Monthly Archives: September 2003

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More Good Art!

If you’ve never been exposed to the art of Didodikali, take a look at the Dideaux Tapestry. (Look carefully at what’s in the branches of that tree….) It reminds me both of the obvious source and Pauline Baynes. More recently, she’s written and illustrated one of the most charming and heartbreaking Harry Potter fanfics, the Lily Potter school story “By Any Other Name”.

(I should warn you, though, that despite her cuddly art style, the works on her website are not really for kids, nor do I endorse them all. But hey, what artist or writer can I totally endorse? Not even myself!)

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The Memory of Fire

I’ve been reading mysteries almost compulsively the last few days, and I know why. I hunger for justice about this. So do you.

Some people say we should get over this, or stoically hide our feelings by making action our memorial. That’s fine for some. But those of us who need to remember and still grieve have to handle these things in our own way. We need signs and symbols, because we are human.

But yes, memory is nothing without action. Let us remember what we promised the dead as we talking that day: You will have justice. The tears of the grieving will be wiped away. We who live will build a better America and a better world.


Posts for the Day

Frederick Forsyth: “What Terrorists Said to America, and How America Replied.

Fred Gallagher of Megatokyo, artist and architect, has his conscience characters commenting back in 2001 on “A Failure of Conscience”.

On the other hand, today in Dayton a Sidney woman bore quintuplets, each weighing four pounds. Life goes on.

So to everybody out there reading this: take care of yourself. Love your family. Cherish your friends. Despite everything, this is a good world. Let’s be good to each other. May God bless and keep you all and bring you to eternal life.

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Old Commercials

“When…your…car is actin’ funny,
Makin’ sounds you never heard,
Like a screamin’ wounded banshee
Or some wild and woolly bird –
Next time you buy a car, heed my word:
*in a sepulchral bass, a brown horse says:*
Get a Voss.
Chevrolet!

Voss Chevrolet have brought back this wonderful animated commercial from the seventies. This in honor of their anniversary, for which they’re giving away bobbleheads of the Voss Hoss (the bass who’s a little horse). I just like this commercial. Always did.

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Food for Prayer

I saw this article through Relapsed Catholic. As she recommended, make sure you read the section on “Making Hallah”. Then come back. Okay. Now, remember this quote?

Now the dough is ready to take the hallah, but the spiritual preparations to perform the mitzvah properly continue. Reading from a laminated sheet prepared and distributed by two Israeli sisters, I pray fervently that my performance of the mitzvah of hallah will repair the primeval sin of Eve. That just as she brought death into the world, I will bring life into the world, nullifying death, erasing the tears from every face.

Now I am ready to perform the mitzvah. I break off a small piece of dough, recite the blessing over the mitzvah, and with both hands lift the piece of dough above my head and proclaim: “Behold, this is hallah!”

My hands are quivering with the spiritual intensity of the moment. With my hands still raised, I utter two more prayers — one that my taking hallah should be considered as if I had brought an offering in the Holy Temple, that it should atone for all my sins and be as if I am born anew, and the other for the complete and final redemption of the whole world.

Okay. Not to offend anyone, because obviously Jewish people do not mean it this way. But once again, I’m seeing the same thing I saw when I went to shul during my friends Solomon and Elke Tovah’s pre-wedding festivities — symbols and practices that call out to the common heritage between Jew and Christian. They stand on their own (of course), but they also explain or deepen one’s understanding of Catholic practices while seeming to have another layer of meaning in themselves for Christians.

I don’t know the history of this practice of praying while making challah. It is impossible for me, as a Catholic, not to think of Mary when reading about it. I have to wonder if Mary and her mother made bread together like this, and prayed to repair the world. Then I have to remember how Mary was indeed blessed to be part of God’s plan for doing just that. Then I have to wonder if that shouldn’t be the prayer for all women — and for that matter, for all men to pray to help repair the damage done by Adam. Then I wonder about the history, and where Paul’s new Adam comment came from. From this?

It’s bread this lady and her daughter are making. Just as when people blessed bread and wine in shul or I ate at Jewish tables, it is impossible for me as a Catholic not to ponder the connection between normal food, the Last Supper, and the Holy Eucharist. At the end of making challah, you read about the lady tearing off some bread and holding it high. “Behold, this is hallah!” she says. How can I not hear Jesus, and the priest on Sunday, saying, “This is My Body”? And if Mary did pray this way as she made bread, a strange link develops. Mary, breadmaker of the panis angelicus. Our Lady — our hlaefdige, back in Old English — our loaf-giver.

Finally, the author of the article prays about offerings in the Temple, the atonement of sins, and the redemption of the world. Once again, it’s nearly impossible for a Catholic not to think about the Eucharist.

It is as if we were…well, what we are. Two parts of something broken. Obviously, we each have our own ideas on which is the better part. We can’t ignore the break, either. But each of us contains bits of the tradition that the other one doesn’t have, and probably needs. I don’t want to become Jewish; but I think there’s a lot about Judaism I need to know to better know Christianity.

I may have mentioned before that my dad’s church (he’s Methodist) had a joint Bible study of the Book of Ruth with a nearby synagogue. (One week in the church basement, one week in the synagogue social area. With snacks afterward. Of course, non-kosher-keeping folks can’t easily feed snacks to folks who keep strict kosher….) It worked well, was interesting, and promoted understanding. I think this is something that would probably be very fruitful to Catholics. I also think visiting a synagogue service is very interesting, although it’s hard to know what’s going on without some explanation.

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The Voice of the People Is the Voice of God

I found this post on The Importance of Iraq by Andres Gentry, via Instapundit.

Commenting on Amir Taheri’s column on Islamist ideology, Mr. Gentry comments, “It’s interesting to see the main reason for why al-Qaeda hates America: it is a secular democracy; and even more interesting to see what al-Qaeda believes is essentially wrong with secular democracy: people are treated as essentially autonomous beings that are the source of sovereignty (rather than God being the source of sovereignty and superceding, through His law, any of the silly passions that might excite His creatures).”

So I went and read the column, and read this:

What Al-Ayyeri sees now is a “clean battlefield” in which Islam faces a new form of unbelief. This, he labels “secularist democracy.” This threat is “far more dangerous to Islam” than all its predecessors combined. The reasons, he explains in a whole chapter, must be sought in democracy’s “seductive capacities.”

This form of “unbelief” persuades the people that they are in charge of their destiny and that, using their collective reasoning, they can shape policies and pass laws as they see fit. That leads them into ignoring the “unalterable laws” promulgated by God for the whole of mankind, and codified in the Islamic shariah (jurisprudence) until the end of time.

I disagree somewhat with Mr. Gentry. It is possible to believe deeply in God’s sovereignty without thinking God created us to be robots. I’d say from reading the column that it seems that Al-Qaeda believes that God did not give them intelligence and reason so that they can actually use them. They do not see humans as both fallen creatures and creatures created in God’s image, with mighty power for good or ill; no, we are God’s mistake. They seem to have an actual version to the exercise of free will, at least by people not in al-Qaeda. God forbid that God should give people a choice; and since God did give it, they mean to do their best to repair the mistake by taking it away. That is why they regard democracy as a Bad Thing. It just makes us humans uppity. In short, it sounds like the sort of thing an hostile atheist would make up to discredit religious people.

There’s a few obvious fallacies here that even a non-Islamic person can pick out. Submission to God’s will means nothing if it is not chosen freely. You can’t make someone else’s choices. Meanwhile, if your people really are virtuous and do God’s will, they are probably virtuous and wise enough to do a good job with elections. If they’re not, they at least have some God-given intelligence, and God can always express His will however He chooses. By restricting the use of human free will and intelligence, al-Qaeda insults God and does not exalt, but rather, attempts to restrict His sovereignty and right to create the world as He desired, not as we would have it. They are the blasphemy and unbelief they claim to fight against.

But then, al-Qaeda and their buddies don’t really believe in logic or philosophy or any of the other glories of Islamic civilization back in the day. I wonder if they realize just how much the Caliphate they look back to would have despised them and their kind.

No, I suppose not. God forbid they use the brains they resent God for giving them.

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Cardinal Ratzinger on EWTN Comment

The Cardinal came across very well on TV, surprisingly. But he also came across as being reserved to a fault, the kind of person who takes a lot of time to warm up and show his real personality to others. He also is definitely the sort of German guy who believes in discipline, authority, and duty. He likes lines and clear-cut statements. I can really see how this could cause personality conflict.

Others who watched included A Catholic Blog for Lovers. Everybody else is too busy enjoying the nice festival weekend to blog….

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A Pretty Darned Good Artist

PBS’ interesting (and it better be, to get me up to watch at 7:30 AM on a Sunday!) Religion and Ethics Newsweekly focused this week on the 9/11 anniversary. One of the folks they featured was sculptor John Collier, who is making a memorial for St. Peter’s Church in New York. The memorial features four saints, the patrons of those who died: St. Joseph for workers, St. Michael for the police, St. Florian for firefighters, and St. Mary Magdalene hurrying to tell everyone about the Resurrection, her spice jars unopened because she found no body in the Tomb. (I suspect she’s also there for those who found no body to bury, but Collier doesn’t say so.)

The Religion and Ethics Newsweekly page links to Collier’s homepage (or rather, his distributor’s). There’s also a link to a story on the parish’s project from St. Anthony’s Messenger, which is still the best Catholic magazine out there!

Raised in the Protestant tradition, Collier and his wife, Shirley, currently attend services at Dallas’s Episcopal Church of the Incarnation.

“I’m halfway to being a Catholic,” he says with a smile. “The greatest art in the history of the Western world,” he asserts, “has been commissioned by the Catholic Church.”

***

“As grand as any secular memorial might be,” he says, “it can only say ‘Remember.’ But Our Lord offers more. He offers resurrection, which is the hope of the dead. This commission has given me the freedom to say that!”

I really like his homepage’s section on his paintings. They may even be better than his sculpture, although his stuff definitely has something. They showed “The Woman Clothed with the Sun” on TV this morning, but I like that more as a picture of Mary than a picture of the vision from Revelation. (I wouldn’t have known that was the subject without the title! It’s a valid interpretation, but is just too restrained for my tastes.) However, his “Annunciation”, with Mary as a gawky American schoolgirl in a suburban neighborhood, is brilliant. His “Pieta” is even more heartbreaking after that. “St. Joseph and the Child Jesus” is nicely done, but I keep thinking St. Joseph should look more like Norm Abrams and talk in a New England accent. It’s the beard, probably. ;) Still, the galaxy on the back wall is a very nice touch. “Our Lady of Guadalupe” being adored by North American saints is very nice. There’s a lot more, too. The good thing is that all his people have a good rounded look to them; none of those flat folks from flat photograph-models. Even the portrait of the Guadelupana starts coming out of her frame at the bottom. (I do wonder why there’s a cat…but I guess a cat can look at a queen!) I also like the American landscapes he uses. We have as much right as the medieval Tuscans and French to show the stories of the Bible taking place in our cities and countryside. It gives those stories an immediacy that makes them harder to ignore or rationalize away. Like Kolbe in the “Crucifixion with Saints”, a familiar modern face stares out at you, reminding you that the Crucified is not far away, but here with us; and that sainthood is not just for other people in other, “simpler” times.

I had a certain amount of difficulty finding pages on this John Collier, as there was a Pre-Raphaelite by that name in Victorian times, a photographer interested in Catholic stuff (John Collier, Jr.), and other folks with similar interests. Also, the Jesuit Dallas Museum has recently been given his statue “Prodigal Son” (scroll on down). As an illustrator, he worked on books as diverse as Floating in My Mother’s Palm, the story of a teenager growing up in Germany in the 1950′s, when Hitler was never mentioned, At Break of Day, a retelling of the Creation, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and R.L. Stine’s Nightmare Hour: Time for Terror. Definitely not an artist who never tries anything new! There’s a bio on his homepage, but this is his biography at Gallery Shoal Creek; there’s a very different one at Illustration Academy. Here’s a page about a presentation he did on Art and Faith.

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Community Goes Hand-in-Hand with Authority?

Apparently that’s the conclusion of Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in America. There’s some big chunks of excerpt on a faculty book recommendation page over at Wright State. It’s several years old, but I don’t recall hearing about it before. Apparently it examines the life of three neighborhoods in Chicago in the 1950′s versus what’s going on today. I’m going to have to look for this book at the library; it sounds fascinating.

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The Grave of a Dream

This gentleman went to Atari’s old offices to take pictures and ended up buying and bringing home most of what you see. What I found most touching was the Atari gravesite. It also seems Atari’s employees had a soft spot for the Franciscans. ;)

You really do have to love Slashdot.

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Sign of Hope

This ISP in Jackson, MS was hit by a tornado. But they had a plan, and they were back up in 72 hours. If you live nearby, I’d say you should switch to them. A good ISP is a joy forever.

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More Signs of the Decline and Fall

A couple of IT stories, courtesy of Slashdot. (If you’re not reading Slashdot every day, maybe you should be.)

Read Cringely’s column “The Innovator’s Ball: Why Business Isn’t Fun Anymore” for cautionary tales of how corporate grifters steal companies from their founders and do other fun things.

Sharp business is cheating and not getting caught…We’ve gone from following the rules to playing the odds.

Meanwhile, there’s a warrant out for the arrest of a “white hat” famous for finding holes in company computer security, then informing the company so it could fix them. This man who does no damage and makes no money from his activities, who has saved corporate America countless millions of dollars — this man is to be treated as a criminal. I bet they’d throw Shane in jail, too.

In December, 2001, Lamo was praised by communications giant WorldCom after he discovered, then helped close, security holes in their intranet that threatened to expose the private networks of Bank of America, CitiCorp, JP Morgan, and others.

Lamo believes the arrest warrant is for his most high-profile hack. Early last year he penetrated the New York Times, after a two-minute scan turned up seven misconfigured proxy servers acting as doorways
between the public Internet and the Times private intranet, making the latter accessible to anyone capable of
properly configuring their Web browser.

Once inside, Lamo exploited weaknesses in the Times password policies to broaden his access, eventually browsing such disparate information as the names and Social Security numbers of the paper’s employees, logs of home delivery customers’ stop and start orders, instructions and computer dial-ups for stringers to file stories, lists of contacts used by the Metro and Business desks, and the “WireWatch” keywords particular reporters had selected for monitoring wire services.


The real scandal is how incompetent, lazy or (to be charitable) overworked these major companies’ IT people must be. Small companies usually keep tabs on their folks, and though underpaid, they’re diligent
about patches and the like. Meanwhile, the big companies suffer from virus outbreaks again and again, or have horrible security. (Sigh.)

Some of this also may be cultural misunderstanding. I know a guy who’s a security expert. The first thing he usually does at a company is find a computer with the user away from the desk and the email program up, or accessible without a password by clicking on the icon. From there, he can almost always find all sorts of goodies. And in fact, looking through emails is one of the most popular tricks used by corporate spies. I was very impressed by this and have tried ever since to spread the word and keep my emails protected. But many to whom I’ve told my story are more appalled by my friend’s actions than what makes them possible. Even though he was explicitly hired to find such security holes, they think he shouldn’t do it!

Furthermore, many people simply have different goals which are fundamentally incompatible with security. I was recently instructed by my boss that I must keep my email open all day, so as not to miss getting an email five seconds after it’s sent. (The fact that our corporate email is actually not as fast as all that aside. And never mind all the impact on my productivity of having to stop and read email every time someone sends me some forwarded thing with forty large pictures included….).

But the real problem — the reason there’s a problem with people cracking systems in the first place — is that Microsoft and other irresponsible corporations believe in mind control over substance. As long as nobody knows there’s a great gaping hole in security you can drive a truck through, you’re safe. The person who left the hole there, endangering everyone, is a respectable businessman who finished the walls on time — whether or not the walls were any good. But the Mack truck driver who points out the dimensions of the hole is a criminal and a danger to the bottom line.

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Historical Fiction Writers, Take Note

The Social Security Administration has put up a page on popular baby names back to 1880. Writers now have no excuse for naming that Victorian girl ‘Brittany’….

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By the way….

I finished the Mother Teresa book today. And today turned out to be the day she died back in 1997…her future feast day.

*Cue a pipe organ playing the Twilight Zone theme*

Saints’ lives do have this terrible tendency to be much more challenging and relevant than we want them to be. With Mother Teresa’s insistence on doing the small things, on meeting the immediate need you can see, seeing Christ in every person you meet and every “distressing disguise”, and even on doing everything with a smile as a gift of love and encouragement to others…you don’t have the luxury of saying “I’m just a normal person; God doesn’t expect that from me.”

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Service

I’ve been listening to Mother Teresa’s biography on tape and thinking about Ayn Rand. It seems to me that Mother Teresa’s life is the refutation of Rand’s ideas that service must always equal servitude. (One does wonder who cleaned the toilet at her house, as it’s impossible to picture Rand doing it.) Mother Teresa lived a life that Rand would have found distasteful and degrading, in which she embraced people who were the ultimate losers in Rand’s philosophy. But it was Mother Teresa who lived a life of joy, while Rand never seemed to find happiness or peace anywhere. Now, it’s certainly true that some people use ideals and principles as a rope to bind other people as slaves; and Rand was right to despise that, as she was right to insist that people should work with their own dreams and talents. But it occurs to me that my own ego is just as cruel a tyrant as other people’s, so serving myself is not a desirable form of employment.

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