Thursday, May 31, 2007

A bit of Scottish romance - and madness

I’m a mutt.

Scottish, Irish and Dutch/German – with Scottish probably dominating (my mother was born in Scotland, but may have had some Irish blood).

Chesterton also boasted of some Scottish blood.

“But on the other side my mother came of Scottish people, who were Keiths from Aberdeen; and for several reasons, partly because my maternal grandmother long survived her husband and was a very attractive personality, and partly because of a certain vividness in any infusion of Scots blood or patriotism, this northern affiliation appealed strongly to my affections; and made a sort of Scottish romance in my childhood.” (Autobiography)

The Keith part of his Scottish roots lived on in his middle name.

He later goes on to note in an essay entitled “The Sentimental Scot” that ”Of all the great nations of Christendom, the Scotch are by far the most romantic. I have just enough Scotch experience and just enough Scotch blood to know this in the only way in which a thing can really be known; that is, when the outer world and the inner world are at one. (collected in A Miscellany of Men)

He goes on to talk of Scots in terms of what we would consider a decidedly unromantic topic – Industry.

“The Scotch were tempted by the enormous but unequal opportunities of industrialism, because the Scotch are romantic.”

He compares the Scottish with the Irish, then goes on to observe:

“Anyhow, the romantic quality of Scotland rolled all about me, as much in the last reek of Glasgow as in the first rain upon the hills. The tall factory chimneys seemed trying to be taller than the mountain peaks; as if this landscape were full (as its history has been full) of the very madness of ambition. The wage-slavery we live in is a wicked thing.”


“But there is nothing-in which the Scotch are more piercing and poetical, I might say more perfect, than in their Scotch wickedness. It is what makes the Master of Ballantrae the most thrilling of all fictitious villains. It is what makes the Master of Lovat the most thrilling of all historical villains.”

MacBeth might fit in here.

“It is poetry. It is an intensity which is on the edge of madness or (what is worse) magic. Well, the Scotch have managed to apply something of this fierce romanticism even to the lowest of all lordships and serfdoms; the proletarian inequality of today. You do meet now and then, in Scotland, the man you never meet anywhere else but in novels; I mean the self-made man; the hard, insatiable man, merciless to himself as well as to others.”

Scottish madness? Having met a few of my Scottish relatives over the years, I understand what he is saying.

Some might point to me as another example.

What's Wrong With Jeff Culbreath?

Blogger and back-to-the-lander Jeff Culbreath's recent post, What's Wrong With G.K. Chesterton, caught my attention. "Gout" says one, "high cholesterol" says another, "his life was too short" says a third. These we might agree upon; Jeff takes issue not with these, but with G.K.'s defense of the common man and democracy. The Regular Joes of Chesterton's time probably had a bit more common sense than those of today. But if I were to ask the first ten RJs for their honest to God opinions, then I firmly believe that the bulk of those opinions would be in conformity with the democracy of the dead. The problem today is not a rule by the people, but the sensitivity that so many feel: that Truth should be quieted so as not to offend any person.

On another note, I noticed a link on Culbreath's page to something called What's Wrong with the World ( This new spot on the web is a group blog edited by Paul J. Cella.


Dorothy Sayers Meeting

An acquaintance from my Gilbert Magazine days sends this along:

For those who can't get to St. Paul for the Chesterton convention, the Dorothy L. Sayers Society is having its decennial U.S. meeting at Wheaton College outside Chicago that same weekend.

Marjorie Mead, of the Wade Library at Wheaton College, will be giving a talk on ‘"A very personal debt of gratitude": DLS and G K. Chesterton’ at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 16th. The talk will be held in the Barrows Auditorium of the Billy Graham Center. There are one-day tickets to the conference available for $45, plus $10 for a temporary Sayers Society membership. Other talks on Saturday include DLS and the Theatre by Christopher Dean, president of the DLS Society, “The Novels of Dorothy L. Sayers,” by Crystal Downing, and “Adapting DLS for the Stage,” by Frances Limoncelli. Meals are not included in the daily fee. On Saturday night, there is Frances Limoncelli’s adaptation of “Gaudy Night” for another $15.

The regular registration deadline has passed, but I don’t think commuter registration is closed, and the recent confirmation letter from Wade asked people to keep publicizing the conference. Conference information is at this link and the contact person is

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Few and Irregular

Have been my posts lately, but my time should be a bit more free now. It looks like some great things going on here.

I just ran into a very interesting ChesterBelloc site.... I dont think it has been posted here before.

There is some very good material on here. The essays are in depth, and there is some youtube footage of Leo XIII to boot.

Cheese Poetry

A new poem on the subject of cheese has been posted at The Simple American.


I Think Waugh Qualifies as a GKC Friend

WSJ reviews a Waugh’s book about the House of Waugh. Pretty good stuff. Great paragraph:

The Australian √©migr√© critic Clive James recently awarded Evelyn the accolade of “the supreme writer of English prose in the 20th century,” a judgment Evelyn would have endorsed if it did not mean agreeing with a pleb from the colonies. But Evelyn was so much more than a stylist or someone who could make us laugh out loud. He was mocked for his brooding sense that the barbarians were not at the gate but inside the citadel, indulged by the apostles of moral equivalence in the name of a vapid tolerance. His foreboding has been all too cruelly vindicated.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Happy Birthday #133

Surprise... Joe, here. I haven't posted for nearly a year, and I don't know what the (much more) regular writers of this blog might have prepared for today. But last year the guys put together a great commemoration of Chesterton, and posted it during the days from the anniversary of Gilbert's birth (May 29) and death (June 14). And so, as is my custom, I refer you to something written by others. Here are the articles from last year's birth to death commemoration:

May 29, A Chestertonian Celebration, by Nick
May 30, GKC's Engagement, by Eric
May 30, A Letter from GK to his Mother, by Nick
May 31, Chesterton-Shaw Debates, by Eric
May 31, Gilbert for your Public Library, by Alan
June 1, Gilbert and Frances: Always Lovers, by Lee
June 2, 1914, by Kyro
June 3, The Chestertonian Life, by Nick
June 4, Quotes from the Coren biography, by Eric
June 5, Gilbert in the Countryside, by Nick
June 6, Chesterton as Journalist, by Eric
June 7, Chesterton as Distributist, by Alan
June 8, Chesterton as Papist, by Lee
June 9, Chesterton as Mystery Novelist, by Kyro
June 10, The Chestertonian Life in Practice, by Nick
June 12, Gilbert's Travels, by Nick
June 13, Chesterton and Belloc, by Eric
June 14, The Death of the Man Who Lived, by Nick

Eat some Stilton cheese, drink a glass of red wine, smoke a cigar with friends; celebrate as you deem fit ... but celebrate! And, of course, read some Chesterton.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Others on Chesterton - Borges

As I have suggested before - and hinted many times since - the Argentine master, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), is worth noting. Among many other things, he died - June 14, 1986 - fifty years to the day after the passage of Chesterton, the man he loved so well.

In particular, his opinion is worth considering for its relative novelty. We often hear excellent authors praising Chesterton (justly, of course), but there is often more than a little sympathy of worldview between those doing the praising and he that is being praised. His cult (I do not use the term disdainfully) is alive and well among those of a Catholic persuasion, but outside of that broad circle things become more dicey. Many Christians of widely-varying persuasions have discovered how delightful he is, as well, but in the secular world he is not nearly so well-established. The schools, as we know, generally do not teach him; the writer-in-residence at my school this year (one Joan Barfoot, apparently an author of some note to someone) actually sneered with disdain when I mentioned his name.

To Borges, Chesterton was, as I've said, his "master;" a steady and unflagging influence on Borges' writing style, writing subjects, and general thought processes. The remarkable thing about all of this is that Borges was an esoteric Kabbalist, among many other frequently incompatible things. He saucily "refuted" both time and reality (or at least claimed to have done so), finding such vain constructs unsuitable to the maintenance of the world he desired to live in. On the few occasions he quotes from Aquinas it is usually to disagree with him. C'est la vie.

The thing is, though, you can frequently see the Chesterton coming through whether Borges likes it or not - and I suspect that he did indeed like it. Borges delighted in effect and image rather than any particular internal consistency. He derided Dostoevsky's novels - his favourites, in youth - as being overburdened with psychology by which any character could be made to do any foolish thing with enough elaborate sophistry, all of which is just as effective in the end as just having the character do things that you want him to do, whether you provide some elaborate rationale for it or not. It was because of such an outlook that Borges had no qualms whatever with supporting and venerating the work of a man so tidily opposed to his worldview. Within his fiction (Borges', that is) there can be found an almost lurid use of colour - learned, Borges says, from Chesterton. There are enigmatic professors and tragic detectives and impossibly mystic mysteries, and, as in Chesterton, relatively few women. There are ideas and possibilities brought forth in parable rather than the sort of conventional things one would expect from a popular work of fiction (ladies falling in love and marrying, great enemies destroying one another, etc.).

All of which brings me to the following passage, "Chesterton, Writer," which was a part of the larger article, "Modes of G.K. Chesterton," which appeared at the time of Chesterton's death ("he has suffered the impure process called dying," says Borges) in 1936. Other sections include "Chesterton, Church Father" and "Chesterton, Poet," and I may address them some other day, but for now we will stick to the passage at hand:
I am certain that it is improper to suspect or concede merits of a literary nature in a man of letters. Truly informed critics never cease to point out that the most forgettable thing about a man of letters is his literature and that he can only be of interest as a human being - is art inhuman, therefore? - as an example of this country, of that date, or of such-and-such illnesses. Uncomfortable enough for me, I cannot share those concerns. I feel that Chesterton is one of the finest writers of our time, not just for his fortunate invention, visual imagination, and the childlike or divine happiness that pervades his works, but for his rhetorical virtues, for the pure merits of his skill.

Those who have thumbed through Chesterton's work have no need of my demonstration; those who are ignorant of it can look over the following titles and perceive his fine verbal economy: "The Moderate Murderer," "The Oracle of the Dog," "The Salad of Colonel Clay," "The Blast of the Book," "The Vengeance of the Statue," "The God of the Gongs," "The Man with Two Beards," "The Man Who Was Thursday," "The Garden of Smoke." In that famous work Degeneration, which turned out to be such a fine anthology of the writers it tried to defame, Dr. Max Nordau ponders the titles of the French Symbolists: Quand les violons sont partis, Les palaise nomades, les illuminations. Granted that few of them, if any, are provocative. Few people judge their acquaintance with Les palais nomades as necessary or interesting, yet many do with "The Oracle of the Dog." Of course, with the peculiar stimulus of Chesterton's titles, our conscience tells us that these names have not been invoked in vain. We know that in Les palais nomades there are no nomadic palaces; we know that "The Oracle of the Dog" will not lack a dog and an oracle, or a concrete, oracular dog. In like manner, "The Mirror of the Magistrate," which was popular in England around 1560, was nothing more than an allegorical mirror; Chesterton's "Mirror of the Magistrate" refers to a real mirror.... The foregoing does not insinuate that these somewhat parodistic titles indicate the level of Chesterton's style. It means that this style is omnipresent.

At one time (and in Spain) there existed the inattentive custom of comparing the names and works of Gomez de la Serna and Chesterton. Such an approximation is totally fruitless. They both intensely perceive (or register) the peculiar hue of a house, of a light, of an hour of the day, but Gomez de la Serna is chaotic. Inversely, limpidity and order are constant throughout Chesterton's writings. I dare to sense (according to M. Taine's geographical formula) the heaviness and disorder of British fog in Gomez de la Serna and Latin clarity in G. K.
I will say without hesitation that, were it not for Chesterton, Borges would be the light of my literary life, if not philosophically. I have read lines in his prose that have made me cry out to Heaven in gratitude, in a literal and unabashed sense, and this reaction is all too rare from literature nowadays. To borrow the delighted rhetorical exclamation of Eliot Weinberger, "where else can one find Lana Turner, David Hume, and the heresiarchs of Alexandria in a single sentence?" (The sentence itself is found in a frustrated review of a film adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which begins with the scandalized declaration, "Holywood has defamed, for the third time, Robert Louis Stevenson;" the film is described as having been "perpetrated" rather than produced.)

There is to be a talk about Borges and Chesterton at this year's Chesterton conference (coming up fast!). I will not be able to be there to see it, alas, but some of you might be. Be sure to give it a shot; hopefully you'll like what you find.

And, should you decide to pursue the shimmering monster that is Borges, there are plenty of good places to start. Labyrinths is an excellent and perpetually-reprinted edition of his short stories, essays and poems, and is certainly worth going to first. Thereafter such offerings as The Aleph or A Universal History of Infamy stand ready.

That's all until tomorrow, which is, as most of you are well aware, a Very Special Day.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

A-Mowing I Will Go

“Next morning, before it was yet broad day, I awoke, and thought of the mowing.” Hilaire Belloc “The Mowing of a Field”

My wife worries about the lawn.

She is not concerned about the grass getting too tall, though, of course, if I allow nature to take its course for too long she does say something.

Nor is she concerned that our lawn is not perfect, and so sports different kinds of grass, some weeds, and, of course, dandelions (which, by the way, I happen to like).

It is simply the fact that she believe I will die while mowing the lawn.

She is convinced of it.

She keeps saying that I will suffer a heart attack.

Mind you, while I am a little overweight, I am in relatively good health, as my last physical revealed.

A bit of arthritis and asthma, true, and there is that weight the doctor hinted two years ago I might lose (I do weigh less than then, thank you).

But otherwise, fine for a man in his early 50s.

I report these things to my wife, but she is undeterred.

She is convinced that at some point I will keel over and lie prone along with the severed grass.

Of course, this comes from a dear woman who if she has a temperature of 99 declares she has a fever and takes herself to bed.

My own attitude about these things is typically dumbly mannish. When I was younger, I broke a finger while playing basketball. I taped the broken finger and the finger next to it together, and went on playing until the game was over. Then I had it looked at.

I leave it to readers to decide which of us has more loosened screws.

But for me, mowing the lawn is more than a man thing. And it is more than just some morbid game of grim reaper played with gas-propelled whirling blade rather than a hand-powered scythe (even though that comparison has crossed my mind).

Mowing is a strangely satisfying activity.

There is a rhythm to it. There is a sense of measurable accomplishment.

And there are also happy memories attached to mowing. I remember as a small boy watching my father mowing his lawn, amazed at his strength in controlling the roaring mower. It was one of the first chores that I eventually took over, proud in the fact that I was trusted with starting and running that mower or one of its replacements.

Finally, it is a time alone with my thoughts. I have composed essays, songs and poems while mowing the lawn. I have prepared for job interviews, running over possible answers to even the most bizarre of interview questions (“If stranded on a desert island, what book would you want along.")* I have practiced lectures and lessons. I have worked off grumbles and upsets. (This is when the grim-reaper game sometimes comes into play.)

I have even prayed while mowing. There is something almost rosary- or Jesus-Prayer-like in the repeated pattern.

Finally, when I finish, I can sit and drink something cool, and feel the first cold sip seeping down my throat.

My body and my soul are refreshed and my lawn is in order.

Thank you, Lord.

No, I will not give up mowing my lawn.

At least not until winter. That’s when I enjoy shoveling my driveway by hand.

And giving my dear wife something else to worry about.

*(I wish I could say the book would be something profound like the Bible, or Shakespeare, or Chesterton, or clever like How to Build a Boat from Scratch, but it would be something like The Best Comic Verse in English or 1001 Jokes for all Occasions. I figure in that situation I'd need a few good laughs.)

Friday, May 25, 2007


There was a time I thought the shelling would never end. Jackson, the last of my squad, never did hear it stop. He is now a smear of slightly recognizable goo 20 yards to my left.
"Maybe they're just reloading.” I said to the goo.
I emptied my clip into the surrounding buildings; to see if anyone was around. No response. I wasn't fooled. I reloaded. I stayed put. An hour past and no more shells, no small arms, no man made sounds at all. I began to hear the songs of birds again and the rats were coming out. Jackson and I used to shoot the rats. "Why should they benefit from this war.", He used to say. Right now I thought, why shouldn’t they? So I left them alone.
I wanted to get up and walk around but my training wouldn't let me. I called it my training but I knew it was fear. Maybe I'm not alone. There were just too many places the enemy could hide to take a chance like that. I was hoping that anyone of them still alive would be thinking the same thing.
I shot another couple of rounds in to the air.
Yet, I still did not move. I dug in deeper. I pulled some rubble over me and wished I could fall asleep. I would need the rest for the inevitable take-over. We didn't ‘own’ this piece of property. I recalled the last thing my mother said to me (in a fit of monumental denial) before I shipped out, “Get plenty of sleep and remember the pilgrims creed: Never walk when you can ride, never stand when you can sit and never sit when you can lie down”. Falling asleep could be a deadly mistake and the urge to sleep was not yet strong enough to take the gamble. Like the pilgrim, I could be silent and alert. I knew I could stay still and awake for a long time. Could the enemy do the same?
The sun was beginning to set and our troops had not come, no one came. "Hey Jackson, what cha think?" He did not answer. The death of my friend hit home with that question because he always knew what to think. Like the time we took that last town. We were walking down the street edging along the walls. The heat was an obese lizard running its tongue up my back. Just when you thought it couldn't get any hotter here it did. My drops of sweat were big enough to give them names. Every window we past was busted out, sunlight bounced off the glass shards making the buildings look as if they lit by a mirror ball on drugs, little rainbows were everywhere. The glass crunched under our feet sounding as if we were walking on thin crusts of ice frozen on shallow puddles. The sounds of winter in this heat mixed with the smells of fear made me feel as I might scream out and run blindly into the street. Then I past a deserted bicycle shop with all but one its windows shot out.

One perfect window.

That window reached out and grabbed me by the collar stopping my free flow madness. I just stared at it with wonder and amazement not thinking anything; my mind went hot white like it was hit with a popping flash bulb. It was just too much to comprehend all at once. Is this what Paul felt?
Then I saw myself at ten years old and my father teaching me how to get wild birds to eat out of my hand. "You have to be very still', he said, 'try to pretend that you are a tree or not even here." After weeks of trying I was beginning to think it was impossible and that my father was some kind of wizard that commanded all of nature. Still, I did not give up and one winter morning I sat alone in the snow with bird seed in my hands. Finally a bird came, a sparrow, then another and another, all different kinds, sizes, and colors. They danced on my hands, so light, so small; I now understood the word beautiful. Oh, the temptation to move, to pet one, was overwhelming. I glanced up seeing my dad looking out the window at me and he was smiling. I tried moving real slow just to touch one of their backs but it was still too quick and they flew away. I brushed myself off and went back inside where my dad gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “See. See, its wonderful isn't it?"
"Yes Daddy it is." I told him.
I saw all that now, this window was magic. Jackson caught up with me and without turning my head from the glass I asked him what he thought.
He said, "You better bust it out or you'll never get any sleep tonight.”
So . . . I did, and I slept like a log.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Others on Chesterton - Costain

After the fashion of Eric's occasional quick hits, wherein he posts something someone famous has said about Chesterton or matters related to him, comes the following. Writing something more substantial is difficult for me, at the moment, as I have to spend a good portion of my time now thinking about office supplies to the exclusion of all else. Not that they aren't interesting (there are only disinterested people, remember), of course - and I say this sincerely - but they don't quite grab me the way other things do, or inspire me to write about literature or theory.

Anyway, what follows comes from Thomas B. Costain's Read With Me, a nice, meaty collection of his favourite short stories, as chosen and introduced by the man himself. Costain, who I've mentioned here before, was a man of tremendous literary talent and quite pleasing historical perceptiveness. The general facts, as I wrote earlier:
Born in Brantford, Ontario in 1885, Costain would eventually become one of Canada's most delightful novelists and historians, producing dozens of excellent books. He was the editor of the city of Guelph's newspaper at the age of 23, and the editor of Maclean's magazine at the age of 30. He only began his career as a literary writer, however, after moving to the United States to become the editor of the Saturday Evening Post. His first book, For My Great Folly, was published in 1942; he was 57. He died in 1965, and is, like our beloved Gilbert, largely forgotten today. In addition to his novels, which could conceivably be "ignored" on the grounds of merely being fiction, he also produced invaluable popular histories on all manner of subjects, such as William the Conqueror and a well-received series about the Plantagenets.
I've since discovered a volume of his about Attila the Hun, and it seems quite promising indeed. His treatment of the defiance of Pope Leo I will no doubt be exquisite, assuming the book covers that episode (it's not a biography of Attila, but is rather a story about other characters set in the context of Attila's court).

Now, the text that follows comes, as I've said, from his personal anthology of favourite short fiction, which includes Chesterton's Father Brown story, "The Queer Feet" (as well as material from P.G. Wodehouse, Rudyard Kipling, Stephen Leacock and Geoffrey Household, whose novel Rogue Male was such an inspiration to me in my youth). This, then, is his introduction to the story...
Clubs are trumps the world over. Men are curiously gregarious and have a great desire to join clubs where women are not admitted and the members meet others of kindred interests and experiences. There are so many clubs in existence that I thought once of writing a book about them. I got far enough into the subject to count all those listed in the New York directory and to find that there were more than five hundred. This set me wondering how many there might be where an extra degree of eccentricity led them to use an unlisted telephone number. I considered also the clubs of London where there are more than in New York and where they are, I suspect, of wider variety. I concluded, wisely, that there would be altogether too much work in getting the material for such a book and abandoned the idea.

Some of the strangest clubs, of course, are those we encounter in fiction. There are, for instance, the Suicide Club (Stevenson), the Master Crooks (Oppenheim), the Renegates (Buchan), the Liars (Dunsany), the Drones (Wodehouse), the Flying Aces (Brand), and the Footmen (Dickens).

My favourite among them all is the Twelve True Fishermen, of which G.K. Chesterton tells in this splendid story, "The Queer Feet."
I've always liked the idea behind these personal anthologies that occasionally appear, if often only for their convenience and the personal commentary that usually attends them. Most authors (or, at least, most of those I enjoy) are garrulous about their favourites and influences, so finding that sort of thing out is not very difficult. Chesterton never put together such an anthology, that I know of, but my other two favourites, Jorge Luis Borges and H.P. Lovecraft, certainly did. The latter's work in this regard is particularly appreciated, for, while it's difficult enough these days to find good editions of his own work (apart from the reliable Penguin editions, of course), it's even more difficult still to find good editions of those who contributed so heavily to his formation, like Lord Dunsany or Arthur Machen.

So, this, at least, is something. If you ever find some Costains in a used book store (they tend to crop up), try them out.

Mea culpa

End of year student projects, daughter home from college, father's birthday ... excuses, excuses.

I will write over the weekend, and not today at my customary time.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

street fight

I have find myself in an interesting newspaper debate with a lady,one of our local columnists, Tammy Obeidallah, who normally writes about her travels and she does an excellent job of it too – I always read her column - but sometimes she ventures into places she does not understand.

Case in point: Shortly after the Supreme Court upheld the ban on partial birth abortion did an op-ed piece praising the decision – sort of. The title of her piece was “The Least We Can Do”. This was meant as praise not sarcasm. After her support on this decision she then went on to support all other types of abortion and to blame the rise in the abortion rates on the abstinence only programs taught in schools, blah, blah, blah.
(Sorry my local paper does not show op-ed pieces on their web site.)

There are two times that I will send in a letter to the editor, the first being part of a vow I made – “No one gets a free shot at the Catholic Church” and the other is when anyone comes out in favor of killing babies.
What follows was my first letter (with a small paraphrase of Chesterton’s):
In her dazzling performance of dangerous mental gymnastics Tammy Obeidallah received a 9.2 on her piece “The least we can do” (4/46/07). She almost got a 10.0 but when she attempted that double relativistic morality backspin she fell on her butt.
She began eloquently and passionately describing the new life that was growing in her womb, “…the heart pumping in a dramatic show of life force…” She applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to up hold the ban on partial birth abortion rightly ruled as a gruesomely barbaric procedure. She even debunked the myth of getting an abortion for health reasons. There just is no known disease that will be cured by a direct abortion.
Then came the tumble.
She wants us to believe that,”…no doubt increases number of women seeking abortions as a result of ineffective abstinence only programs…”, (no statistical back up given). Abstinence and Chastity and programs have not been found to be defective they have been found difficult and not pursued to their fullest nor do they cave into our desire for ‘instant-gratification-the-heck-with-tomorrow’ mentality.
After her description of the wonder of emerging life she wants us to; keep quite, tay away from abortion clinics and don’t make women aware of the grave health risks of the “Plan B” pill. She wants us to believe it’s OK for some to snuff out life and we should leave them alone just because Ann Coulter is an idiot. Tammy tells us that the ““Right to life” means creating conditions that will eliminate (or in the real world, drastically reduce) the number of abortions.”
By that logic, in MS Obeidallah’s utopian world view, we should turn a blind eye to child molesters (like Planned Parenthood does) until we can achieve a condition where we all can have fulfilling adult relationships. Or should we just accept we live in a fallen world where sensible people should do all they can to protect the most vulnerable amongst us.
No, Tammy a “Right to life” means a RIGHT TO LIFE. Any other definition means a right to murder which really is the least we can do.

Before this letter hit the paper this lady emailed me, (my comments in the parenthesis’) this is part of what she wrote
I infer from your writing that you are very devout in your religious beliefs, so I will say this: God's grace extends to the unborn as well as to those who seek to snuff out that life. He expects us to strive to exhibit that same grace. (does this mean it’s OK to snuff out life cause God loves the snuffer?) You may notice I did not address in my column the ever popular "exception in case of rape or incest." Personally, I believe that God wouldn't have created that life if He hadn't meant it to be. Personally, I don't believe in abortion in ANY circumstance, (but I will always speak out in favor of it) including rape or incest, based on my religion. But we live in a country where there is separation of church & state.(oh that old canard) I do not have a right to impose those beliefs on anyone. Nor do you. (My religion says “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost.” Which is pretty much imposing a belief system don’t you think?).

Anyway…About 2 weeks later she published another 2,000 words 1.500 of which slammed me. She called it “Setting the Record Straight” It began thusly:
“The past several weeks have provided a plethora of column-fodder from people whose rudeness is almost comic. These individuals, who shamelessly flaunt their lack of decorum, come in many varieties from Christian conservative to gas station attendant.”Some other choice quotes:“… this particular letter came from a conservative Christian, incensed that I had the audacity to advocate birth control instead of the ludicrous abstinence education..”“I would think a strict adherent to the Christian faith could compose a letter without referring to the female columnist’s posterior, but who am I”
She then goes on to defend Planned Parenthood and that they don’t protect child molesters and she hates child molesters “Planned parenthood should not be accused of condoning child molestation because of a few isolated tragedies. Especially by someone who I imagin may be affiliated with the Catholic Church. I have a deep respect for the Catholic Church and most of it’s members, but you know…uh, “remove the beam.”…”And yes, Mr Capasso, there is separation of church and state. Just because the phrase doesn’t appear verbatim in the constitution, there is a thing called past precedent based on the Founders, desires that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” You will never find the word “Trinity in the Bible, yet the doctrine of one God in three persons is a corner stone of the Christian faith.”(I am not sure if she was trying to tell us that the Congress is the same thing as the Magistarium)
She then goes again about me mentioning her butt and ends with “Debate is good; just keep my backside out of it.”
The rest for her piece talks about a kid at a gas station that was rude to her when this clerk would not give her a penny from the “penny dish”. She demanded to see the manager and wanted this clerk fired - nothing less would do for this outrageous rudeness. She decided to take this to the streets by mentioning me by name. The Game is a foot. I sent in the following letter. (Yes, I know I am not as genteel as Chesterton but I am working on it.)
Let’s see if we can unbend Tammy Obeidallah’s “record straightening” rant she published on May 17th. When I said she did a “double relativistic morality backspin she fell on her butt.” that was a metaphor on how she thinks. This is something Mrs. Obeidallah, as a writer, should have understood. I was never talking about her physical posterior. I have never seen her tushy so I am in no position to comment on its aesthetic qualities one way or the other. It is obvious that she holds it in high esteem as sacred, being that even to mention it is a type of unforgivable blasphemy.
Nor did I accuse her of protecting child molesters. I said her logic of believing the ““Right to life” means creating conditions that will eliminate (or in the real world, drastically reduce) the number of abortions.” comes to that conclusion. Mrs. Obeidallah, it is impossible to create that condition as long as our Governmental leaders continue to tell us, “It is your right to kill your children and here is the money to do it. Have a nice day.” The Planned Parenthood case in Ohio is not an isolated incident it is their standard operating procedure. There are several criminal cases in process for them flaunting the law by shielding child molesters. Also go to where you can listen to over 800 taped conversations showing you how Planed Parenthood protects child molesters on a daily basis.
I never mentioned my religion in my letter but Mrs. Obeidallah assumes that I am Catholic. Maybe she came to that conclusion because I have an Italian last name and we know that all Italians are either priests or gangsters or in Mrs. Obeidallah’s mind maybe both. Yes, I am a Catholic Christian and enjoy it very much, thank you. Mrs. Obeidallah some how has attained the impression that Christians are a bunch of backward, conservative, milk toast, dunderheads that should be treated like children: seen and not heard. The other name for the Church on earth is the Church Militant, where we are trained to call evil by its name. When abortion steps into the room we call it murderer we don’t say, “How nice of you to drop by. Would you like a cup of tea?” We are also the ones that formed the organizations that help women heal from the devastating effects of abortion.
I also never quoted scripture at her yet she throws Matthew 7:3 “remove the beam” at me. Witnessed by her willingness to drive a person out of town on a rail because they would not give her a penny she must mean that it is a greater sin to be rude then to be a public cheerleader for wholesale slaughter of children. Does she feel that 47.7 million dead babies do not make a big enough pile to cry enough!?
She rightly came out in support of the ban on Partial Birth Abortion but for her, other types of abortion are HOKAY. In other words it’s just fine to dice up little boys and girls just don’t be so noisy about it.
Mrs. Obeidallah favors the ‘let’s get it on’ form of sex education and I favor the abstinence approach. I was never “incensed” on her position regarding sex Ed. I was just pointing out her inversion of reality trick only fools those who already believe, sex good-chastity bad. After only being in place for 5 years compared to 20 years the “how to do it” approach there are now reports that state abstinence programs are working. But that is not what this debate should be about. It should be about whether the government should be teaching this at all. And how many of other parental rights will we have to give up because big daddy government knows best?
After reading Mrs. Obeidallah’s op-ed piece again I can see why she took offence at the ‘falling on her butt’ remark. It’s because her skin is so thin that she bruises easily. If that is indeed the case Mrs. Obeidallah should stay out of the mine fields and stick to her travel writing for that is an area in which she excels.

Belloc Anthology

I can't remember if we've mentioned this before, so I'm mentioning it now:

New anthology of previously out-of-print short stories by Hilaire Belloc, The Eyewitness. It's edited by Matthew Anger (contributor to The Latin Mass magazine).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


I'm afraid I forgot to post yesterday because it was, in Canada, the "free" Monday of the long weekend marking Victoria Day, though most people here don't spare even the most minute consideration for that bygone queen. I spent the day doing family stuff, reading, cleaning up, and in general much of the sorts of things that are not, in fact, blogging.

I'll try to make up for it midweek.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Chesterton on Sirius

Email from Dawn Eden to Dale Ahlquist who forwarded it to me:

I’m happy to report that going to be on Gus Lloyd’s “Seize the Day” show this Monday on Sirius Catholic Chanel at 6:40 a.m. Eastern and have told the producer I’d like to discuss the Chesterton conference and what I’ll be speaking about there. Could you mention it on any Chesterton blogs with which you’re involved? I believe readers can get free three-day online Sirius memberships at, where they should be able to hear the Catholic Channel. Thanks!

A Rare Gem.......

The Passion of Joan of Arc, in its entirety. A Classic still considered to be the finest Joan story.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Im Baa-aaaaack!

Sorry to have such a hiatus, went through a period of sequential catastrophies that took away all of my time.

I should be back blogging and contributing here. Ive seen alot of good things going on here. Hope to make it to ChesterCon!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Saints - official and otherwise

I have been reading My Life with the Saints by Father James Martin.

It was recommended by a friend, but I know it’s gotten a lot of buzz as well.

In the book, Fr. Martin talks about his relationship with saints and other holy people who touched his life in some way.

Some of the folks he cites are also on my personal list. Pope John XXIII (His Journal of a Soul was one of my great discoveries in the seminary). Dorothy Day (I admired her so much I even lived and worked at a Catholic Worker house for a short time after college). Francis of Assisi (My first saint “friend” – but then, Francis is my middle name!). Joseph (I took him on as my confirmation name, in part because of admiration for him, and in part to honor my brother, John Joseph Strong).

And Thomas Merton.

One of Fr. Martin’s comments about Merton hit home: “It’s not a stretch to say that The Seven Storey Mountain changed my life”

That book changed my life as well.

I was living in New York, struggling with morality and my faith. It was touch and go for a while, and then I stumbled across Merton.

I read Mountain, and it caused me to stop and look at where I was going. I then read St. Augustine’s Confessions, and the two combined to turn me around.

They prepared me for a third writer who helped to shape my thinking about Christianity, and another holy person I’d put high on my list: C. S. Lewis.

I read the Chronicles of Narnia in one week. I raced through the science fiction trilogy. I then went on to The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and more.

Although I would put Chesterton on my list now, I have to admit that he’s been a late addition. I first encountered him through his biography of St. Francis – but that was out of my love for Francis. I also read his biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, then The Everlasting Man. But I was still in the thrall of Lewis, and it was only about 15 years later that I began to read more of Chesterton.

Better late than never.

To the list I'd add people like Peter Maurin - Catholic Worker co-founder - Catherine Doherty of Madonna House, St.Thomas More, and Pope John Paul II.

Imagine the dinner party with that crew!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

New Gilbert is Here!

Volume 10, Number 5, arrived a few days ago. I've been so dang busy (sorry for punting on Tuesday), I've barely read it, but I've gone through Sean Dailey's Tremendous Trifles, where I found this: The Hebdomadal Chesterton. It's a once-a-week blog that features longish GKC quotes.

Also recommended by the Daileymeister: Artist Timothy Jones. Contemporary art that a neanderthal like me can appreciate.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Deferral, Miscellany, Query

I have to work very early tomorrow (office supply store), so I don't have time at present for a full-length post. I'll try to put up some more later, likely in the form of thoughts on Manalive, which I've just finished reading.


In the meantime, though, four items to consider...
  • Pope reminds world that Catholic social teaching does not begin and end with sexual matters. World: "But Marxism and Capitalism are all we've got; they can't BOTH be problematic! That's just crazy talk. Which is it, Mr. Pope?"
  • An excellent essay by Fr. James V. Schall (of frequent Chesterton-studying fame) on the subject of atheism and human ethics. It's almost a year old, of course, but given the recent raft of pro-atheism books to hit the shelves its contents are just as timely as ever.
  • Prof. Richard Dawkins speaks candidly of the importance of the Bible for children, the importance of preserving institutional religion, and his love of the transcendent beauty of the universe and its creator. Just don't you dare tell him that God has anything to do with it.
  • Finally: film adaptation of Manalive coming up at some point; Mark Shea slated to play Innocent Smith. Mark already played Smith in several scenes from the book which were dramatized for the third season of (the American Chesterton Society's) Dale Ahlquist's EWTN series, The Apostle of Common Sense, so he knows how to do it. My only concern is that his head isn't small enough...


What follows is a clip from the 1943 film Stormy Weather, a song-and-dance extravaganza involving some story or other that is more or less lost in the theatrics of the thing, which are excellent. The clip itself features Cab Calloway doing his wonderful thing, only to be suddenly interrupted by the contributions of the Nicholas Bros., who, as if by magic, happen to be in the audience as he's singing, and who happen to be willing to sing with him, and who happen still further to be quite happy to help him out by contributing some astonishing rug-cutting to the proceedings while Cab's band lays it out for them. The rest, as they say, is infamy:

Now, the reason I'm posting this is manifold. Chesterton's thoughts on music and dance have always been something of a worrying mystery to me. He has frequently (though genially) mocked "the jazz" and the erratic dance styles that go with it. Apart from that, though, mostly because I haven't had occasion to read all of his many thousands of essays (alas!), I don't know what he really thought about music beyond being broadly, it would seem, in favour of it. Did he like opera? Spirituals? Did he, somehow, find something to like in jazz? I just don't know, but I'd like to. If you know, please say something.

The thing is, though, whatever the merits of jazz and swing and whatnot in relation to the great musical tradition of Europe, there is something in the proceedings here recorded that strikes me as being distinctly wonderful. This is the sort of thing that I could picture happening in one of Chesterton's own stories; a pair of men (or even just one man) in the full sobriety of modern evening dress, suddenly break with the awful dignity of such attire by launching into exuberant and vivacious dance. And those splits...!

I guess my question is this: what would Chesterton have thought of this? Do we have some precedent? Is there any way to know? My interest in this certainly comes from a general desire to further understand the man, but also largely from the interesting paradox of forms of expression and art that were once possibly considered sorts of modern madness suddenly becoming something for which we pine with a conservative nostalgia.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

Chesterton describes the great gift of motherhood: “It is not difficult to see why … the female became the emblem of the universal … Nature …. surrounded her with very young children, who require being taught not so much anything as everything. Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren’t. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist. Now if anyone says that this duty of general enlightenment … is in itself too exacting and oppressive, I can understand the view. I can only answer that our race has thought it worth while to cast this burden on women in order to keep common-sense in the world. … How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No. A woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”
Friday night I asked my bride what she wanted for Mother’s Day. She told me, "To work in the garden, not to cook and some alone time.”
Today I took our youngest to the park for several hours and while there I ran into a buddy of mine. He was there with his children too.
As we were chatting we noticed that there were many men there with their kids and only one or two moms. We laughed as we came to realize that many moms wanted a Mother’s Day where they could pretend that they weren’t mothers. Sometimes the task is so ginormous that even these super heroes need, not so much as a break but the illusion of a break, to regroup before Monday when she will continue again to unfold the universe for little hands and big eyes.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Two sides

I recently became embroiled in a short debate over Partial Birth Abortion, then through that about Planned Paretnhood.

A piece in the local newspaper written by a PP doctor decried the Supreme Court's recent decision. In her piece, she cited a patient “who was 23 and had an 8--year-old, a 5-year-old, a 2-year-old, and 8-month-old twins. She loved her children, but did not think she could possibly manage to take care of another.”

My response to that piece was that it seemed as if the woman was being used as a tool in the debate to support abortion, and there was no sense that her many other needs were being addressed. I pointed out that there was a values gap.

I did cite the profits PP made through abortion and birth control, suggesting that those might be its priorities. Admittedly controversial. That raised some hackles.

One of the person's responding to me launched into an offensive attack on the Catholic Church - which hadn't even been part of the original article and hadn't been cited previously.

The responder said his main point is “there are two sides to every story.”

In preparing a response, I thought of Chesterton's technique of taking the opponent's argument, and turning it on its head. Ah, that I had his gifts.

I responded:

"You won’t get any argument from me. There are often two sides – sometimes even more.

There is the side of the thief, for example, and the side of the person who was robbed.

There’s the side of the polluter, and the side of the person who gets sick because of the pollution.
There’s the side of the racist, and the side of the person who was harmed by the racist.

You see, while there may often be two sides to a story, that does not make both sides equally valid or right."

The new Gilbert is here

I just got my new Gilbert Magazine. An interesting looking editorial, a piece about taping The Surprise, and more. I look forward to reading it.

The first thing that caught my eye, though, was the ad on the inside cover for Thomas Howard. I just bought a copy of The Night is Far Spent, and I have been enjoying it. I'm currently reading his delightful piece on Malcolm Muggeridge.

I also own On Being Catholic. It's on my pile of books to be read. (Alas, the pile keeps growing.)

Chesterton. Howard. Muggeridge. Lewis.

So many books. I'd better make it to my family's average of going home age of 87!

A couple of clerihews

Rene Descartes,
philosopher most smart,
he was, he thought,
but now I think he’s not.

Bush pilot Zbigniew Ting
lost a rudder and a wing.
That ended his flight.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Get Yourself to the Chesterton Conference

The 26th Annual Chesterton Conference will take place June 14-16th. Follow the link for details.

What you won't see at the link, however, is an email I received from Sean Dailey last weekend. If this doesn't make you want to go, well, I'm afraid you're either a teetotaler or devoid of a soul or both:

Tonight -- about 20 minutes ago in fact, I began brewing the beer -- and English-style pale ale -- that I'll be bringing to the Chesterton conference this year. This being the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Man Who Was Thursday, and that being the theme of this year's Chesterton conference, I decided to call it Gabri-ale in honor of Gabriel Syme, the hero of Chesterton's great masterpiece. Hope as many of you as possible can make it to the conference. And remember: "Your thumb on the blade, and strike upwards."

Monday, May 07, 2007

A rare and ingenious poem

While browsing through the collected works the other day, the following piece caught my eye. It was simply a good poem in its own right, but was distinctive in its use of Islamic tropes in a way not always common in Chesterton's poetry. It brings to mind Belloc's The Mercy of Allah or some notable elements in Chesterton's own The Flying Inn. There will be much to be said about that particular novel later (it's coming up on my summer reading rotation; first I must get through J.B. Pick's The Fat Valley, Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot and G.K.'s Manalive), and the links between it and this poem, but for now, here's the text:

The Philanthropist (c. 1918-21)

(With Apologies to a Beautiful Poem)

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe decrease
By cautious birth-control and die in peace)
Mellow with learning lightly took the word
That marked him not with them that love the Lord,
And told the angel of the book and pen
"Write me as one that loves his fellow-men:
For them alone I labour; to reclaim
The ragged roaming Bedouin and to tame
To ordered service; to uproot their vine
Who mock the Prophet, being mad with wine;
Let daylight through their tents and through their lives
Number their camels, even count their wives;
Plot out the deserts into streets and squares,
And count it a more fruitful work than theirs
Who lift a vain and visionary love
To your vague Allah in the skies above."

Gently replied the angel of the pen:
"Labour in peace and love your fellow-men:
And love not God, since men alone are dear,
Only fear God; for you have cause to fear."

There is a wealth of Chestertonian material in this short piece. The subversion through contraception of the old directive to be fruitful and multiply is a particularly effective way to begin the poem, and the indictment of how "lightly" the over-educated man blasphemes is well-placed. Which itself highlights something of a paradox. The Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris brands of atheist are troubling in these modern times for their intense and ungovernable anger, but there is something just as worrying in those who cast God to the side without consideration or comment. Both the atheist and the pious alike react to Christ because they recognize His power, but that other man... Consider the difference between the pugnacious atheist Turnbull in The Ball and the Cross and the Tolstoyite lunatic in the same book who tries to calm the duel. Though the Tolstoyite advocates all sorts of generally good things, taken in purer forms than he puts them, I doubt very much that one would rather spend an hour in his company than in Turnbull's.

The poem continues with a short list of instances of the philanthropist "helping" his fellow man by "improving" them in various ways that are actually quite unhelpful, a conceit common in Chesterton's work (see Mr. Higgins in "The Song of the Strange Ascetic" or Mrs. Hagg in "How I Found the Superman"). All of this leads into the familiar assertion that such endeavours are somehow more righteous than the simple worship of God. In this we see all the marks of heresy as Chesterton conceived of it: one piece of the structure (love of fellow man) wrenched from its place and used against the rest.

And it concludes, fittingly, with the calm thunderclap that is the angel's pronouncement. Man alone is dear... we have seen such sentiments before, as regard love; in Orthodoxy, if memory serves, Chesterton (perhaps rightly) expounds on the theory that we may only really love that which can be lost. What, then, are we to do with God?

The final line speaks for itself, and is a thing of ominous beauty.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Voice of Chesterton

I stumbled across The Bookworm - - which has links to recordings of Chesterton and Lewis.

Chesterton is briefly speaking at Holy Cross College (Massachusetts) in 1930.

GKC-I have to thank you for this very great honour and I do so with all my heart. I can only say that I am not much of a crusader but at least I am not a Mohammedan and many people will testify to the fact. I should like to take this opportunity of thanking you all for your enormous kindness, especially Father Earl for having received me so hospitably today.
I’d never heard his voice before.

I’m sure there are other recordings out there, but this was my introduction.

Sounds British!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

GKC Discussion Thread

At Relevant magazine dot com. It's nice to see.

About Relevant magazine dot com:

"We're twentysomething Christians. We want to break stereotypes, challenge status-quo and enact change through the media. We're seeking God, living life and striving to impact the world around us. It's pretty simple, really. Oh yeah, and we're a self-contained, for-profit business not affiliated with any other companies, denominations or organizations."

H/t Dawn Eden.