"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Poetry: Ash Wednesday by Anya Krugovoy Silver

I’ve never heard of Anya Silver, but I did come across this poem in Sarah Arthur’s Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide, which is a  Lenten collection of literature.  

As I searched around for information on Ms. Silver, I found she’s a professor of English at Mercer University in Georgia, a published poet of two anthologies, and she won Georgia’s author of the year award for the poetry category in 2015. She’s apparently a rising contemporary poet, and I hope she doesn't mind me posting her poem.

The poem is to commemorate today’s initiation of Lent, Ash Wednesday.  

Ash Wednesday
By Anya Krugovoy Silver

How comforting, the smudge on each forehead:
I’m not to be singled out after all.
From dust you came. To dust you will return.
My mastectomy, a memento mori,
prosthesis smooth as a polished skull.
I like the solidity of this prayer,
the ointment thumbed into my forehead,
my knees pressing hard on the velvet rail.
If God won’t give me His body to clutch,
I’ll grind this soot in my skin instead.
If it can’t hold the flame that burned by breast,
I’ll char my brow; I’ll blacken my pores; I’ll flaunt
with ash this flaw in His creation.

From that little bio on her article, we do learn she is a cancer survivor.  The poem has a ring of personal experience.  A momento mori is a symbol of one’s mortality, such as a skull, which Silver nicely sneaks into the fifth line.  A momento mori is also a reflection on one’s mortality, such as the famous “Alas poor Yorick!” passage in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  And so this whole poem is a momento mori, as is the ash cross that is placed on one’s forehead today. 

I really love the last five lines of the poem with those conditional “if” statements:

If God won’t give me His body to clutch,
I’ll grind this soot in my skin instead.
If it can’t hold the flame that burned by breast,
I’ll char my brow; I’ll blacken my pores; I’ll flaunt

with ash this flaw in His creation. 

How wonderful.  I hope you do get your ashes today.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Literature in the News: A Bishop Who Learned Through the Great Books

When I came across this article on Aleteia on Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska’s being inspired as a young man when he came across the classics in college, I could immediately identify.  From the article:

I grew up in the Presbyterian Church and went to public schools my whole life. I didn’t have a very good education at all. It was during the early 1970s, and there was a lot of experimentation in education, a lot of educational models that were being tried …

But providence stepped in, and I went off to the University of Kansas, and I learned about a program that was being offered there called the Integrated Humanities program. … There was no religious motivation at all for me to get involved in the program; it just sounded interesting.

That’s exactly what happened to me.  My high school education wasn’t spectacular, or inspiring when it came to the humanities.  I was a good science and math student, and went on to college for a physics degree, which I ultimately switched over to engineering.  But my first college (Brooklyn College of the City University of NY) also had started an integrated humanities program, and since I needed a certain amount of elective humanities credits, and since I was intrigued with the program, I entered it, while also doing my math and science.  The integrated humanities program simultaneously presented courses that were interlinked by era, so that you would take literature, history, arts, and philosophy of a particular time all together.  It was here as a Freshman that my love of literature and the arts was formed.

It seems to have made a great impact on Bishop Conley as well:

The program was started by two English professors and one classics professor. They were seasoned, tenured professors, and they were very good teachers. They had discovered that students really had not been exposed to the great things of Western culture — literature, poetry, music — things that were part of the staple of education a generation or two before. They were frustrated as university professors that you couldn’t presume that students had [studied] the fundamentals.

So they chose as the model “Let Them Be Born in Wonder,” the Latin phrase, nascantur in admiratione — the idea being that these students had never been exposed to wonder, so as teachers, let’s introduce them to these beautiful things that had always perennially been taught through the ages. It was a freshmen/sophomore program.

We read the great Greek classics, beginning with The Odyssey, all the way through to the Romans, in the second semester. We read The Aeneid, among others. And in the third semester we read early Christian authors, passages from the Bible, The Confessions of St. Augustine, The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. The last semester we began with The Canterbury Tales and continued with the early Moderns and ended with the modern day.

What happened was, students, as in my own case, fell in love with this beautiful literature, the characters, everything else surrounding it, because not only was this a literary program, we had a lot of extracurricular things: we’d go stargazing, learn about the constellations and how they worked into the literature we were reading, especially the pagan authors. And we would have, every year, a spring waltz, where the students would come together and organize a beautiful experience of waltzing. We’d hire the university orchestra, reserve the university ballroom and have waltz lessons, since nobody knew how to waltz. It taught us manners. It taught us how to treat women as ladies, and men became gentlemen in the process. It was a poetic exposure to beautiful music, beautiful dancing.

This is what I’m trying to do with my blog.  I’m trying to share my understanding of the Great Books to whoever may be interested.

Bishop Conley has started what he calls the Newman Institute at the University of Nebraska:

It’s an institute for Catholic thought and culture. It’s something that has come from my own experience at a big public land grant university. The University of Nebraska is similar. … There are others that are doing this, and quite successfully. Catholic studies institutes are springing up at different universities across the country. And all of them have the same goal — that is to expose students to the great ideas, great books, great treasures of our Western culture and Catholic tradition, on a secular campus …

That sounds great.  If you’re going to college for a Humanities degree, make sure you go to an institution that is focused on the great books of western culture.  It will shape the rest of your life.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Literature in the News: “They,” The Word of the Year

Who comes up with these awards?  There really is a word of the year, awarded by the American Dialect Society (ADS).  
And the winner for 2016 is…

they: gender-neutral singular pronoun for a known person, particularly as a nonbinary identifier.

The award ceremony (actually a vote was held) was held at the Marriott Marquis, Washington D.C. on January 8th

In its 26th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted for they used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun as the Word of the Year for 2015. They was recognized by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of he and she.

Presiding at the Jan. 8 voting session were ADS Executive Secretary Allan Metcalf of MacMurray College and Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society. Zimmer is also executive editor of Vocabulary.com and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

The use of singular they builds on centuries of usage, appearing in the work of writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen. In 2015, singular they was embraced by the Washington Post style guide. Bill Walsh, copy editor for the Post, described it as “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.”

There you go.  The impetus for the selection is tied to this mad, insane rush to destroy gender from our language and our lives.  So if you’re confused, let me give you an example.  Normally “they” is a plural noun for multiple subjects. 

Five horses crossed the road.  They neighed.

But to use it as a singular pronoun for a known person is distort common usage.  This is how we would normally use a singular pronoun:

John wants a sex change.  He has discussed it with his doctor and wife.

Here’s how the new usage would work:

John wants a sex change.  They has discussed it with his doctor and wife.

Makes sense?  Of course not.

John Hovatt II had a very passionate disapproval in the American Thinker with his article, “'They' is Destroying the English Language.”  

This new usage is politically-correct jargon that is being forced on the public. Singular they now refers to those sexually-confused individuals who do not wish to be called he or she. It has been determined that “they” can now refer to a “known person as a non-binary identifier.” Predictably newspapers like the Washington Post have already included this usage in their style books. In so doing, they (plural) have declared grammatical war upon the language.

It is war, but a dirty war. One cannot help but be struck by the utter mediocrity and cowardice of the august assembly of linguistic warriors. Had these linguists had a bit of courage they might have adopted any of the numerous “gender-neutral” ridiculous-sounding pronouns such as “jee,” “ney” and “thon” that have already been created by activists to promote their cause. They (plural) could even have gone farther by making up their own new pronouns and challenging the world to use a novel new creation to accommodate the sexually unsure.

Instead these jargonists prefer to take a perfectly good pronoun and strip it down to singularity. In so doing, they have mutilated, emasculated, and disfigured this faithful pronoun and emptied it of meaning. These pedantic paladins of political correctness hide behind the excuse that “they” already has some singular common usages as when used with words like “everyone.” This can be seen in a sentence: “Everyone likes their dogs.” However, this is purely a smokescreen in this dirty war to hide an agenda that uses languages as one of its most effective weapons.

Of course this only applies to a singular person who claims to not want to be identified by his gender.  From the ADS post:

While editors have increasingly moved to accepting singular they when used in a generic fashion, voters in the Word of the Year proceedings singled out its newer usage as an identifier for someone who may identify as “non-binary” in gender terms.

“In the past year, new expressions of gender identity have generated a deal of discussion, and singular they has become a particularly significant element of that conversation,” Zimmer said. “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.”
Which infuriates John Hovatt II further:

This development is truly tragic because such artificial impositions go against the very purpose of language. Language should give clarity to thought. Its beauty consists in its ability to define concisely and clearly. The richness of vocabulary comes from how well words express nuance and subtlety.

But singular they? All is muddled and confused. If you have one they and add another they do they become two theys or are theys simply they? No one really knows, nor do the linguists really care. They (plural) want to make a political statement and force upon the users the task of determining the context of the usage. It assumes the public is savy to the esoteric world of politically-correct jargon.

There is another reason why this usage of singular they is wrong. The principal purpose of language is to express the truth. Words are essential vehicles for uniting ideas to things -- a simple definition of truth. A man, for example, has an idea of what a cat is. When he sees the cat, he exclaims: Cat! The word communicates a truth to all those around him. It instantly unites the idea and the thing.

Now how is a person supposed to know when writing about most people that this particular person wants to be identified as a “non-binary, gender-neutral” person?  You can’t, so the default will ultimately be that all people will be referred to in a gender-neutral way.  Just when you thought modernity can’t get more insane, it does.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Music Tuesday: Take It Easy by the Eagles

Another old time rock-and-roller passed away last week, Glenn Fry, lead singer of the Eagles.  

From TMZ: 

Glenn Frey, co-founder and guitarist for the Eagles, has died ... TMZ has learned.

We're told the cause of death was a combination of complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia.

Frey had been battling intestinal issues for months and had surgery in November. We're told in the last few days his condition took a turn for the worse. He died in New York City.

Glenn co-wrote and sang on most of the Eagles hits, including “Take It Easy,” “Tequila Sunrise,” “Lyin’ Eyes,” and “Heartache Tonight,” to name a few. He also co-wrote “Hotel California” and “Desperado” with Don Henley and took home 6 Grammys with the band.

 Here’s some other great reading on Frey.  Here Linda Ronstadt tells how Glen Frey and Don Henley formed the Eagles while working on her band in the early 1970s. 

And here’s Don Henley’s full statement upon hearing of Glenn’s death: 

"He was like a brother to me; we were family, and like most families, there was some dysfunction. But, the bond we forged 45 years ago was never broken, even during the 14 years that the Eagles were dissolved. We were two young men who made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles with the same dream: to make our mark in the music industry -- and with perseverance, a deep love of music, our alliance with other great musicians and our manager, Irving Azoff, we built something that has lasted longer than anyone could have dreamed. But, Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn't quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven. He loved is wife and kids more than anything. We are all in a state of shock, disbelief and profound sorrow. We brought our two-year 'History of the Eagles Tour' to a triumphant close at the end of July and now he is gone. I'm not sure I believe in fate, but I know that crossing paths with Glenn Lewis Frey in 1970 changed my life forever, and it eventually had an impact on the lives of millions of other people all over the planet. It will be very strange going forward in a world without him in it. But, I will be grateful, every day, that he was in my life. Rest in peace, my brother. You did what you set out to do, and then some."

The song I will remember Glenn Frey will be “Take it Easy.”  Here Glenn singing live.

May he rest in peace.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Faith Filled Friday: My First March For Life [UPDATED]

UPDATE, 31 Jan 2016: I was able to upload the videos through Youtube.  Thanks Kelly!

I finally got to go last week to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.  I had been trying to go for a number of years.  Either something at work conflicted or one year there was a snowstorm the day before which, having missed getting on the Church bus, left a drive down impossible.  This year I signed up for the bus early and despite the coming snowstorm that afternoon I ventured it.

It was an inauspicious start.  Driving to the church where the meetup was to take place, I got stopped by a cop for—of all things—a taillight that was out.  I thought I had ran a stop sign or a red light.  He gave me a summons that said if I took care of it and took the receipt to the police precinct within 24 hours it would get dropped.  Where was I going to find the time with an approaching snowmageddon?  Well I didn’t, but that’s another story.

When I got to the church at 6:30 AM I didn’t realize there would be a mass and then a sendoff.  So we got on the road a good fifteen minutes after seven, made another local stop to pick more people up, and we headed out.  We only had half a bus full, given a lot of people bailed because of the weather, which was to hit D.C. by that afternoon.  So I had a nice comfortable double seat on the bus and napped and read all the way down.  Except for a quick breakfast stop in one of those Delaware rest areas.  We got to D.C just before noon and were marching by twelve-thirty.

Here are some pictures.

Here are some sights and sounds with a movie clip.

By two o'clock, it started to snow.  You can see here.  From what I was told by the veterans who had been to these annually this was about half the turn out of other years.  The storm did have an impact.

There were plenty of silly signs, like this silly face.

Here's a picture of our bus group, or a few of us from the bus.  i'm the ugly guy on the right.  We had green scarves to identify each other so we could keep close and not have a difficult time gathering for our return.  Still we had a "lost sheep" that required time and effort to find before we left.  

Here's another movie clip.  There was a Scottish fife and drum band.

And finally we got back on the bus as the storm picked up.  We got ahead of it at some point.

I can’t wait for next year.  Pro-life is a lifelong passion of mine.  If this was half the typical turnout, I'm looking forward to experiencing a regular turnout!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

On Language: Donald Trump’s Mastery of Political Speech

First let me preface this that I am not a Donald Trump supporter.  Personally I think he’s a demagogue and opportunist.  I hope he does not win the Republican Primary, though some of the other candidates would also be problematic for other reasons.  This is not a political post, but a post on the use of language.  Don’t construe this as an endorsement of Trump in any way.

I have been amazed at the remarkable rise of Donald Trump.  He is a complete novice in the world of politics, and yet his rise has been incredible.  Everyone said he would come crashing down, and everyone keeps waiting for that moment that he does.  It now has been more than half a year and he hasn’t, and if anything he only seems to rise in the polls.  You can’t just say it’s because of demagogic positions.  He has rebuffed attacks and defended his positions masterfully.  Everyone has been baffled as to why he keeps rising, and all I could pinpoint to was that he connects with people.  That’s kind of general, but this analysis nailed it.  It’s Trump’s use of language.  What you’re going to see is Trump give a minute long answer to a question, and the analyst then broke it down to show how it works. 

Now that is fascinating.  Yes, the analysist was completely biased, and actually demeaning.  But that is irrelevant to the analysis. 

So what it comes down to is that Trump speaks the language of the common man, not the intellectual, not the overly educated, but the language of the guy on the street working through the issues and applying common sense.  It’s the language of common sense.  Whether the solutions to the problems are right or wrong, good or bad, is not the point.  The point is that through his language he has bonded with the listener, and bonding is the foremost element to politics. We support and vote for those we bond with, even above ideas.  Trump may be inexperienced in politics, but he is a natural.

I wanted to post this just prior to the debate on Thursday night, so you could listen to Trump speaking and pick up on his language techniques.  But I have just heard he will not participate in the debate.  Oh well, you’ll have to save it for another opportunity.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Matthew Monday: King of the World

As many of you may have heard, we had an intense blizzard this weekend hit the East Coast.  In all we in New York City got a bit over 31 inches (some 79 cm) of snow.  Everyone seems to be calling the storm a "snowmageddon," which is a new word for me.  It was a true blizzard in that the wind was howling and biting cold.  Luckily we started the clean up on Saturday before the storm was over, and so we go half of the snow piled up that night and then we did the other half on Sunday.  If we had done it all in one day, it might have killed us.

Matthew had a great time, though he was a bit of a pest.  He wanted to use the little electric snowblower I had bought in the Fall.  And he liked to climb the snow piles we had built up, which meant he knocked down snow unto the cleared paths.  The problem with huge amounts of snow in the city is that you don't have enough space to put it, ans so it piles higher and higher as one creates trenches.  

Still he, upon climbing to the top of a five foot (about a meter and a half) mound he declared himself "King of the Mountain!"  

Then moments later I heard him declare he was "King of New York!"  And then "King of Alaska!"  Why Alaska?  Well, there's a lot of snow there, mountains and mountains full according to Matthew.

And then I heard him declare he was "King of the world!"  

"I'm king of the world!"

I think I've got a son with a Napoleonic complex.