Thursday, July 26, 2007

Definitive Catholic bathroom book

John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak's The Bad Catholic's Guide to Wine, Whiskey & Song is a hoot. If you look up "snarky" in the Catholic dictionary, you'll find a picture of this book. You'll find the answers to questions like:
  • Why do Kentucky whiskeys bear the name of the famous French royal house of Bourbon?
  • How did pisco become the national drink of Peru? (See answer below)
  • Is vodka Russian or Polish in origin?
It's a random walk through the history of Christendom, viewed from an epicure/enophile perspective. Thoroughly Catholic in its attitude and orthodoxy, chock full of recipes (Matychowiak is a chef), Guide to Wine takes the givenness and goodness of creation and physicality seriously. It's a funny celebration and will leave you chuckling and gabbing with friends. Highly recommended.

Oh, and about that pisco:
[Catholic clergy] march[ed] through the country on foot[,] learning a dozen languages to preach the Gospel without the benefit of gunpowder. . . . When the priests saw the conquistadors robbing the country of everything not nailed down, and enslaving the natives to work in silver mines, they started defending the Indians' rights and organizing them on farms. Jesuits taught the Indians to grow grapes and ferment them. . . . Enraged Iberian vintners — don't cross these people, trust us — rioted for their right to soak the colonials, and in 1614, the ever-meddling Spanish Crown outlawed the sale of Peruvian wine.

The ever-crafty Jesuits applied their scientific training to invent a new drink which fit neatly through a loophole in the law — a brandy that was soon named for the earthenware containers which held it, piskos. . . . "[P]isco" soon caught on throughout New Spain, and gave the long-suffering Indians an industry they could count on . . . .

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Theresa Duncan, R.I.P.

The New York Times reports that Theresa Duncan took her own life earlier this month, apparently followed in suicide by her boyfriend Jeremy Blake.

Theresa Duncan was my colleague at a New Media startup in DC in the mid-90's. She and Monica Gesue were the creators of Chop Suey, a CD-ROM entertainment that was brimming with wit and whimsy. Theresa was sui generis: smart as a whip, ambitious, with a biting wit and a commanding presence. She was an outsize personality in every way -- a constant edge and a twinge of sadness. I remember being startled to find that a wisecracking fashionista was also a devotee of Martin Heidegger. It saddens me to think I'll never bump into her in NYC and have another startling conversation. Requiescat in pace.

UPDATE: Theresa Duncan created this charming clip below. Enjoy:

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Scenes from a Marriage

Mike Aquilina's The Resilient Church is an effortless, respectful look at a number of episodes in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. Not a comprehensive history (or even an attempt at a concise one), this book offers readers a number of vignettes from the life of the Church, through its encounters with heresy and holiness, scandal and salvation. Political events find their way in, but Aquilina's focus is on the Church as exemplifying one particular virtue: perseverance. Inasmuch as all Christian history is the story of a divine marriage, Christ and his Church, consider this book as an honest and sometimes humbling memoir of how that, as yet not fully consummated, marriage plays out in the lives of the faithful across millennia. It's an excellent read, and while not scholarly, the reader is bound to find something of interest. I particularly enjoyed the treatment of the Crusades. Inasmuch as the history of the West largely cannot be understood outside the history of the Church, this book is recommended for believers and non-believers alike.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Cheney attacks the Constitution?

Such a headline would warrant an impeachment, no? But of course it's not true. Michael Roston has another shocking headline: Cheney criticizes the Geneva Conventions in Military Academy commencement address. The Raw Story ran it, and Andrew Sullivan repeated the allegation here. Of course, it's not true, as is easily verified by reading a transcript of the actual speech.

The Vice-President's speech mentioned the Conventions exactly once:
As Army officers on duty in the war on terror, you will now face enemies who oppose and despise everything you know to be right, every notion of upright conduct and character, and every belief you consider worth fighting for and living for. Capture one of these killers, and he'll be quick to demand the protections of the Geneva Convention and the Constitution of the United States. Yet when they wage attacks or take captives, their delicate sensibilities seem to fall away. These are men who glorify murder and suicide. Their cruelty is not rebuked by human suffering, only fed by it. They have given themselves to an ideology that rejects tolerance, denies freedom of conscience, and demands that women be pushed to the margins of society. The terrorists are defined entirely by their hatreds, and they hate nothing more than the country you have volunteered to defend.
One really must (forgive the term) torture a common sense reading of the speech to find a criticism of the Conventions. Cheney merely stated an undisputed fact, that terrorist killers demand Geneva and constitutional protections. It's in Al Qaeda training manuals, for pete's sake.

Cheney spoke of the Convention and the U.S. Constitution in the same sentence and in the same manner, because in both cases the question hinges not on the validity of the law, but on the applicability of some of its clauses to this group of people. If one posits that illegal immigrants should not be eligible for Social Security, that is an indictment of illegal immigrants, not the Social Security system. The link between the two bodies of law is revealing: neither Roston nor Sullivan tried to claim that Cheney was "criticizing" the Constitution of the United States, either because so obvious a lie would be more glaring, or because, in their minds, slagging an international treaty is a bigger travesty than trashing the Constitution (which the VP explicitly swore to uphold, twice), or both.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Those papists and their Romish ways

Is this political cartoon from Tony Auth intended to make us long for the days when vigilant citizens sought to keep Catholics in their place and keep them out of power?

One thing is certain: no one could do this sort of propaganda as well as Thomas Nast. Auth's version is . . . toothless, by comparison.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The battle is far from over

Ross Douthat, posting on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog at The Atlantic Monthly, says that claims of a sweeping pro-life victory in the Supreme Court's Gonzalez vs. Carhart decision yesterday are greatly exaggerated. Money quote, responding to Jacob Weisberg's claim on Slate that conservatives have consistently won on abortion and gun control:
In every state, it's illegal for minors to purchase any firearm. Does Weisberg really think pro-lifers are vastly closer to attaining their goal than gun control advocates?
Carhart is cause only for extremely guarded optimism. Pro-lifers still need at least one more Justice.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Times on Benedict

This must be a sign that we are in the End Times. The New York Times has a reasonable, intelligent piece on Pope Benedict and his place in modern Europe. Infinitely better that the recent New Yorker piece -- a real piece of reporting that didn't seem phoned in, that actually had some analysis that required more than an espresso with Marco Politi. Carl Olson has a good review of it on the Ignatius Insight blog.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Letter from Europe: The Pope and Islam: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker

Letter from Europe: The Pope and Islam: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker:
what divides the most vocal and rigidly orthodox interpreters of their two faiths, from the imams of Riyadh and the ayatollahs of Qom to the Pope himself, is precisely the things that Catholicism and Islam have always had in common: a purchase on truth; a contempt for the moral accommodations of liberal, secular states; a strong imperative to censure, convert, and multiply; and a belief that Heaven, and possibly earth, belongs exclusively to them.
The "sources" for this article are overwhelmingly Vatican correspondents. It's a little like the New York Times sending a reporter to cover Hugo Chávez and relying largely on the Venezuelan correspondents for the Washington Post and CNN for the story. This article is reliably hostile to religion and the Catholic hierarchy. But what makes it really reprehensible is just what a patchy job of reporting it represents. As Marty Peretz has noted at the New Republic, it resembles a term paper more than journalism.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sullivan: O'Reilly is not our class, dear

Andrew Sullivan is a bright guy, but he's not nearly as bright as he fancies himself. I have to defend the New York Times pace Sullivan, even if it's a pretty minor point.

Sullivan got his knickerbockers in a bunch because the Times cited some true Internet NOBODY who had the temerity to suggest that people on the Internet observe some rules of civility, some of which may not be obvious. Who is this Tim O'Reilly, anyway? Doesn't he know that Sullivan reigns in the blogosphere and, well, just really gets it?

Well, Tim O'Reilly is the founder of O'Reilly Media, a tech publishing powerhouse which sees itself, with some justification, as transforming the tech and communication worlds. He's one of the biggest organizers and supporters of the Open Source movement, one facet of which is the blogosphere itself. He's a widely read blogger. In short, he's an important source for a journalist who wants an informed opinion about cultural issues on the Internet.

When his readers pointed out to him that O'Reilly's opinion actually was news, Sullivan just got juvenile and sarcastic. Sullivan doesn't even bother to address O'Reilly's comments; he just treats him as unworthy to address because he doesn't meet some weird Andrewland requirement for blogosphere society credentials. In nearly every public arena where there is free conversation, there are also traditions, customs, rules, and taboos that dictate appropriate courtesy and respect, and which, yes, actually do make speech in practice more free.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Which Church Father Are You?

Fathers of the Church has a great quiz, "Which Church Father Are You?"

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

World Ends: Third World Hardest Hit

New York Times:
Poor Nations to Bear Brunt as World Warms

Hmm. Let's see the assumptions you'd have to make to get here:
  1. There is a sustained global trend to rising temperatures (recently in the twentieth century scientists warned about the opposite).
  2. This global trend is in large part man-made (many climatologists the apparent warming may be a natural cyclical warming trend, swamping any anthogenic effects).
  3. Anthropogenic effects will be large (most credible models do have some increase in temperature due to increased levels CO2, but they vary widely on the net effect).
  4. Global warming will be injurious, rather than beneficial to humans (if someone proposed to create a machine that would lower global temperatures by 5 degrees, it's doubtful many would rush to turn it on. So do assume that the planet is right now at an optimal temperature for human life?)
So now the Times has extrapolated for us what will happen in the third world if global warming continues. Never mind that freezing CO2 production would doom developing economies which need rapid economic growth to lift them out of poverty. Something must be done to soothe the eco-pagan consciences of the editorialists who craft the front page of the Newspaper of Record.

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