippie pentecostalism. Unlike some of my Jesus Freak brothers, I did not write off my old friends, but as we had less and less in common we spent less time together, and when I left Michigan for the final time, in 1982, I lost contact with them. Then, a few years back, a young couple we know moved to the west coast and told me that if I signed up for Facebook I could see photos of their children. And so I did, and a few days later was greeted by a message from someone I had not heard from since high school. How he found me I have no idea; my name is not uncommon ( a quick white pages search show there are 777 people listed in the US named “Daniel Nichols”, which is a cool number) and I did not even have a FB profile photo of myself at that time. But find me he did, and through the ensuing network I quickly rediscovered a lot of people I thought were long gone, reduced to memory. Including Kevin. I learned that for him the wild child phase was not an adolescent moment, but a pattern for his life: he lived in a lot of places, travelled widely, never settled, and never married (though his obituary noted that “He enjoyed family, travel, golf, woodworking, and the company of women”). There are a lot of pictures on his Facebook page of him with small children, nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews. Somewhere along the line he picked up hepatitis B, which led to congestive heart failure. He told me, when we had reconnected, that the doctors nine years ago gave him one year to live, but that he had baffled them all and always rallied after a decline. He seemed to always land on his feet, and spent the final years of his life on Bainbridge Island, off the coast of Washington, living in a beautiful place, working on an organic farm, building greenhouses, and  surrounded by loving friends; he was immensely likable and made friends easily. Of course, he no longer looked like the long haired kid I knew when young; indeed he came to resemble the Dude from The Big Lebowski. In one of my many communications with him in recent years he responded to something overtly religious I had posted on FB. He said that he did not know if God existed, but that he had a deep reverence for the mystery of the universe. Like a lot of people who fancy themselves atheists or agnostics, he was rejecting, not so much God, as a primitive notion of God. He, in respecting the nameless Mystery, was closer to the mystics than those who think they are God Experts, and who are certain about everything about Him, the kind of people that Pope Francis says reduce faith to ideology. I am pretty sure that Kevin found mercy as he embarked into Mystery…So this song is for you, brother:


    Kevin in recent years…

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDIaVyXNR5Y
  • Kevin the Kid, circa 1973
  • Young Kevin, on right, around 73; Mike Middleton, on the left, died of cancer a few years back. Damn

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As a melancholic, “sad” is synonymous with “beautiful”. As I said, I have been listening to a lot of half-forgotten music on my newly-acquired car’s CD player. I grabbed this jewel, from 1978, the other morning. It is, in itself, a beautiful song, but much of its power is in the delivery; the late Stan Rogers’ evocative velvet baritone is devastating. This song brings tears to my eyes. And if you know a sadder song, I’d like to hear it…

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From the website...

Walsh University Presents Immaculee

Date(s): Nov. 1, 2013 | Nov. 2, 2013
Event Time: See Listing

Walsh University will host Immaculee Ilibagiza, Rwandan genocide survivor, at St.Paul Parish in North Canton. Join Immaculée for a powerful two day event. No one will leave this retreat the same as when they came.

Friday, November 1

3-4 p.m.  Registration and Gathering
4-7:30 p.m. Immaculee presents “Treasures of Our Faith”

Saturday, November 2

8:30 a.m.  Doors Open
9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.  Immaculee continues her talk on “Treasures of Our Faith” followed by a healing service with Fr. Ubald

Tickets are $57 per person. For more information, contact mromano@walsh.edu.

Note: Emphasis added. I have railed against this kind of thing enough that I am just going to let this stand as it is….

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The Heart of Francis


With all the consternation of traditionalist Catholics regarding Pope Francis, which I perhaps have not taken seriously enough, and even made light of, the following words may help us understand what he has been trying to teach us:

Christian morality is not a titanic effort of the will, the effort of someone who decides to be consistent and succeeds, a solitary challenge in the face of the world. No. Christian morality is simply a response. It is the heartfelt response to a surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy…. The surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy…of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. This is why the Christian conception of morality is a revolution; it is not a never falling down but an always getting up again.

–Pope Francis (when he was a cardinal; ht: Maclin Horton)

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A Prayer from Johnny Cash

I bought this album, Unchained, in the late 90s, and for some reason it did not make much of an impression; maybe it was on in the background or something. But as my recently acquired car has a CD player, I have been picking up things from the shelf to listen to, and this afternoon was blown away by this song, as raw and real as it comes….

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It may be a bit much to say that Bill Watterson’s comic strip Calvin and Hobbes is the greatest strip of all time; after all, the other contenders – Little Nemo, Pogo, Bloom County- are pretty formidable. But it is certainly up there, among the best ever. And the artist is that rare thing, a cantankerous man of integrity, who refused to cash in or sell out, and quit the strip before it became stale. He recently gave a rare interview to Mental Floss:

Where do you think the comic strip fits in today’s culture?
Personally, I like paper and ink better than glowing pixels, but to each his own. Obviously the role of comics is changing very fast. On the one hand, I don’t think comics have ever been more widely accepted or taken as seriously as they are now. On the other hand, the mass media is disintegrating, and audiences are atomizing. I suspect comics will have less widespread cultural impact and make a lot less money. I’m old enough to find all this unsettling, but the world moves on. All the new media will inevitably change the look, function, and maybe even the purpose of comics, but comics are vibrant and versatile, so I think they’ll continue to find relevance one way or another. But they definitely won’t be the same as what I grew up with.

Read the full text here: http://mentalfloss.com/article/53216/mental-floss-exclusive-our-interview-bill-watterson#ixzz2iaGvo7vN

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This is the award winning design for a public art project in Flint, Michigan, where I was born:

Oct eyesore 1

And this is how it turned out:

This seems a metaphor for so many human endeavors: the Workers’ Paradise, anyone? Or the Free Market as the harbinger of widespread prosperity and the  end of poverty (assuming that they really meant all that and it was not just a smokescreen for a get rich quick scheme)?

(Hat tip to James Howard Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month blog (http://kunstler.com/eyesore-of-the-month/october-2013) ).

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Autumnal Ephemera

  • The chimes that rang with no wind (see August 26 ’13 in the archives) are gone. I stopped on Saturday, when the owner was home, to ask him if he removed them because they were haunted. He said no, and was amused by my story. He just said that they kept him awake at night.
  • I have not painted in about two months. I figured I would have some time when I stayed home after Sam’s birth; I usually take two weeks off work,  and while the first is hectic, the second allows for some leisure. But becausePeach Tree (Autumn) – Van Goghthis birth was so intense and my bride so worn out not only did I end up taking a month off (with pay, thank God and the Union) but there was not a moment of rest. I had hoped to work on an icon I began ages ago today, my day off, but this fussy baby put a damper on that, and I ended up running the two homeschooled children up to North Canton to  a classical co-op they have been attending, and hanging out in the local library….
  • My recently acquired car -I hesitate to call something with 159,000 miles on it “new”- has a CD player, so I have been listening to some music I haven’t heard in years. And while I think Dylan, his voice having blown its last gasket years ago, has slipped into a rather formulaic mode -tight band, classic American music- I have a new appreciation for his early stuff, which was pretty breathtaking. And funny: there is a song on Bringing It All Back Home  called “On the Road Again”, that starts out “Woke up this morning there were frogs inside my socks” and has the great line “So they gave me brown rice, seaweed and a dirty hot dog”. Which is the photo I want to send to Rod Dreher’s blog, as he has asked readers to send him pictures of their dinner (!), which so far has resulted in a lot of intimate shots of bourgeois life…
  • So the Democrats are all breathless about Wendy Davis running for Texas governor? Listen, the woman made her name agitating for absolutely no restrictions on abortion at any stage. Polls show that most Americans reject that stance, feeling sympathy for babies when they start to look like babies (there is a reason that prolife groups generally show late-term fetuses). Getting all excited about someone that far from the mainstream is about as stupid as the Tea Partiers thinking that shutting down the government in a hissy fit was a good idea. Dumb Evil Party, meet Evil Dumb Party.
  • Speaking of prolifers, they need to change their tone. It is safe to say that absolutely no late term abortions are performed on a whim, because the mom suddenly decided that 6 or 8 months into the thing that she doesn’t want a baby. It is always serious: birth defects, or a prognosis of a short and painful life. That does not make it right, but to not acknowledge this makes one look callous and foolish. Similarly, early abortions are not a recreational activity. Few abortions are not accompanied by the tears of the mother. Prolifers who ignore this are not going to convince anyone of anything. Again, the fact that this “choice” is a painful one, not a casual one, does not make abortion right, but I have been increasingly finding “prolifers” annoying, and not just because of their inconsistencies in endorsing GOP social and foreign policy.

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Beer Inc Wants It All


Recent years have seen a phenomenal growth in what are called “craft beers”: small independent breweries brewing flavorful alternatives to the mainstream thin American lagers. New breweries are opening almost every day and craft beer now accounts for 6.5% of all beer sold in the US, and the number is growing.

Now, you would think that Big Beer; ie, Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors, would be content with over 90% of the market, but no. They want it all.

To that end Anheuser Busch purchased Goose Island in 2011. And Duvel, a Belgian megabrewer, recently purchased Boulevard Brewers, a craft brewery.

And they have been busy marketing their own “crafty” beers: Blue Moon, Leinenkugels, and Shock Top are all owned by the Big Brewers.

And more of the same is bound to follow as craft beers continue to grow. There will be other offers; Lauganita’s, a California brewer of fine beers, has said that Anheuser Busch has made overtures. They refused, but others may not be so principled. After all, to be offered a huge amount of money, so that one could, instead of having all the headaches of running a business, live without a care? That is a temptation that few of us will ever face. Not everyone is a Bill Watterson, you know.

The situation resembles the organic food movement in the eighties, when pure food  became popular. There were all sorts of organic companies, small and thriving. Then Big Food took notice, and today you may buy something with a poetic name that sounds like it was made by benevolent hippies, which at one time it no doubt was, but today is owned by Cargill or General Mills. Apparently few organic entrepreneurs could say no to the Offer You Can’t Refuse.

The term “capitalist pig” is an old one, viewed as over-the-top by most, but if you know anything about pigs it is pretty apt.

I know about pigs. I lived on a communal farm when I was a young man. Our cash crop was hogs. I have observed a group of pigs at a trough full of slop. One of them will be, well, hogging out and out of the corner of his eye will notice that the pig next to him is hogging out as well. And he will push the other pig out of the way to get his slop.

And so Big Beer is not content to own over 90% of the market. They, like the hog at the trough, want it all.

Let us hope that small brewers will possess the commitment to resist their attempts, to say no to corporate beer.

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Look, I’m not saying they are all wrong. Sometimes the best I can do is to recite the Litany of Peace from the Divine Liturgy (which happens to be a perfect prayer). It is just that they seem to totally miss Francis’ point, which it that prayer must be from the heart to truly be called prayer. Yes, of course, sometimes this can be so-called repetitive prayer.

After dealing with that, they broaden the discussion to include all the things that traditionalist and other conservative Catholics don’t like about Francis.

But then there is the delivery, which can only be called comic. It is really hard to believe that this is not caricature, a sort of Catholic Saturday Night Live.

And I say this fully cognitive of the fact that Mr Ferrera has been a faithful opponent of the libertarian/neocon attempt to hijack Catholic social teaching. It’s just that his other views are such a caricature.

At this point Matt and Ferrera are my favorite Catholic comedians.

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