Saturday, September 29, 2007

OH JULIET. The caption below this picture--not the one superimposed on it--is, like, my new motto.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

WHY HELLO THERE. I will be in New Haven 10/21/07-10/29/07. If you're in that area, and think you can pull together some kind of thing where I speak (about the stuff in my Commonweal piece, I think), drop me an email.... I promise I won't cuss a lot.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Looking for a unique opportunity to serve your community on Capitol Hill? The Capitol Hill Pregnancy Center is training new volunteers for 6 weeks starting Saturday, Oct. 20 from 9am to noon. If you or a friend feel called to this ministry or would like more information, please call Ann Wink at 202-546-1018 or

This is the center where I volunteer. It's a really great place; if you've been thinking you need some more corporal and spiritual works of mercy in your life, you might consider it.

an article I wrote about CHPC

"Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me."
--Matthew 18:5

Friday, September 21, 2007

The blogwatch is not over yet.
The blogwatch is not over yet.

Uh, I really do have stuff to say, I promise. Sometime this weekend, I'll post about The Plague aka the best book I've read so far this year, and also put up a slew of movie reviews. I may also ramble a bit about Pier Vittorio Tondelli and some other authors. Oh, and there will be another stock-and-soup adventure!

But for tonight, this is all you get. (And next week will be very hectic for me--which will either mean lots of blogging fueled by caffeine and adrenaline, or an acute lack of blogging fueled by ambition, distraction, and fainting in coils.)

Cinecon has moved. Find it here, with a whole passel of reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival.

Jimmy Akin interviews Tim Powers about Three Days to Never. (!) Via Mark Shea. ...Wait wait, Powers has a voodoo novel?? WANT.

Millinerd has been added to the blogroll. This is neither a nerdy hatmaker nor one-thousandth of a nerd, but rather, a blog on matters spiritual, aesthetic, historical, and theological. Not necessarily in that order. Try this thing about "spicy saints" to see if you want more.

Paleo-Future: "Similar notions were apparently the main themes of the Century of Progress International Exposition held in Chicago in 1933. ...Upon entering the Hall of Science, one was confronted by a large sculptural group featuring a life-sized man and woman, their 'hands outstretched as if in fear or ignorance.' Between this couple stood a giant angular robot almost twice their size, bending down, with a metallic arm 'thrown reassuringly around each.' The visitor to the fair need not have searched far for the meaning of this image. It could be found in the Exposition motto: SCIENCE FINDS - INDUSTRY APPLIES - MAN CONFORMS."

The Corner: "But if we overly advantage unchosen obligations (taking as a decisive feature of our place in society, say, not only the fact that we are all born into families but the fact that some are born to the rich and powerful and others not) we run the risk of institutionalizing injustice. So modern liberalism has sought to deny the significance of unchosen obligations, inventing for itself a creation myth by which all human relations result from an original (contractual) choice in some state of nature, which would make only chosen obligations legitimate ones. This has done a lot of good, but it doesn’t change the fact that some of our most important obligations—particularly those in the family—remain unchosen yet binding and essential." (more--really good stuff)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

BECKETT FOR BABIES. Stimulate your infant’s intellectual development with Beckett for Babies, an introduction to some of the most important – and most difficult – literature of the twentieth century. Via About Last Night.
I'll be gone
in a blog or watch...

Colby Cosh: "one of history’s most poignant gestures of friendship"

Scans Daily: "With a white lily in my hand, I will kick your arse!" (You know, I seem to recall an incident in the Ellmann biography much like this one, only it took place at Oxford.) Via Journalista.

Sean Collins: David Bowie sketchbook. (Which David Bowie are you?)

Also, does this mean we have to start doing philosophy again??
I'M SURE there was totally a reason for the diaper, here, and it wasn't in any way the result of a desire to degrade and humiliate someone because people thought they could get away with it. Likewise the beating, cursing, and assorted justice. Would've all been fine if they'd gotten the right guy, you know.

(Via The Agitator. And I feel like I should add sarcasm tags, in case this is somebody's first time reading the blog....)

relevant link
"What did you think of Paneloux's sermon, Doctor?"

The question was asked in a quite ordinary, tone, and Rieux answered in the same tone.

"I've seen too much of hospitals to relish any idea of collective punishment. But, as you know, Christians sometimes say that sort of thing without really thinking it. They're better than they seem."
--Albert Camus, The Plague

Monday, September 17, 2007

KITCHEN ADVENTURES: TRAYF! ...Okay, only the actual cheeseburger was trayf, and I'm not going to tell you how to make a cheeseburger. But here are two new things I've made in the past couple days.

A thing to eat with your cheeseburger: Chop up some heirloom tomato* and jalapeno. Saute it in the pan with your burger. (Obviously, this won't work if you have a grill, rather than a studio-apartment kitchenette; in that case, I guess saute the vegs in olive oil rather than yummy yummy beef fat.) Season with black pepper, a dash or two of cinnamon, and some cumin. You can put it on the burger or whatever.

This was really delicious--dark, rich, only a little bit sweet. I don't cook meat very often, but I'll definitely break this out the next time I make cheeseburgers.

* I'm sure you could use regular tomatoes--I only used a big, greeny-red heirloom one because it was on sale--but I think using the spiffier tomato did help the flavor. There was a really neat, unexpected aroma and hint of almost a butternut squash or even pumpkin flavor. Very subtle, and you wouldn't think that would work with the burger, but it completely did. I'm assuming the cinnamon brought out that aspect of the tomato.

Bombay-Style French Toast Sandwich: The idea for the toast comes from the "TWOP Chef" forum at Television w/o Pity; the sandwich thing was just me in a sandwich mood.

Break an egg into a dish, finely dice maybe 1/3 to 1/2 a jalapeno and add it to the egg, add some milk, and season with curry powder (and again, a dash of cinnamon, because I'm slightly obsessed). The TWOP Chef recipe also had onion in the egg mixture, but I left that out because there would be an onion in the sandwich filling. Anyway, mix this stuff up with a fork until it's all mixed together. Soak two slices of bread in the mixture.

Melt a big hunk of butter in a pan. Fry the eggy bread in the butter (and dump the leftover mixture on top), turning as necessary. Top one slice with a thick slice of tomato (I used the same heirloom tomato, but it didn't seem to make any difference in this dish), a slice of sweet onion, and a slice of munster cheese, then put the other bread slice on top. Cookity cookity cookity until cheese is melted. Eat with your hands if no one is watching.

the verdict: This was serviceable. I liked the savory french toastiness of it. I still haven't learned to make french toast as well as my mom does, though; and because the toast was so flavorful and hot, the filling inside tasted kind of bland and didn't add anything to the dish. So while I'll make the Bombay-style french toast again, I don't think I'll do it in sandwich form.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


The basic thing to know about this movie is that it's Braveheart for people who respect Oscar Romero more than they do William Wallace.

Into which demographic I gratefully leap! No joke--Braveheart for pinko pacifists is twenty times better than Braveheart for Braveheart fans.

...But that doesn't make it a good movie, you know.

I think probably it's impossible to make a movie about Oscar Romero that I would dislike. But oh Lord, this movie came close! There were absolutely beautiful moments: I remember especially the little girl ringing the church bell. Every moment involving the Eucharist (and there were a lot) was amazing, just literally breathtaking.

But it should be said that you could walk away from Romero thinking that a) Communist nations were renowned for freedom of religion (I am not making that up!), b) poor people do better under Communism than under capitalism, and c) Christian movies are propaganda. Romero chose the easy way of "moral complexity" in which the good guys are complex because they doubt themselves, whereas the bad guys are... kitten-kickin' villains who use words like "capital" and "penetrate."

At one point the movie-Romero gave a radio speech in which he transformed the idea of "liberation theology"--he said that what we need to seek, as Christians, is "liberation and redemption." I thought that was amazing, totally powerful, and maybe you all can help me: How does the concept of redemption play out in "liberation theology"? It seemed, in the movie, as if Romero were taking what was real and true in liberation theology, and yet rejecting what was false in it, its attempt to build the Kingdom in this world through Marxist violence. And "redemption theology" seems less likely--to me--to fall into that trap. Do you all have comments?
Rockefeller's not for me--
He's not for the GOP!
He is for the welfare state.
He has had more than one mate.
Rockefeller's not for me--
He would rather feel happy!
--to the tune of "Rock of Ages" or "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

BY THE SHORES OF SANS-SOUCI: A few years ago, I re-read The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues, a kids' book by Ellen Raskin (The Westing Game). TTP&OC was even better than I'd remembered it--funny and poignant, a puzzlebook with a compassionate heart. This past week I revisited another Raskin book, Figgs & Phantoms, which I'd remembered as being the best thing I'd read by her.

It really isn't. I know why I thought so: Figgs & Phantoms picks up on some of my besetting obsessions. It's the story of sullen adolescent Mona, whose beloved uncle is dying; both Mona and her uncle are part of a family with its own religious cult, in which, when a Figg family member dies, he goes not to heaven but to a place called Capri.

I'd actually misremembered the title as All Figgs Go to Capri--and the image, the idea of Capri, is why I remembered the book so fondly. It's an elusive place. Even the Figgs who believe in its existence disagree on how to reach it and what it's like. This idea of the longed-for place that feels somehow achingly familiar, even though you know you've never been there, is entirely compelling to me; and, like the Figgs, I often associate it with the sea, the endless waves against the sand. "Capri" makes me think of the Dante Rossetti poem:
I have been here before
But when or how I cannot tell;
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

So the idea of Capri, and also Mona's choking, distorting, self-centered grief, were very powerful to me. But Figgs & Phantoms is very uneven in tone--I didn't think it handled the mix of picture-book humor (people with Funny Names and Quirky Habits) and poignance nearly as well as The Tattooed Potato did. The quirkiness felt studied and annoying.

There's also a strong authorial hand pushing everyone toward happiness--"everybody should be happy, and you should let them be happy" seemed like a big theme. This struck me as too easy, especially since in the world Ellen Raskin didn't write, people's happinesses so often conflict. I would rather read about a world in which at least some people, in some situations, do have to accept unhappiness gracefully, and everything doesn't work out perfectly. That's the world of The Tattooed Potato; which I definitely do recommend.

My vision:
It was night. I was lost. Then I saw the tree that grows wild and free welcoming me with open arms.
It whispered a name:

FIRST NYTIMES STORY ON 9/11, via About Last Night.
This is not the place to enlarge upon the sensations of a man who feels for the first time a ship move under his feet to his own independent word. In my case they were not unalloyed. I was not wholly alone with my command; for there was that stranger in my cabin.
--Joseph Conrad, "The Secret Sharer"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Thursday, September 06, 2007


But first, Lemon-Roasted Spicy Carrots. The minor goals of this dish were 1) to cook carrots without peeling them (peeling is my absolute, no-holds-barred least favorite kitchen task), and 2) to use a lemon I bought for reasons which now escape me.

I turned the oven to 375, lined a baking tray with tinfoil, chopped off the greenery and the scrubby little tips of the carrots, and washed them intensely under hot water. Then I sliced the lemon and laid out the slices on the tray. The carrots went on top of the lemon slices, where they were doused with cayenne, cumin, and black pepper. (I wasn't thinking clearly--should've also used some curry powder.) Then they were rubbed with olive oil and the tray went in the oven.

I'm not entirely sure how long I roasted them--maybe 20 minutes, stirring twice? I basically just listened to their sizzling and that bizarre scree noise roasting vegetables sometimes make, and sniffed the air, and occasionally checked up on their color, softness, and taste. When they were done, their skins had shriveled a bit, and taken on a slight and alluring gloss. The lemons were blackened; I lifted the carrots off them with a spatula and put them in a dish.

The verdict: Not the prettiest dish I've ever cooked, but very tasty! A subtle but distinct lemon taste, not obtrusive. I was really happy with this.

And then! I made my first foray into the wild world of STOCK. Just saying the word makes me feel more competent!

Lemon-Carrot Stock. This was ridiculously easy. Just dump all the kitchen flotsam from the dish above (the green carrot tops, the carrot bits and bobs, the lemon peels and blackened lemon slices) into a small pot. Chuck in a few bay leaves. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 40 minutes. Put a Tupperware knockoff under the colander and pour the stock in; discard whatever the colander catches. You should have a savory, lemony broth. Put it in the fridge overnight, so that tomorrow you can have...

...Carrot & Tomato Soup with Fusilli. This was a tad bit more labor-intensive than I'd expected, but it was also incredibly tasty.

Basically, I roasted carrots for ten minutes using the same technique as before (except with curry powder as well as the other spices this time). Then I set water boiling, stirred the carrots, and put them back in the oven. When the water boiled I put the fusilli in and stirred the carrots again--possibly this is when I decided they were ready? Or maybe I gave them another five or six minutes? Not sure.

Anyway, while the pasta was cooking, I chopped a tomato. Eventually I also chopped the roasted carrots. I sauteed those in a little olive oil briefly, with some more spices, until they were all sizzly-bubbly, and then began to add the stock. Basically, I just added stock until it seemed "about right."

When the pasta was still very firm--like, about two minutes before what I would consider al dente--I drained it, and kept it aside while I futzed with the soup, getting it to bubble and cook. (At this point I also toasted a couple slices of bread; I wanted buttered toast to dip into the soup and soak up the broth. I did that, and it was delicious, but it was also unnecessary--the broth is rich enough to stand on its own, and the pasta gives the dish enough starch. The toast felt like overdoing it.) Once the soup was bubbly, I put the fusilli in, added more stock, and cooked until the pasta was just past al dente.

Then poured out the soup into a bowl, and topped with parmesan cheese. (I used Sargento's parmesan blend, but I don't recommend that--their Mexican cheese blend is fantastic, but the parmesan blend has a blandly processed taste rather than the addictive, focus-group processed awesomeness of the Mexican blend.) The parmesan starts to melt into the soup as you say grace!

The verdict: Totally delectable. A hearty but not overwhelming soup. You could throw some roasted corn in there, maybe cooked potato chunks instead of the pasta; or you could take it in another direction, add a jalapeno and chop up some cilantro on top. ...The lemon taste is very subtle here--I thought I did catch it, but it's very light.

Monday, September 03, 2007

THE WELL-TEMPERED CAIPIRINHA: I don't know enough about either Bach or Brazilian music to give a good description of it, but Heitor Villa-Lobos's blend of the two is really fantastic. This is the CD I'm listening to, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It looks like Amazon will let you listen to snippets--go! go now!
Your blog is as mean as your watch has been...

About Last Night: Wisdom from... Colette! (RATTUS--click there!)

Mumpsimus: What descriptive passages (can) do in fantasy writing.

Rattus: Post-dominoital tristesse. (If St Therese had written about Domino Rally, rather than about her jam sandwich, would I have considered it profound rather than a bit precious? And if so, what does this say about me, really?)
ROMERO THIS FRIDAY IN D.C.: This Friday, 9/7, Romero will be showing at 7 pm in the North Conference Room of St Matthew's Cathedral (at 17th St and Rhode Island, NW, about two or three blocks from the Dupont Circle metro south exit).

Words fail to express how much I will be there. I have stared for too long at this movie's "release date: Unknown" stamp on my Netflix queue! If you're in DC, you should come too....
"What are all these leaflets headed F.P., with a hammer, pen, and torch, crossed? What does it mean, this F.P.?" Mr. Verloc approached the imposing writing-table.

"The Future of the Proletariat. It's a society," he explained, standing ponderously by the side of the armchair, "not anarchist in principle, but open to all shades of revolutionary opinion."
--Joseph Conrad, The Secret Agent

Saturday, September 01, 2007

MAURICE BELLIERE IS ME/SAINT TERESA YOU'LL NEVER BE: Recently finished Patrick Ahern's Maurice and Therese: The Story of a Love, reprinting and discussing the correspondence between St Therese of Lisieux and a young seminarian/missionary. (Alternate title for this post, credited to a friend of mine: "This is a toast to St Therese of Lisieux; and for all you pagans, it's also a toast to beautiful women.")

I... don't have a lot to say about this book. Ahern's chewing over the cud of the letters gets tiresome, but it's written with a surprising degree of suspense. I was most struck by the "Diana Vaughan" incident, and the public humiliation and private desolation Therese suffered as a result. And also, of course, by the astonishing good work done by people who often don't know what they're doing, and live in terribly straitened circumstances.

Therese's doubts and fears make me wonder why her namesake's desert of the heart was any kind of news.

Once again, with this book I proved that I am no good at Carmelites. This was recommended as a picture of friendship very different from that presented by St Aelred in Spiritual Friendship; and so I should say that his depiction of friendship feels much more like mine than the depiction in Maurice and Therese. (Although Alice von Hildebrand's--and Augustine's--are closer yet.) I can "get" how to apply Aelred to daily life in a way that I find more difficult with Therese's spirituality. I just don't understand that spirituality; it feels deeply alien (and sometimes twee or sentimental) to me. There are two possible responses to this realization: I could find a different approach that speaks more intelligibly to me, or I could learn more about the Carmelite approach. As usual with Catholics, I think the answer is likely both/and.
ALL THE LAZY DYKES: How is it that Morrissey's 2004 album with the self-parodic song titles is relatively awful (yes, there are lovely bits of "Irish Blood, English Heart," "The First of the Gang to Die," and "I Like You," but really, the guy's incapable of making an entirely horrible album even when he decides to treat each song like a theopolitical Speak-'n'-Spell)... and yet his 2006 album with the self-parodic song titles is amazing?

Seriously, I would love an algorithm for predicting which Moz albums are worth buying. Ringleader of the Tormentors has the only solo Moz song I think might beat anything the Smiths ever did ("You Have Killed Me") and the rest of it is very, very good, swinging and funny and poignant, full of self-overhearing and dance tunes.

Meanwhile Southpaw Grammar is... okay? and You Are the Quarry is just not good. LOL SELF-PITYING. Not even Morrissey--not even Shakespeare!--can get away with a song reprising the... unique Shakespearean passage about "Richard is Richard; that is, I am I."

The two best-ofs I've got, Suedehead and World of Morrissey, are both terrific, though--and Suedehead is the only place I've found "Interlude" (possibly my favorite pop song in the history of ever, a Siouxsie/Morrissey duet) on CD, while World of Morrissey has a cover of "Moon River" and thus wins at life.

But yeah--eschew You Are the Quarry, pursue Ringleader of the Tormentors. You can thank me later.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind—and it is the intention of the Manhattan Institution's Center for the American University (CAU) to give Bloom's work the re-examination it deserves.

On October 3rd, we will be hosting a commemorative conference entitled, "The American Mind: Opening or Closing?", in which various scholars will give their views on this subject. However, the future of the American University depends not only on professors, but also on thoughtful undergraduate and graduate students. For this reason, we have established the Bloom Essay Contest to hear student's views. We invite students to submit essays of 1,500 - 2,000 words on Bloom's work and its relevance today. Of the essays submitted, a winner will be selected and awarded a $1000 cash prize.

more (essays due 9/19/07)

Closing is one of the few books I've re-read several times since freshman year. It was genuinely (and very much against my inclination!) amazing.

If you think you know what it's about, but you haven't read it, I can almost guarantee you're wrong; I'd class it with Donna Tartt's Secret History and Maggie Gallagher's Enemies of Eros, not with [stuff] like Tenured Radicals. Over the years it's helped me understand John Paul II's personalism (my post on "the nuptial meaning of the mind" was Bloom-influenced) and obviously influenced my senior essay on eros in Nietzsche.

Ridiculously Bloomian things I wrote in college: "Democracy and Poetry" (a.k.a. All These Useless Semicolons); "Those Are Pearls That Were His Eyes" (eros and education--much much shorter). These are miserably undergraduate in every respect, but I can't help feeling fond of them, and perhaps posting them will increase my humility. The cicada shouldn't be too ashamed of its brown locust-shell, lest it get above itself.

Anyway, I'd be shocked if an essay endorsing my take on Bloom came anywhere near that thousand-dollar prize. I tend to think that Closing, like Reflections on the Revolution in France, is a book both knit to its political moment and valuable primarily for its insights into pre-political matters of aesthetics and love.

But I won't be able to forget that Bloom anecdote I heard first in the New York Times Book Review--"Returning to lecture at Cornell University after 20 years, Allan Bloom tells us, he was faced with a student banner--a bedsheet unfurled that read, 'Great Sex is better than Great Books.' 'Sure,' retorts Bloom, 'but you can't have one without the other.'"
And a blogwatch unemployed
Is nobody's fool...

Alias Clio: Drinkin' styles, by country. (Drinkin' in bars, anyway.) Americans, in this as in so much else, are more like Russians than like Canadians.

Golden Age Comic Book Stories: Amazing, creepy, surreal illustrations for Goethe's Faust. Seriously, these are fantastic. Via Journalista.

Hit & Run: "...But as Maia notes, even people who claim to champion a disease model seem ambivalent about it: Can you think of any other disease for which the most widely accepted treatment involves asking the patient to surrender himself to a 'higher power' and make amends for the wrongs he's done as a result of his illness? ...As with anyone in trouble, the moral evaluation hinges on the specifics of the individual's situation, including disadvantages that are beyond his control and the extent to which he has hurt other people. Drug addiction should be seen as part of the continuum of human behavior, not as a special case in which all-powerful chemicals take control of people and dictate their actions."

Shaenon Garrity: Edward Gorey does "The Trouble with Tribbles." If you know the meaning of that sentence, YOU MUST CLICK HERE NOW. This immense awesomeness brought to you by Journalista.
Indeed, Dylan Thomas himself--not that he was noted for regular jobs--said this; you can't write more than two hours a day and after that what do you do? Probably get into trouble.
--Observer interview with Philip Larkin, 1979