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    Barzun
    July 30, 2014
    I bought this book when it came out: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun. I've never read it, primarily because it hasn't fit in with any of the projects I've worked on over the past couple of years, but the next couple of weeks promise to be filled with long hours at the office and a parade of social commitments. I doubt I'll have much of a chance to work on anything worthwhile, so I'm going to dive into Barzun's magnum opus during the month of August. We'll see how it goes.

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    GKC Wednesday
    Background: When I was the editor of Gilbert Magazine, I was responsible for the "Tremendous Trifles" column. It was occasionally hard to find a sufficient amount of interesting GKC material to fill the page, so John Peterson sent me a file full of Chesterton ancedotes. They were idiosyncratic, historical, and Chestertonian. He gave me permission to use them here. I hope y'all find them as interesting as I have over the years. Most of them have never been published. Chesterton Short(s) In his much discussed memoirs, Paul Johnson mentioned among notable messengers of the modern age, the reckless like Rimbaud and the thoughtful like Emerson, the sinners like Byron and the saints like Chesterton. The reader must judge whether Johnson is siding with Catholic proponents of Chesterton's canonization or merely restating the obvious finding that Chesterton was a good man. [The Quest for God, 1996, p. 80]

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    Meyers
    July 29, 2014
    A restaurant in New York has created the Rice Burger, which replaces normal burger buns with rice patties. The restaurant also replaces customers with empty chairs.

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    Letterman
    According to the Centers for Disease Control, the largest single transmission of deadly germs is a handshake. You're lucky, because the most popular form of greeting here in New York is the middle finger.

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    Montaigne and Our Silliness
    William James' stream of consciousness, that fundamental fact of our existence that cannot be stopped (we "think" like we breathe, not like we walk or fish or watch TV . . . thinking cannot be stopped) "explains without moralizing what that wonderful self-observer Montaigne found as the chief mark of man: he is [diverse and wandering], a creature of moods and changing views, not a passive recorder of the surrounding world but congenital 'perspectivist,' and thus easily thrown off in judgment, memory, and purpose--a specialist (as it were) in misunderstanding." Jacques Barzun, A Stroll with William James. I need to read more Montaigne. And more James and Barzun, for that matter, but especially Montaigne. His skepticism is so piercing, it gives a dose of humility to every person who has the self-honesty to apply Montaigne's observations to himself. I wonder: What did Montaigne do with that skepticism? I've never heard of him using it as a slide into nihilism. As far as I know, he simply used it to mock and observe, without building anything out of it. Now don't get me wrong: In a fallen world, especially a fallen world filled with people who don't appreciate their fallen place, the mocking observations play an important role. Such humor is its own good. But still, surely there some positive lessons you can draw from Montaigne's observation that man is existentially silly. Here are a few possibilities that occur to me: *Humility--deep but always available at the surface of our consciousness--ought to be the hallmark of our existence. *St. Therese's Little Way might be the only safe way, especially in the modern world. In the "old days," you stayed within the confines of your family and village. You kept on the ways of the straight and narrow because those were the only ways open to you. You may have been existentially silly, but the silliness wouldn't land you in too much trouble if you the modicum of humility to follow the prescriptive norms imparted by your place and time. In the modern world, there is no such natural straight and narrow, so your silly self is apt to flail away in all sorts of direction, thereby putting your silly self on display . . . and in peril. *The people who don't realize they're existentially silly are the ones to be distrusted the most. They fail to grasp the most fundamental element of their own existence and ought not to be trusted with anything at all . . . much less the reigns of governance. *We live in a culture of people who don't understand their existential silliness, and therefore we ought to distrust the culture.

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    Cracked Me Up

    Monday
    Miscellaneous Rambling The skies around Alpena were incessantly filled with the buzz of fighter jets, presumably coming from the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center. I've been vacationing in the same spot for 48 years and I never recall hearing so much activity, even in the summers leading up to the Iraqi wars. An occasional jet, yes, but these were multiple jets and incessant. I asked locals about it, and they confirmed that it's never been this bad before. Combine this with Madeleine Albright's observation yesterday, "To put it mildly, the world is a mess." You can reach your own speculative conclusions, but I'm concerned, especially since I lean far more heavily toward the peace position of our recent Popes than I did, say, 15 years ago. * * * * * * * Notwithstanding my moral objections to war, I support our troops. They're no more to blame for the wars than I am, and they're the ones bearing the brunt of the violence (heck, I'm not even inconvenienced by the fighting and, I suspect, my standard of living is higher because of it). That's why I think this commercial is pretty neat (even thought I detest Guinness). * * * * * * * Interesting health development: My knees have been bothering me for the past year or so, especially walking down steps. The mild pain had gotten so routine, I was used to stepping down gingerly and expecting pain. Then while on vacation, I attended three Masses and none of my spots had kneelers, so I had to kneel on the floor. It was uncomfortable, but I noticed right after kneeling that my knee pain disappeared and going down steps didn't bother me much at all. I'm now not using kneelers at church and am kneeling at home on days I don't go to church. I'll see if my knees continue to improve, though I can't imagine why a practice that would seem to damage my knees is, instead, helping them. * * * * * * * Coming up: Sales-Tax-Free Weekends. Go here to get details and see if your state participates (Michigan doesn't).

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    Sunday
    July 27, 2014
    I returned from my final vacation of the year. This was our annual excursion to Alpena, Michigan. Northern Michigan is one of the prettiest places on the planet during the summer and, though Alpena doesn't have all the natural beauty of the Lake Michigan coast and it's partly marred by industry, it's still a pretty place with two rivers winding through it and Lake Huron resting all along its east side. One of my sons has referred to it as a "paradise . . . three months out of the year."

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    Interesting
    July 26, 2014
    H.I.F. Here's President Obama on taxation:
    President Barack Obama has blasted American multinationals that move to Ireland to cut their tax bill. In his toughest comments yet on the subject, he accused big US corporations of trying to play “the system” by “magically becoming Irish” through so-called tax inversion deals. “I don't care if it's legal, it's wrong,” Mr Obama said. “It sticks you for the tab to make up for what they're stashing offshore.”
    Link. Here's Judge Learned Hand (probably the most-influential jurist in U.S. history among judges who never made it to the Supreme Court) on the subject:
    Over and over again courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one's affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant.
    I read the Hand quote back in law school. Apparently, they don't teach such things at Harvard Law School.

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    Friday
    July 25, 2014
    BYCU (Kinda) Even though I converted in 1991, which, I think, was the height of Mother Angelica's popularity, I never listened to her. Partly, it's because I rarely watched any TV back then, but partly out of arrogance. Mother Angelica, I vaguely felt, was for the Catholic pedestrians. Anyway, I regret that attitude now. I have taken to listening to her old shows on my iPhone. And, even though she's not a highfalutin thinker, she was clearly a wise and intelligent nun, with much to offer any person who sits on the wrong side of sainthood. I've enjoyed her enough to purchase Raymond Arroyo's biography of her. I primarily bought it because I wanted to read about the founding and building of EWTN, but reading about Mother Angelica's hard early life has proven interesting. And occasionally entertaining, like this passage about her when she was age six or so:
    Prohibition, which hit Canton on January 16, 1920, and would not be repealed until February 1933. Mother Angelica vividly recalled one event that happened in either 1929 or 1930. “I couldn’t have been more than four or five, and my grandfather didn’t want me in the saloon. He gave me a small mug of beer with a big collar on it. I had four or five pretzels, and he said, ‘Go outside and sit on the curb and enjoy yourself.’ So I’m out there on the curb drinking this beer and eating pretzels when the Salvation Army Band shows up. Well, they’re praying all kinds of psalms in front of me and praying for my salvation. They must have been shocked to see this kid drinking beer. I remember yelling up to my grandfather, ‘There’s a big band down here.

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    Thursday
    July 24, 2014
    From the Gardening Journals "[L]et us cultivate our garden." That's how Voltaire ends his novella, Candide. It's great advice. It's one of smallness and resignation. But academics argue that, instead of a peaceful resignation, Voltaire was instead using "gardening" as a metaphor for improving the world. That kind of interpretation strikes me as absurd, but I'm no Voltaire scholar, nor do I want to be. I mean, heck, the guy supposedly once engaged in anal intercourse with another guy in order to see what it was like. When his partner eagerly suggested later that they do it again, Voltaire declined, saying, "Once, a philosopher. Twice, a sodomite." That line is pretty funny, but the background hugely gross, hence my lack of eagerness to study Voltaire and form an educated opinion about whether Candide suggested that people cultivate their garden literally or "cultivate the garden of the world" (metaphorically). Though it seems worth nothing that Voltaire himself was, literally, a gardener. I've adopted the literal meaning of Candide's words. The world hasn't been cruel to me like it was to Candide. Far from it. But I'm increasingly living in a world that makes no sense to me, and I'm done trying to figure it out. Political discourse rarely interests me. Hollywood gossip bores me. Sporting events hold my attention as well as any pop culture occasion, but when I see the monstrosity that has become athletics, the entire arena baffles me, prompting me to go into shutdown mode, unable to muster much excitement. New technology is awfully cool, but the constant tinkering of the Apple nerds frustrates me. The stock market has become a fool's game that no one can figure out, with strong evidence that it's rigged ("flash crash" What the hell!?). Popular economics is driven by belief that printing money produces prosperity, yet not a single popular journalist asks the obvious question: "Then why don't we print a bunch of money and eliminate poverty?" Newspapers can't be trusted: Whether they're covering up for Tiger Woods or neglecting to ask basic questions about Manti Te'o or engaging in gross misconduct (the apple alar scare) or simply regurgitating what they've heard or publishing articles written by a 24-year-old with an attitude, it's almost all junk and can't be trusted. Then there's the garden. My plot of land, my efforts, my food. I can touch it, I can pick it, I can trust it. I can't touch my money in a mutual fund statement, and I can't even get it without giving 72 hours notice, and I can't even know for sure that it's there. Just ask the Madoff investors. In the garden, I am reduced to my proper size. I can sense (touch, see, smell) as much as is proper to my station in life as a man: a single unit in a large world that escapes my grasp. "Let us cultivate our gardens." Wise words indeed, even if spoken by a borderline sodomite.

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    Wednesday
    July 23, 2014
    Background: When I was the editor of Gilbert Magazine, I was responsible for the "Tremendous Trifles" column. It was occasionally hard to find a sufficient amount of interesting GKC material to fill the page, so John Peterson sent me a file full of Chesterton ancedotes. They were idiosyncratic, historical, and Chestertonian. He gave me permission to use them here. I hope y'all find them as interesting as I have over the years. Most of them have never been published. Chesterton Short(s) In a letter dated August 4, 1928, the Irish playwright Sean O'Casey mentioned the manuscript of a play written by G.K. Chesterton, with the title Tragic Women. According to O'Casey the play was written as a joke for some outfit called the Beaconsfield Club. The manuscript is undoubtedly lost or it would have landed in the nets of Denis Conlin, whose tireless research has provided the Chesterton Quarterly and The Collected Works with so many similarly obscure Chesterton writings. [The Letters of Sean O'Casey, 1910--41, New York: Macmillan, 1975, p. 302]

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