Steven Riddle: October 2007 Archives

Hi All! I'm Back


And hope within a few days to have some reflections on books read, Fall in Virginia, and Samuel's theory about long distance work.

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A Temporary Possible Haitus

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Don't know what connectivity will be like over the next week or so as I venture into the hinterlands to visit relatives and take in a little autumnal color (if it still exists). If I'm not back in about 10 days, send out the search parties because the first recreation planned for our family group is a corn maze and pumpkin picking. I'm very dubious about this corn thing because after all if you've ever heard those weird noises it makes as it shoots up overnight.

Won't get as far as Ohio, but will be enjoying a long drive (I hope.) If all goes well will report as soon as connectivity is restored--perhaps tomorrow, perhaps later.

Please pray for us as we travel that the journey might be made in safety.

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My Next Book

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After having carefully assessed my opportunities and market needs, I've decided on my next book. It will be nonfiction and have a title and subtitle something like:

Aerophobics: The Easy Six* Step program to end your exercise addiction

*'cause let's face it, twelve steps is WAAAAAAY too many.

First chapter--Put Don't Those Weights and Pick Up That Remote--how to get over your fear of sitting still.

I'm still working on the rest of the program, but I expect it to crystalize shortly, I'll just sit here a while and keyboard about it--the extent of the aerobics for the day.

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Interesting. . .


I'm always interested with this sort of thing crops up. It seems to hearken atavistically to the days of pyromancy and scapulomancy and any other group of mancies you care to name.

In it I see the longing, the deep and abiding longing people have for a sign. As it was in the time of Jesus, and is now. "No sign shall be given you except the sign of Jonas." And that sign, descending into the belly of the beast to return to light once again, should be enough.

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Lest We Forget


The Feast Day of La Madre

"The Flaming Heart or the Life of the Glorious S. Teresa"
Richaard Crashaw

The flaming Heart. Upon the booke and picture of Teresa. As she is usually expressed with a Seraphim beside her

Well meaning Readers! you that come as Friends,
And catch the pretious name this piece pretends,
Make not so much hast to admire
That faire cheek't fallacie of fire.
That is a Seraphim they say,
And this the great Teresia.
Readers, be rul'd by me, and make,
Here a well plac't, and wise mistake.
You must transpose the picture quite,
And spell it wrong to reade it right;
Read Him for Her, and Her for Him,
And call the Saint, the Seraphim.
Painter, what dids't thou understand
To put her dart into his Hand?
See, even the yeares, and size of Him,
Shew this the Mother Seraphim.
This is the Mistresse Flame; and duteous hee
Her happier fire-works, here, comes down to see.
O most poore spirited of men!
Had thy cold Pencill kist her Pen
Thou coulds't not so unkindly err
To shew us this faint shade of Her.
Why man, this speakes pure mortall frame,
And mocks with Femall Frost Love's manly flame.
One would suspect thou mean'st to paint,
Some weake, inferior, Woman Saint.
But had thy pale-fac't purple tooke
Fire from the burning Cheekes of that bright booke,
Thou would'st on her have heap't up all
That could be form'd Seraphicall.
What e're this youth of fire wore faire,
Rosie Fingers, Radiant Haire,
Glowing cheekes, and glistring wings,
All those, faire and flagrant things,
But before All, that fierie Dart,
Had fill'd the Hand of this great Heart.
Do then as equall Right requires,
Since his the blushes be, and hers the fires,
Resume and rectifie they rude designe,
Undresse thy Seraphim into mine.
Redeeme this injury of thy art,
Give him the veyle, give her the Dart.
Give him the veyle, that he may cover,
The red cheekes of a rivall'd Lover;
Asham'd that our world now can show
Nests of new Seraphims here below.
Give her the dart, for it is she
(Faire youth) shoot's both thy shafts and thee.
Say, all ye wise and well pierc't Hearts
That live, and dye amids't Her darts,
What is't your tast-full spirits doe prove
In that rare Life of her, and Love?
Say and beare witnesse. Sends she not,
A Seraphim at every shot?
What Magazins of imortall armes there shine!
Heav'ns great Artillery in each Love-spun-line.
Give then the Dart to Her, who gives the Flame;
Give Him the veyle, who kindly takes the shame.
But if it be the frequent Fate
Of worst faults to be Fortunate;
If all's prescription; and proud wrong,
Hearkens not to an humble song;
For all the Gallantry of Him,
Give me the suff'ring Seraphim.
His be the bravery of all those Bright things,
The glowing cheekes, the glittering wings,
The Rosie hand, the Radiant Deart,
Leave her alone the flaming-Heart.
Leave her that, and thou shalt leave her,
Not one loose shaft, but loves whole quiver.
For in Love's field was never found,
A nobler Weapon than a wound.
Love's Passives, are the activ'st part,
The wounded is the wounding-heart.
O heart! the equall Poise, of Love's both Parts,
Big alike with wounds and Darts,
Live in thes conquering leaves; live all the same,
And walke through all tongues one triumphant flame.
Live here great heart; and Love, and dye, and kill,
And bleed, and wound, and yield, and conquer still.
Let this imortall Life, where e'er it comes,
Walke in a crowd of Loves, and Martyrdomes.
Let Mystick Deaths waite on't; and wise soules bee,
The love-slaine-witnesses, of the life of Thee.
O sweet incendiary! shew here thy art,
Upon this carcasse of a heard, cold, hart,
Let all thy scatter'd shafts of light, that play
Among the leaves of thy larg Books of day,
Combin'd against this Brest at once break in
And take away from me my self & sin,
This gratious Robbery shall thy bounty be;
And my best fortunes such fair spoiles of me.
O thou undanted daughter of desires!
By all thy dowr of Lights & Fires;
By all the eagle in thee, all the dove;
By all thy lives & deaths of love;
By thy larg draughts of intellectuall day,
And by thy thirsts of love more large then they;
By all thy brim-fill-d Bowles of feirce desire
By thy last Morning's draught of liquid fire;
By the full kingdome of that finall kisse
That seiz'd thy parting Soul, & seal'd thee his;
By all the heav'ns thou hast in him
(Fair sister of the Seraphim!)
By all of Him we have in Thee;
Leave nothing of my Self in me.
Let me so read thy life, that I
Untall all life of mine may dy.

I quote this a lot. Perhaps someday, I should turn my own ability (or lack thereof) to the subject and try to create something appropriate (and shorter).

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The Linnaean Flower-Clock


This link, sent by a fried (thanks FPJ) is really fascinating. When flowers bloom or close. Practical--not really--but interesting? Absolutely.

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Societas Scholasticorum


While it isn't in my line of things, this website generated by a group of DC area professors and students may be of interest to many readers.

I consider this kind of thing a really wonderful opportunity to those so inclined--for me it is a temptation to get wrapped up in my own intellect and spend all of my time perpetual gazing into the mirror of my own intellectual vanity (and believe me, I do too much of that as it is). So I have to stay away from such endeavors, even while heartily recommending them to those of firmer constitution than myself. Go and see if this is something that interests you and support them if so.


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The Thorn in the Flesh

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Reading Dark Night of the Soul one encounters a passage in which St. John of the Cross gives the fairly traditional view of St. Paul's "thorn in the flesh." During a recent community meeting, one of the community members asked me, "How did he (St. John of the Cross) know that St. Paul's thorn in the flesh was lust? I'd never heard that before."

I responded, perhaps vaguely, but appropriately, "Because he was male." The ambiguity here is which he I was referring to, but it works for both. St. John of the Cross understood because he was male, and the thorn in St. Paul's flesh being lust was perfectly understandable to any other male.

The human male is a very, very simple animal. If two simple needs/desires are satisfied (one of them is food), we tend to be a pretty contented lot. Upset the schedule of one or the other, we tend to get out of sorts.

Yes, it's a vast simplification, but when I think of the capital vices/capital sins and I look at much of human history and human legend, one crops up more often than any other, and it isn't pride. In fact, if one considers the idiotic things done in the name of "love," one can readily conclude that for most men pride takes a far distant second place to lust as the most common besetting sins. For example, Helen of Troy (admittedly legend), the rape of the Sabine women, the reign of Henry VIII, the reign of W J Clinton and role model JFK--the roll call goes on and on.

Judging by the state of society today, it is fairly evident that everything is set to keep that particular vice at a fever pitch. Now, this is not to say that the impulses in this direction cannot be subdued or with the aid of grace resisted. But one glance at the present state of society which, whether feminists like it or not, is a male-construct to which "liberated women" have foolishly consented in their desire to become more and more like men, shows the basis on which almost everything is done, sold, or considered. Again, I'll grant that it is a simplification, but there is an element of truth to it. That element is sometimes expressed in the outrage against celibacy and its native chastity. Some are outraged over the celibacy requirement, calling it unnatural, unrealistic, and gravely disordered. When I look at the same state, I do see something that is not natural--rather it is supernatural--a state exalted above that of most of us and preserved purely by grace. When a priest from time to time fails at maintaining this state of life, that too is likely in God's grace--a lesson in humility, because his fall is a matter of public notice. He cannot do what many in society do casually without causing scandal. But society at large is threatened by it because it is a sign that the thorn in the flesh can be removed or at least made subservient to the person who experiences it. Presently, one would think that the thorn was, in fact, the entire flesh and that such was a normative existence.

St.Anthony of the Desert heroically fought off the demons of lust throughout his time in the desert. St. Augustine, Blessed (?) Charles Foucault, and a great many others, perhaps many we do not know, spent a great deal of energy fighting those impulses that comprised for them "the thorn in the flesh."

In our conversation, I did go on to confide that I honestly didn't know what might form the most common or besetting sin among female kind. (Some women, exhibiting the need and desire to be more like men, have foolishly accepted the male vision of the world and see promiscuous and untethered sexual conduct as normative, rather than as the degrading objectification of persons that it actually is. Sexual congress outside of the sacrament of matrimony is sinful precisely because of its tendency to turn an person into a object. And, in fact, this can be a problem even within the sacramental union.)

Oh, and by the way, I still refuse to speculate. I'll tend my house, thank you, it's far more than I'm capable of on a day-to-day basis anyway.

Now, there is a theory that pride is more an ur-sin rather than a capital sin. That is pride is considered the source of all the other sins.

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Dangerous Lepers


Don't know where to classify this anecdote:

Yesterday in Church the Priest was reading the Gospel about the encounter Jesus had with the 10 lepers. He had no sooner finished the sentence regarding them than the little boy across the aisle, perhaps 5 or 6 years old, said, "10 Leopards?" in a voice loud enough for those nearby (and perhaps even at a distance) to hear him.

Mother was too busy laughing to be able to explain.

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but what the heck does global warming have to do with peace?

Every year the committee goes further out of its mind in following its insane and paranoid vision of world politics.

If they ever had one shred of validlity (for example when they nominated Mother Teresa of Calcutta) this undermines it all. Anyone less deserving than Al Gore of such a prize would be hard to imagine. I'm surprised it wasn't awarded posthumously to Saddam Hussein.

Such a blatant and obvious attempt to influence the American Political scene should be soundly repudiated by any person thinking properly.

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Very Cool-Must Have PT for All


Yep. That's right The Periodic Table as you've almost never seen it before. Take a look--photographs of elemental vanadium! In-depth exposes of the noble gases. Far more than you ever wanted to know about Yttrium and Cesium!

Pay close attention to the Kelvin slider for loads of fun with gaseous silver! ('long about 2440 K)

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On a Very Pleasant Note

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It is very satisfying to see someone as talented, capable, and interesting as Doris Lessing has actually attracted the Swedish Academy's attention. I guess I should note as well--how highly unusual.

I've always admired the contours of Ms. Lessing's fiction even when I haven't particularly cared for the story or the idea. A fine and interesting writer at all times.

Brava, Ms. Lessing, and well done academy (for a change).

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from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Barbara Kingsolver

In summer a young rooster's fancy turns to . . . how can I say this delicately? The most ham-fisted attempts at courtship I've ever had to watch. ( And yes, I'm including high school.) As predicted, half of Lily's chick crop was growing up to be male. This was dawning on everyone as the boys began to venture into mating experiments, climbing aboard the ladies sometimes backwards or perfectly sideways. The young hens shrugged them off and went on looking for bugs in the grass. But the three older hens, mature birds we'd had around awhile, did not suffer fools gladly. Emmy, an elderly Jersey Giant, behaved as any sensible grandmother would if a teenager approached her looking for action: she bit him on the head and chased him into a boxwood bush.

Ah, the ever-sensitive, ever-refined, ever-genteel male of the species.

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The New Woman


Okay. To start: Get it, read it, enjoy it!

Now the reasons:

Jon Hassler creates very real places. Take Jan Karon. Yank out a lot of the over-sentimental nonsense. Put in some hard-headed characters in need of some real redemption and work. Move it from the South to Minnesota. Make the main characters Catholic and show faith in real action and you have Jon Hassler's town of Staggerford.

Enter Agatha--main character for a good many of the Staggerford novels--now 87 and moving into an assisted living facility because of a mid-winter pipe-breaking trauma in her own house. Moving in and moving out. Living and loving and accessory to kidnapping, and you name it.

The novel reintroduces the reader (or introduces the reader) to the town of Staggerford and its many inhabitants--most of them not terribly eccentric or odd or notable for their tics and traits. Agatha, ex-principal of St. Isidore's Catholic School, unmarried and mentor to most, if not all of the town. John Beezer, the man who become attracted to the first person who says a kind word to him in new and unplesant circumstances. Lillian, Big Edna, Little Edna, and the entire panoply of those who gather in the support group started for her great-nephew who doesn't attend.

Warm and real and filled with gentle satire, real faith, real people, real incident, real sin, real repentance, real redemption, and real lack of redemption. Not everything works out to the good. Not everything works out for perfect happiness all around. Not everything is laced about with charm and beauty. Disinterments, disappointments, disillusionments, and unfortunately no disbarments.

Read it, and enjoy the simple prose and the real feeling of a small and simple town--complicated in its simple network of relationships and understandings. Jon Hassler has created a real place. Less visited perhaps than some better known, but equally worthy of our attention.

Get it! Read it! I'm certain you'll enjoy it.

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Angels Among Us

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I am going to say that Samuel is and has been an Angel. Not a particularly well-behaved, cute, or cherubic child, but an Angel. And most recently he was an Angel to us yesterday and I only began to have it dawn on me today.

Linda has been very, very hurt by a friend of some duration. Hurt in a way that may make the friendship beyond repair. She was confiding this to me at length as we were driving to Sam's dance class and I was supporting her fully in her resolve when, from the back seat come, "Didn't Jesus say to bless those who persecute you and to forgive them."

In typical adult fashion I explained that while we are called to forgive, we aren't called to stick around and be abused some more. That there was a difference between forgiveness and being a glutton for punishment. He responded, "I guess so." But the tone suggested that he didn't buy the argument.

And I realized this morning, that I shouldn't buy it either. That forgiveness demanded of us, particularly in the case of long-term friends, demands that we keep at it, that we seek out love and offer love. We shouldn't stand for abuse, but that means not total withdrawal, but rather a measured response.

On the other hand, I'm not going to be the one to tell Linda. Right now, she just needs support in her feelings. She's got a good heart and she'll come around in time.

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Bewteen Truth and . . .


from Puragatorio
Dante, tr. John Ciardi

[Virgil speaking to Dante]

But save all questions of such consequence
till you meet her who will become your lamp
between the Truth and mere intelligence.

How many aspire to the Truth by means of human reason alone. And I don't refer to the scholastics or their followers but the benighted Dawkinses and Hitchenses of the world who claiming liberation from the hoary old ties that bind, bind us in new and more severe chains, because within these we could easily be cast into the Hell of our own making. Human intelligence is faulty and frankly, in my experience, often not much interested in the Truth so much as in making a display of itself for others to admire.

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At Home (or in Vegas) with Dante


from Purgatorio
Dante, tr. John Ciardi

The loser, when a game of dice is done,
remains behind reviewing every roll
sadly, and sadly wiser, and alone.

The crowd leaves with the winner: one behind
tugs at him, one ahead, one at his side--
all calling their long loyalty to his mind.

Not stopping, he hands out a coin or two
and those he has rewarded let him be.
So he fights off the crowd and pushes through.

Such was I then, turning my face now here,
now there, among that rout and promising
on every hand, till I at last fought clear. . . .

When I had won my way free of that press
of shades whose one prayer was that others pray
and so advance them toward their blessedness. . .

What Dante is promising is to remember those who approach him to those who love them back home and to remind all to pray for the poor souls in purgatory whose progress toward heaven is sped by the prayers of those in a state of grace. As we approach the days in which we recall the Saints and all the dead, Purgatorio is perfect reading--a reminder always to bear in mind those who suffer now for eventual glory. And a reminder to us to cut our suffering hereafter short by living a life that has as its goal an ever nearer approach to God in the life of this world.

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Rules of Engagement

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This is in response to something that I thought both sad and exemplary of poor form for a Christian critic.

There are only a few very good reason for conducting public criticism of an author's work. Most important of these is to inform the public about a work that is either exemplary of Christian and literary value or utterly detrimental to a person in a profound spiritual way. Another important reason for literary criticism is to allow a reader to better understand a work. A third is to express an opinion or recommendation on a work by an established author to give the reader some indication of its worthiness for taking up an extended period of time. For private critique you may add the betterment of the author to complete the task of a writer--instruction and correction. This last is NEVER a legitimate purpose of public criticism. Such work should be conducted privately ONLY and ONLY at the request of the individual. Following Updike's rule for criticism, even if one doesn't care for a work, the exposition of it should set forth all of its best points even as one's own opinion of its merits is made manifest. But once again, this is ONLY for those well-established in the field.

Another reason NOT to pursue criticism is to show how much one knows. Or, by far the worse crime, to attempt to profit from making others look bad--either by the work of criticism itself, or by making one's own work stand out from that of the riff-raff that is not worthy to stand nearby. It is very unappealing to watch a person show off their intellectual prowess at the expense of another. If this is the way to success, it were better not to succeed.

Young writers, writers just starting out, are prone to a great many errors and a tremendous arrogance regarding the work of others. When this arrogance expresses itself in launching full tilt at T.S. Eliot, William Butler Yeats, and William Wordsworth, it can be at once amusing, and a marvelous example, as one ages of youthful folly--the literary equivalent of those pictures most mothers have of naked babies on sheepskin rugs. The folly is the author's entirely and as Yeats, Eliot, and Wordsworth are unlikely to suffer any real harm at the hands of one so arrogant as to take them on, only the author is likely to suffer any consequences.

However, when an author takes on contemporaries, and particularly contemporaries who are just beginning to emerge into the writing world, there is only one conclusion one can draw from extensive negative public criticism. That is, of course, that the critic intends to profit from this by making his or her own work look good. This is absolutely unacceptable. One becomes the John McEnroe or Bobby Fisher of the literary world. One takes what one is not entitled to and profits thereby--the very definition of theft. By calumny and hurtful speech one is set in a better light--either with respect to one's own literary writing, or by the sparkle of one's wit and intellect. It is simply better to keep one's mouth shut and continue to produce one's own good work rather than seek to profit by the destruction of another.

So, the bottom line, one should not try to excuse the literary equivalent of chewing with the mouth open, by noting that it could improve the world for literature. Arnold wasn't able to accomplish this goal, Eliot didn't do it, Wilson didn't do it. How likely is it that some 20-something literary ingenue is likely to do so? And more importantly, who really gains thereby?

No, if the strong need to help make the world a better and safer place for literary endeavors manifests itself express it in one of two ways: write those better literary works and leave the "lesser lights" alone in their gloom; or offer to share insights with the author of the works in question--then do so privately. Public display of aggressive intellect is no more appealing than PDoA. The only poor light it casts is on its perpetrator.

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Too amusing to let pass, too lovely to leave alone.

from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Barbara Kingsolver

Like our friend David who meditates on Creation while cultivating, I fell luck to do work that lets me listen to distant thunder and watch a next of baby chickadees fledge from their hole in the fencepost into the cucumber patch. Even the smallest backyard garden offers emotional rewards in the domain of the little miracle. As a hobby, this one could be considered bird-watching with benefits.

Every gardener I know is a junkie for the experience of being out there in the mud and fresh green growth? Why? An astute therapist might diagnose us as codependent and sign us up to Tomato-Anon meetings. We love our gardens so much it hurts. . . ."

And what is more delightful is that she goes on to this point to say exactly how it hurts, and it isn't emotional--it is physical. And here we take a lesson in love--love isn't a feeling, it is an act of will. In the garden, it is the act of will that causes us to pull weeds when we'd rather just sit down somewhere. In the world, it is the act of will that sends us to the soup kitchens, or merely to the CCD classroom, when for all the world we'd rather be reading our newspaper or doing . . . anything.

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Other Reading

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In addition to the two that you hear much about here I have the following three on my stack and alternating:

Envious Casca Georgette Heyer--one of her mysteries, and while I'm not sure of its substance as a mystery, it is utterly delightful as a character study of some really unlikable people who Georgette teaches you to like--at a distance.

Come Be My Light Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. More from this later--tomorrow perhaps. Humility, patience, obedience--we don't begin to know the meanings of the words. And reading this book only scratches the surface of a real Saint. Obviously, I await the solemn declaration of the Church, not leaping ahead to conclusions, but one cannot help what one thinks in the matter--I am so blessed just to read about her. All of you should be as well--get this book and read it, enjoy it, learn to live by it. There is much here to instruct anyone who is serious about following God.

The New Woman Jon Hassler--a Staggerford Novel. Think Jan Karon, take away some of the saccharine, make it Catholic and cold, and you've got Jon Hassler's Minnesota--a land vaguely similar to the Lake Woebegone of Garrison Keillor, but with a distinctively Catholic bent. This is the book our small book group decided would be next on the list. (Even though all of us were also reading or rereading Ralph Nader's magnificent The Seventeen Traditions--another highly recommended read.

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No Rash Promises


Shall I make today about how much Kingsolver I may post.

As I have said continually--there is unquestionably a strong agenda behind this book, but Kingsolver writes with such aplomb, humor, grace, and to some extent, even humility that one is invited in, not scolded (although some passages particularly in the sidebars can take on that tone.) For all who would approach it, I simply give the warning. I am not a partisan of much of the agenda, but I find it very easy to overlook amidst the glories of some of the story.

from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Barbara Kingsolver

The steer that had contributed itself to the meatballs on our plates had missed the sign-up.* Everything else on the table was also a local product: the peas we'd just shelled, the salad picked ten minutes earlier, the strawberries from their daughter. I asked Elsie how much food the needed from outside the community. "Flour and sugar," she said, and then thought a bit. "Sometimes we'll buy pretzels, for a splurge."

It crossed my mind that the world's most efficient psychological evaluation would have just the one question: Define splurge. I wondered how many more years I'd have to stay off Belgian chocolate before I could attain Elsie's self-possession. I still wanted the moon, really--and I wanted it growing in my backyard.

When a narrative is peppered with such delightful personal asides, it is easier to take the main stream of the argument seriously--because one can see that the author does not take herself over-seriously. No dour, frowning, scolding, finger-shaking here--just story--how I did it, how you could do it, and why.

*The sign-up referred to is something that initially I had difficulty believing until my sister-in-law told my wife. It appears that the USDA for reasons known only to the bureaucracy has ordained in its wisdom that every chicken, cow, pig, duck, whatever found any any farm anywhere in the United States shall be fitted with an ID number and a GPS tag to be entered into the federal database of livestock. We've lived for centuries without knowing the whereabouts of every animal in the world, I wonder what emergency has ordained that we must know now. Refer back to Mark Twain--Ms. Kingsolver's farmer certainly does.

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The pre-Blessed Spirits


One of the truly wonderful things about Purgatorio is that Dante over and over again affirms that these souls who arrive on the shore of the island of Purgatory are already blessed. They arrive and proceed through at their own pace, a pace determined by their lives on Earth.

Among those moving very slowly on the shores of the island we meet Manfred:

from Purgatorio
Dante, tr. John Ciardi

My flesh had been twice hacked, and each wound mortal
when, tearfully, I yielded up my soul
to HIm whose pardon gladly waits for all.

Horrible were my sins, but infinite
is the abiding Goodness which hold out
its open arms to all who tun to It. . . .

No man may be so cursed by priest or pope
but what the Eternal Love may still return
while any thread of green lives on in hope.

Those who die contumacious, it is true,
though they repent their feud with Holy Church,
must wait outside here on the bank, as we do,

for thirty times as long as they refused
to be obedient, though by good prayers
in their behalf, that time may be reduced.

I quote this passage for several reasons. One is to give a sense of Dante's vision. Ciardi notes that there seems to be no real significance to 30 as opposed to say 50 or 100. In fact, except that it probably doesn't work in Italian 33 might be more apropos.

Another reason is that reading this one gets the sense of a need for real notes. What's this about twice hacked, what actually went on. In a section I didn't quote there is a mention of him being transported with "tapers quenched" after his death. Good notes are essential to any real understanding of these works. Either that or a fairly thorough understanding of the history of all the kingdom that made up Italy at the time of Dante--an expertise almost none of us command.

Finally I quoted it because it contains a line that I have borne in memory since the eighth or ninth grade when we were called upon to read Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. There is either in an epigraph or in a chapter proper, a quotation which, in the book, is a reference to the office set-up of Willie Stark, but which is reflected clearly here

Mentre che la speranza ha fior del verde

which is translated in that book As long as hope still has its bit of green. Here is is translated "while any thread of green lives on in hope."

For whatever reason, that line has stuck with me, and I scoured Dante several times looking for it. And this morning, it just popped out at me as I was reading. God's sheer grace and goodness and perhaps a message for meant for this day.

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Catholics for Ron Paul



On Mr. Paul, I have no coherent opinion--I offer this for those who are less than well-acquainted with this dark horse presidential candidate. Some things sound good, but others sound benighted. One would have to see how they played out and I'm not sure I'm willing to take the risk. But then, I don't suspect I'll get the chance--in which case his name makes as good a write-in as NOTA.

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as explicated by St. John of the Cross:

from Dark Night of the Soul I:11:11-12
St. John of the Cross

11. Finally, insofar as these person are purged of their sensory affections and appetites, they obtain freedom of spirit in which they acquire the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit.

They are also wondrously liberated from the hand of their enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh. For when the sensory delight delight and gratification regarding things is quenched, neither the devil, nor the world, nor sensuality has arms or power against the spirit.

12. These aridities, then, make people walk with purity in the love of God. No longer are they moved to act by the delight and satisfaction they find in a work, as perhaps they were when the derived this from their deeds, but by the desire of pleasing God. They are neither presumptuous nor self-satisfied, as was their custom int he time of their prosperity, but fearful and disquieted about themselves and lacking in any self-satisfaction. This is the holy fear that preserves and gives increase to the virtues.

I am not original in claiming that the dark night had for Blessed Mother Teresa a protective effect, an effect all the more necessary in a world where the entire world is at your doorstep and scrutinizing every action.

This deep and unsatisfied longing for God's presence has the unique attribute of taking away from her the many temptations that come as a result of success in the world. Satan's most effective ploy in dealing with someone like Mother Teresa would be to have them change their focus from serving and saving souls to better the lives of people. These two sound like hand in glove; however, they are as different in focus as a microscope and a telescope.

What if Mother Teresa, not wandering in a dark night of spirit had started to pay more attention to things that mattered, but were no the One Thing. What if she suddenly started to say to herself, "With a few dollars more, I could build a house for twenty more people." What is the focus of her effort became the betterment of lives through better buildings, more technology, what have you, rather than helping people to get what they needed to live a life and leave a life with dignity. No matter how holy the motive, when the focus slips from, "For God and God alone, a gift of His people," to "Look what we can do if we only try," Satan has won.

But the dark night has a paradoxical effect. The longing for and the apparent absence of God in a life, increases the focus on serving Him. It cocoons the person away from some of the yammerings of the world and helps them to see life as it should be seen.

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As True Now as It Was When Spoken


"Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it."

Mark Twain

I'll leave the veracity decision up to you.

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Another Amusing Anecdote


One more from Kingsolver, and I promise to leave you alone

for the rest of the day at least:

from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Barbara Kingsolver

No modest yellow blocks or wheels were these, but gigantic white tablets of cheese, with the shape and heft of something Moses might have carried down from the mountain. Serious cheesemaking happened here, evidently. A young woman in a white apron stood ready to saw off a bit of goat, cow, or sheep cheese for me. We chatted, and she confirmed that these products were made in a kitchen nearby. I was curious about what kind of rennet and cultures were used for these Middle Eastern cheeses. She answered but seemed puzzled; most customers weren't interested in the technicalities. I confessed I'd tried this at home.

"You make cheese yourself, " she repeated reverently. "You are a real housewife."

It has taken me decades to get here, but I took that as a compliment.

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Yes, there is the dollop of food-ethics, or whatever you want to call it. But honestly, it's a lot better than a similar chapter in Ron Dreyer's Crunchy Conservative book. Ron's chapter made me want to run out and stuff myself with McDonald's simply to protest the smugness and enormous self-satisfaction of his work. But Barbara screams to me to join a world of delight--real pleasure in cuisine:

from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Barbara Kingsolver

I understand that most U.S. citizens don't have room in their lives to grow food or even see it growing. But I have trouble accepting the next step in our journey toward obligate symbiosis with the packaged meal and takeout. Cooking is a dying art in our culture. Why is a good question, and an uneasy one, because I find myself politically and socioeconomically entangled in the answer. I belong to a generation of women who took as our youthful rallying cry: Allow us a good education so we won't have to slave in the kitchen. We recoiled from the proposition that keeping a husband presentable and fed should be our highest intellectual aspiration. We fought for entry as equal partners into every quarter of the labor force. We went to school, sweated those exams, earned our professional stripes, and we beg therefore to be excused from manual labor. Or else our full-time job is manual labor, we are carpenters or steelworkers, or we stand at a cash register all day. At the end of a shift we deserve to go home and put our feet up. Somehow,though, history came around and bit us in the backside: now most women have jobs and still find themselves largely in charge of the housework. Cooking at the end of a long day is a burden we could live without.

It's a reasonable position. But it got twisted into a pathological food culture. When my generation of women walked away from the kitchen we were escorted down that path by a profiteering industry that knew a tired, vulnerable marketing target when they saw it. "Hey, ladies," it said to us, "go ahead, get liberated. We'll take care of dinner." They threw open the door and we walked into a nutritional crisis and genuinely toxic food supply. If you think toxic is an exaggeration, read the package directions for handling raw chicken from a CAFO. We came a long way, baby, into bad eating habits and collaterally impaired family dynamics. No matter what else we do or believe, food remains at the center of every culture. Ours now runs on empty calories.

When we traded homemaking for careers, we were implicitly promised economic independence and worldly influence But a devil of a bargain it has turned out to be in terms of daily life. We gave up the aroma f warm bread rising, the measured pace of nurtutring routines, the creative task of molding our families' tastes and zest for life; we receive in exchange the minivan and the Lunchable. (Or worse, convenience-mart hot dogs and latchkey kids.) I consider it the great hoodwink of my generation. . . .

"Cooking without remuneration" and "slaving over a hot stove" are activities separated mostly by a frame of mind. The distinction is crucial. Career women in many countries still routinely apply passion to their cooking, heading straight from work to the market to search out the freshest ingredients., feeding their loved ones with aplomb. . . ."

What I really admire about Kingsolver's book is that while there is undeniably agenda--very obvious in the passages above--it isn't the agenda that drives the passion of the book. The passion is food, eating right, and what that can do for family structure, community, and ultimately the nation as a whole. Eating locally, preparing your own, eating as a family, all of these have undeniable benefits at large. And Kingsolver doesn't spend her time being intolerably smug about how she can manage to make cheese and figure out what in the world to do with rhubarb--rather, she invites us in. Yes, she lectures us along the way with all of her favorite causes bristling at the edges. And yet, I don't really care, because the centrality of the story rings so true, is so solid, so clearly what many of us need in our lives.

In short, a delightful book--aggravating, but inviting--showing how it just may be possible for those of us with forty acres and a plow to move into a world of better eating and better cooking through a few small but serious changes in how we go about daily life.

Whereas Dreyer thrashed me about the head and shoulders with his moral superiority in shopping, Barbara invites me to go with her to a cheese-making seminar or to the market--a much more effective means of making converts. In short, despite the agendas I'm really enjoying the book.

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Dante's Inferno and Purgatorio


You don't need me to tell you that these are good books to read. Nevertheless, I'm telling you anyway, because if I don't do it, who is there who will.

Inferno read for fun and sheer imagination and for a chilly frisson, particularly in the vast plain of Cocytus. Interestingly, the very last canticle is the only one in which Satan is featured at all and he is mentioned only briefly, and chiefly to talk about the fate of three famous sinners Cassius, Brutus, and Judas. And then he's used as a ladder to climb through the pit of Hell and up to Purgatory.

Purgatory is interesting for a variety of reasons. The first thing you learn about Purgatory is that people do take some time to get there--they loiter about until the weak will they established on Earth finally manifests itself in a tug toward purgatory. Secondly, there is much suffering in purgatory, but contra Hell, no torment because there is never any doubt about where you will end up.

But the most interesting thing about Purgatory is the person who greets Virgil and Dante as they arrive. Cato, a suicide during the period of chaos involving Pompey and Caesar, is the first guide to purgatory. It is interesting that we have both a pagan and a suicide (who one would think would be in the sixth circle wood of suicides). In fact, Ciardi notes this with a seeming question as to why Cato escapes this fate, while one equally worthy does not. And the end of that matter is that Cato's suicide was not a matter of despair, escape, or hopelessness, but, in a certain sense a blow for freedom and for sensibility. The person whose story is recounted in Inferno commits suicide to escape further torture at the hands of the gentle ministers of Frederick II. Cato, on the other hand, is viewed somewhat like the Buddhist monks who set themselves on fire to protest the war. His action is a positive statement somehow.

Dante is nothing if not partisan, and his partisanship and personal involvement is one of the great delights of the poem. Purgatory, while not as ghastly as Hell, has its share of interesting poetically apropos disciplines. And the ascent of the Mountain in the southern seas, quite opposite the site of Jerusalem in the Northern hemisphere is a journey worth learning about.

Don't think of it as a classic, think of it as an adventure!

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A Dantean Invocation for the Day


from The Inferno--Canto XXIV (46-51)
Dante (tr. John Ciardi)

"Up on your feet! This is no time to tire!"
my Master cried. "The man who lies asleep
will never waken fame, and his desire

and all his life drift past him like a dream,
and the traces of his memory fade from time
like smoke in air, or ripples on a stream. . . ."

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What Can We Learn from Dante?


Reading The Inferno gives one pause at moments. Frequently in fact. It isn't so much the punishments described in Hell as it is a number of factors that stem from that. For example, did Jesus not teach us, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." And yet Dante, with impunity, assigns any number of people to any circle of Hell he chooses. Now, were these living people (at the time of his writing) one could say that this were a cautionary tale; however most of them are dead as of the writing of the work. What then do we adjudge from this seeming infraction of a commandment of love?

Next, we get from the Inferno a God of infernal intellect, delicating designing and manipulating Hell as to be of the most exquisite pain to the sinners assigned there. The lavish and ornate punishments that make up the bulk of hellish existence beggar the imagination. What then was Dante about?

Finally, we have an image of a God of such remarkable sternness, indeed of such profound violence that one is at a loss to figure out what Dante wanted us to understand of God from this.

The last question first. I don't know what Dante wanted us to understand of God, but what one can see of God in this is that the image of God fluctuates in time with the society in which He is seen. In Dante's time a clearly stern judge, devoid of compassion for circumstances, hewing carefully to the letter and not the spirit. In the time of "the enlightenment" a God of watchmakers and mechanists, having set the stars in their courses and the planets in their respective paths, he sits back to observe all and watch it slowly unwind. Today's God, the "Good Buddy Jesus." Everything goes, God is all inclusive, completely open to whatever perversion of justice, thought, or principle we need to feel good about ourselves. The point: none of these are accurate pictures of God. Each shows some feature of God distorted through the lens of the time. Dante's God, is God the Redeemer, picking carefully among the flotsam and jetsam of humanity to select the few, the proud, the elect to ascend into heaven and occupy ornate circles of praise at appropriate distances from divinity. The God of the enlightenment, is God the creator, and only that, an uninterested tinkerer who plays with galaxies and universes and lets them spin away to their natural destruction, never giving another thought to them except perhaps how lovely they are and how nicely they reflect His glory. The God of our times is the Sanctifier, making everything holy and everything whole, compassionate to the point of idiocy, embracing all ideologies and all human choices. Murder? Why not, so long as you don't do it to excess and you have what you think is a good reason for it. Adultery? Well, after all, how can we expect one person to fulfill the needs of an aimless humanity seeking to fill a God-sized hole?

Not one of these images tells us anything useful about God. Dante's comes closest because it is the least distorted--at least His justice is meted out with something approximating the justice devised by the human mind--it is rational and considered and ordered, like everything else about Him. Still, it isn't the complete picture of God. However, looking at Dante's image of God should help counterbalance the lunacy of some of the images suggested by people int he modern world.

On the first question--how Dante assigns to Hell with impunity--we get at the core of the question of Allegory. Dante and Virgil couldn't very well walk through an empty inferno. Nor would it perfectly suit the purpose to invent people to populate the place--it would require enormous work and lengthen the tale to the point of losing the train of thought. Instead Dante says something like--if the tendencies shown in this life went unrepented to the grave, this person, whom you all know, would be exemplary of this class of sins, which is punished in just such a way. This would also help us to better understand the mythological figures who intrude from time to time. While a great many philosophers and poets are in the limbo of the righteous pagan, we meet an awful lot of the classical crew on our journey through Hell. Are we to think that Dante thought that Jason really existed, much less Zeus or Hera or Aphrodite--offenses against whom are being punished in this very Hell? Or rather, he took the figures of well known stories and said, you know what these guys did, well, this is where they would be under the circumstances. The judgment is allegorical. Dante may have believed or even in some cases hoped for his vision of assignments, but their purpose is instructive, to latch on to a universal that can propel the reader through the poem.

And the second point was more or less addressed implicitly in the discussion of the third. Above all else, Dante's vision of God is that of the Person who wrests order from chaos, who delicately balances the tendency toward destruction with the tendency toward elevation. He has ordered the cosmos, down to and including the elaborate, ornate, and poetically apt structure of Hell itself--giving rise to the whole term poetic justice.

There is much more to be learned from Dante, much more. But these were questions that have surfaced for me nearly every time Ihave read The Inferno and I thought I'd take a stab at answering them for those who follow asking similar questions.

And follow you all should--a good version of Dante, with acceptable notes and good typesetting takes very little time to read. I prefer Ciardi's translation because the notes proved most helpful to me. Additionally the set-up in terza rima breaks gives some sense of rhythm to the eye. Others have faulted him for being too free in his translation. Truth is, a translation is a translation, and poetry can only come so close any way because there is always much lost in the course of translation. So you pick the version you will read best and then read it. But by all means, please go to the effort to acquaint, or reacquaint yourself with at least the first division of this great work. By all means, read all three. But at a minimum The Inferno.

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A Dietary Conundrum

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I found this article interesting, informative, and compelling in an anecdotal sort of way, supporting observations I have made over the course of years and providing a little insight into what I have often seen as paradoxical and anti-scientific.

“It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.”

The question of weight gain would seem to be a simple physical equation--calories in>calories out--gain weight, calories in<=calories out--maintain/weight loss. But that hasn't been the experience of many in my acquaintance, and I have often wondered why. I become convinced that the implication of HFCS in weight gain has a compelling metabolic element to it. Does the addition of so much high-fructose corn syrup to the American diet actually promote obesity? Again, anecdotally and perhaps coincidentally, the evidence suggests that the answer may be yes. But how does one go about addressing the issue?

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Mr. Roth, Again


Well, in the interest of fair play, I've become aware that someone likes Exit, Ghost and makes it sound like much more of novel and much more of an entertainment than I found it to be. Chacun á son goût.

(Please be aware there is an advertising screen before the main event.)

And later, the Hitchens Country heard from. Mr. Hitchens is famously irascible, and so it make for some reading perhaps more delectable than Mr. Roth's opus.

And yet another. I guess I wasn't so far out of the mainstream as I thought.

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From the Wood of Suicides


I am certainly glad that understanding of the human condition has improved through time and the scene in the Wood of Suicides that results in the mark below would be viewed with greater compassion today. Nevertheless, it is interesting what Dante has the suicide say, and it is interesting how far this applies to all the ways we can choose to sin--for any sin of the flesh is, in some way, throwing away a great gift.

from The Inferno
Dante (tr. John Ciardi)

Like the rest, we shall go for our husks on Judgment Day,
but not that we may wear them, for it is not just
that a man be given what he throws away.

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This site details a miscarriage of justice which, even if it occurred only once suggests strongly the utterly demented view courts have of patent and copyright.

When you patent a gene, particularly a gene for a plant whose material is spread by pollinators other than humans, you cannot reasonably expect that the gene will remain bound to its original planting ground. Already we've seen several genetically modified plants "escape" from their original founding ground.

And, in fact, does it make any sense at all to allow patents on genes? After all a gene is not something anyone can own, and particularly not when genes spread through an aegis beyond human control.

In the realm of intellectual property rights, our legal system is utterly demented: it grants nearly eternal rights to works of authors and creators of works of art and then supports idiotic lawsuits such as the one detailed in the links above.

I am not a sensationalist regarding Genetic engineering. There are tremendous risks involved and tremendous potential benefits; however, I find the idea that I could be sued if some came around and discovered the corn in my field had a "patented" gene in it absolutely horrifying. The small farmer is already under enough pressure for the industrial farming business, there's no need to add this to it.

It's amazing how, too often, it is easy to overlook some of the astounding ramifications of our own twisted systems of logic. Among the most twisted strains are the theories of who can own what. In point of fact, on Earth, if you can't eat it, you can't really own it. You can take care of it, it can own a piece of you, but lacking portability, there are precious few things you can own. The European theory of land ownership, for example, is ludicrous in the extreme and made more so by the extremes to which it is brought in American jurisprudence.

Every material thing is simply a loan for our time on Earth--our sense of ownership of it deprives us, in a a very real way, of our sense of dependence upon providence. It deprives us further of focus on the One Thing that matters. We endlessly toil and preserve "what's ours" with no real sense of the fact that "you can't take it with you." Even our bodies are not our own--but sheer gift and grace--given by God and returned ultimately to Him should we find ourselves in the state of grace at death.

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Ms. Kingsolver's Amusing Moments


In this book, there are many. As the book is unabashedly about changing the way one chooses to eat, and because it relates so well to The Omnivore's Dilemma I'm finding myself enjoying it more and more as I read.

Like so many big ideas, this one was easier to present to the board of directors than the stockholders. Our family now convened around the oak table in our kitchen; the milk-glass farmhouse light above us cast a dramatic glow. The grandfather clock ticked audibly in the next room. We'd fixed up our old house in the architectural style known as recycling; we'd gleaned old light fixtures, hardware, even sinks and a bathtub from torn-down buildings; our refrigerator is a spruced-up little 1932 Kelvinator. It all gives our kitchen a comfortable lived-in charm, but at the moment it felt to me like a set where I was auditioning for a part in either Little House on the Prairie or Mommie Dearest

Throughout there are moments like these interspersed with observations about growing or raising food, what and how to eat, and simple facts about farming in America and, as I will detail in a future post, one serious danger of genetic engineering that never occurred to me.

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Samuel on World Religion

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Driving to work this morning I was charmed by an observation Samuel made regarding ancient religions.

"I don't think the Ancient Egyptians were worshipping many gods. They just took God and split Him up and called Him a bunch of different names. They didn't know any better."

I thought that (pace, Dante) this was such a profound place of compassion to start from. I pointed out to him that we did not have that luxury because God did reveal Himself to us clearly, but that ancient peoples had only partial glimpses of God and that all the powers of Earth would seem godlike to someone who did not understand the revelation of God.

It's wonderful to hear these things when they come up. I suspect that they are a result of our conversations about Japanese anime, where so many gods and spirits are featured. Of course, I want Samuel to have a thoroughly Catholic understanding of God and His revelation, but I also want him to have a spirit able to speak to anyone from where they are and guide them as gently as possible to where they should be.

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As I anticipated, there is a heckuva a lot of agenda in the book. However, I find most of the agenda congenial. Because I've grown increasingly suspicious of anything that represents itself as "non-fiction" there are some facts I would like to check out--particularly things like whether a patent on a genotype gives you the right to shut down nearby farming operations into which your patented genes have dispersed by air. If so, we all have a lot to be concerned about with the control of the eight basic crops in the hands of only four companies.

But I've also grown used to the fact that a specific wildly idiotic example is held up as the universal practice. I'm also suspicious of unquoted sources and innuendo.

Set that aside, the journey of a family to start to become part of the natural year and to eat as nature's table sets the banquet is utterly fascinating and often very, very amusing. Even if all of the political and agenda-driven stuff does not pan out, I think I will end up enjoying this book enormously.

Interesting to read this opposite Dante's Inferno in which we have a graphic representation of what happens to those who think only about their guts and what goes into them. Really, a very fine pairing, the two bring out the flavors of each other. The entree of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and the fine wine of Inferno.

I do suspect that Erik, amongst others would have strong sympathies with some of the ideas expressed in the book. (Eating tomatoes out of season, for example.)

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And Lest We Forget


Today is the feast day of "The Little Flower." The same great saint whose inspiration and wisdom helped other saints of similar name through times of great trial and darkness. Her little way is simple, but simple almost never equals easy. It is simple to roll a wheelbarrow filled with lead from the top of a hill to the bottom; however getting to the bottom without damaging oneself or one's surroundings is not easy.

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

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We have in this book by Barbara Kingsolver, along with the usual heavy dollops of a vaguely hard-left agenda (vaguely referring mostly to the rigor with which most things are considered) a wonderful story of people learning to live off of the land.

The book makes a nice accompaniment to The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I had wanted to read first, but alas, the library in its wisdom saw fit to deliver this one to me. Both focus at least momentarily on the predominant monocultures of the current farming world--corn and soy beans from which we derive all manner of starches and fats and additives. Some experts have suggested that the overreliance on HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is one of the underlying reasons for the increase in American obesity and childhood obesity.

I know that parts of this book are going to be (pardon the pun) hard to swallow. I've read The Poisonwood Bible, which I found palatable through the first two thirds and wretchedly political for the last third. Within the first chapter, we have already offered to us two tiresome scientific "certainties." The first is that global warming has reinforced a drought in the American Southwest. While not denying the possibility, I await more structured scientific evidence rather than nightly news-reporter sensationalism. The second of these is the tirade against "genetically modified foods." Well, Barbara, and the host of you reading who gaze in horror upon the possibility, in point of fact nearly every food crop we raise has been genetically modified. Yeppers. That's what the domestication of plants about 10,000 years ago did. Human beings deliberately set about changing the genetic makeup of plants. The first chapter of The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is available on-line, makes this point with particular regard to maize. Once we stop gasping in horror, we can continue. There may be something wrong with the deliberate modification of plants through genetic splicing, etc. There is evidence that the pollen of some modified crops is damaging to Monarch Butterflies. And personally, I have the feeling that building plants with "systemic insecticides" isn't likely to improve their edibility for humans. You can tell me that they're safe all you like, but any plant that's built to poison what eats it--well, let's just say it doesn't seem like a wholesome idea. But in a book of agenda, and in a book in which the agenda "against" is, in fact, a subsidiary part of the whole, you can't really expect the author to take time out to rationally resolve all of the issues before continuing to tell you about how she and her family built up a farm and started to try to live off the land in the rhythm of the land.

But what you do get is by turns beautiful and marvelous:

from Animal, Miracle, Vegetable
Barbara Kingsolver

An asparagus spear only looks like its picture for one day of its life, usually in April, give or take a month as you travel from the Mason-Dixon line. The shoot emerges from the ground like a snub-nosed green snake headed for sunshine, rising so rapidly you can just about see it grow. If it doesn't get its neck cut off at ground level as it emerges, it will keep growing. Each triangular scale on the spear rolls out into a branch, until the snake becomes a four-foot tree with delicate needles. . . .

Older, healthier asparagus plants produce chunkier, more multiple shoots. Underneath lies an octopus-shaped affair of chubby roots (called a crown) that stores enough starch through the winter to arrange the phallic send-up when winter starts to break. The effect is rather sexy, if you're the type to see things that way. Europeans of the Renaissance swore by it as an aphrodisiac, and the church banned it from nunneries.

The earliest recipes for this vegetable are about 2,500 years old., written in ancient Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphics, suggesting the Mediterranean as the plant's homeland The Caesars took their asparagus passion to extravagant lengths, chartering ships to scour the empire for the best spears and bring them to Rome. Asparagus even inspired the earliest frozen food industry, in the first century, when Roman charioteers would hustle fresh asparagus from the Tiber River Valley up into the Alps and keep it buried there in snow for six months, all so it could be served with a big ta-daa at the autumnal Feast of Epicurus. So we are not the first to go to ridiculous lengths to eat foods out of season.

(So, I guess Rome had its own equivalent of the TVA--Tiber Valley Asparagus.)

These kinds of observations and insights, along with the gustatory inclusions, are likely to provide enough fodder to make the agenda, if not palatable, at least endurable. I'll let you know.

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Current Reading


Come Be My Light Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Envious Casca Georgette Heyer (Almost as delightful as her romances)
The Inferno Dante
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Barbara Kingsolver

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What Makes "Great Books" Great


For one thing, continued relevance through time. I can't imagine the novels of Philip Roth, or even Saul Bellow surviving much beyond our present age, though I've been wrong in a great many things and perhaps do not have the breadth of vision required to see them lasting. (I think of John Gould Cozzens, and other such writers so lauded during their own times--but then Bellow already has his academic cultus who may see to his literary survival.)

But on great books, to wit:

from The Inferno
Dante (tr. John Ciardi)

As one who unwills what he wills, will stay
strong purposes with feeble second thoughts
until he spells all his first zeal away--

so I hung back and balked on that dim coast
till thinking had worn out my enterprise,
so stout at starting and so early lost.

A moment, a lingering second in the second canto of The Divine Comedy, but a telling one. I know I can sympathize with one who starts out with vigorous purpose and think himself into absolute stasis if not retrograde motion. And he captures it perfectly. I often pelt myself with all that could go wrong, with all that is imperfect in my suggested enterprise, with all that is folly about it, and with the limited expectations I have put together for it.

Sheer foolishness--but human foolishness, and a foolishness with which the reader can readily empathize.

Of course, it isn't universality of situation that keeps a book in the canon of great books--also required are depth of insight, range of vision, and to some extent ultimate intent.

However you may judge is, Dante's Divine Comedy has these things and many, many more. If for some reason you have missed the opportunity to read it, take the time now--get a good edition with good notes to help you through the more difficult references--you'll be glad you did so. Perhaps then, you can say with Virgil:

"so welcome is your command that to my sense,
were it already fulfilled, it would yet seem tardy."

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Thank for Prayers for FiL


My Father-in-Law came home from the hospital yesterday. He's still recovering, but the worst of the problem seems to be under control. Continued prayers would be appreciated. Thank you all for adding your voices to the prayers for him.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by Steven Riddle in October 2007.

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