Archives for January 2015

The Warm, RIP



Empty is
the sky before the sun wakes up the morning.
The eyes of animals in cages.
The faces of women mourning
when everything has been taken
from them.
Don’t ask me about empty.
Empty is a string of dirty days
held together by some rain
and the cold wind drumming
at the trees again.
Empty is the color of the fields
along about September
when the days go marching
in a line toward November.
Empty is the hour before sleep
kills you every night
then pushes you to safety
away from every kind of light.
Empty is me.
Empty is me.

by Vladimir Nabokov

I was given Nabokov’s Collected Poems for Christmas, a gem of a book with poems that span more than fifty years. Several of these poems reveal concerns of the author that aren’t much in evidence in the novels. For example, who would suspect the author of Lolita of being a kind of gnostic, closeted, Orthodox co-redemptionist? Well, the gnosticism wasn’t disguised, although the charge was very ably mocked. But I think it’s a fair reading of the following poem, at any rate.

The Mother

Night falls. He has been executed.
From Golgotha the crowd descends and winds
between the olive trees, like a slow serpent;
and mothers watch as John downhill
into the mist, with urgent words, escorts
gray, haggard Mary.

To bed he’ll help her, and lie down himself,
and through his slumber hear til morning
her tossings and her sobs.
What if her son had stayed at home with her,
and carpentered and sung? What if those tears
cost more than our redemption?

The Son of God will rise, in radiance orbed;
on the third day a vision at the tomb
will meet the wives who brought the useless myrrh;
Thomas will feel the luminescent flesh;
the wind of miracles will drive men mad,
and many will be crucified.

Mary, what are to you the fantasies
of fisherman? Over your grief days skim
insensibly, and neither on the third
nor the hundredth, never will he heed your call
and rise, your brown firstborn who baked mud sparrows
in the hot sun, at Nazareth.

The Novel May or May Not Be Dead …

… according to a magazine nobody bothers to read any more. I think this article is mostly, or probably, or at least hopefully a load of crap, but the subject is certainly on a lot of people’s minds. Maybe because a lot of people want to write novels, but still … c’mon now!

The novel still stands, sure enough, but it stands uneasily, a kitschy McMansion whose vocabulary is steadfastly outdated, a form that can only look backward. I can’t think of a single full-length novel published in 2014 that did anything new. Most of the ones I read rehashed the same realistic formula that has held at least since Raskolnikov wandered through St. Petersburg’s dingy courtyards.

A McMansion? Really? Might this have more to do with which particular shelf you choose to browse?

And don’t forget that Korrektiv has a couple of novels, or one novel and one novella qua screenplay, available for your reading pleasure just as soon as you can tear your eyes away from this screen.


is perhaps my favorite Greek verb, meaning as it does “kindle anew”. This has not so much to do with newfangled reading devices as it does the second letter of Paul to Timothy, in one of my favorite passages from scripture:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

That’s 2 Timothy 1:6-7 in the New International Version, which I have here because that’s the way I first memorably read it on a readerboard outside Seattle’s First Presbyterian Church on the corner of 8th and Madison. That’s where I was walking one fine day in 1987 on my way to meet my mom for lunch, when she was working at the Federal Courthouse on Sixth and Madison, across from the Seattle Public Library. If the passage seems somewhat self-serving (as it does to me—now, anyway, which I realize is a perverse way of reading scripture) say a prayer for the twenty-two year old who was trying to find his way even as he would soon so very badly lose it. Even after reading those very words.

I mention all this because it is the festival day for Saints Timothy and Titus. Timothy happens to be the name of my brother, which is another reason that passage stood out for me way back when.

Say a prayer for him as well, while you are at it. And for the fifty year old, too. Happy Feast Day, and God bless!

Elie Revisits Rushdie

A fine long piece by Paul Elie on the 25th anniversary of The Satanic Verses came out in Vanity Fair last April, but it strikes a more timely chord now in the wake of Charlie Hebdo.

A Fundamental Fight

It was published in London on September 26, 1988, with a dust jacket describing it as a “great wheel of a book.” Penguin took out an ad (“Wonderful stories and flights of the imagination surround the conflict between good and evil”) and threw a launch party for its list of autumn titles, at which Rushdie met Elmore Leonard and Robertson Davies. Rushdie had a high-spirited dinner with his editors. Lacey, the book’s U.K. editor, recalls the relative naïveté of that evening: “Salman, my paperback colleague Tim Binding, and I vying over who could recite the most Bob Dylan lyrics.”

“I tried to write against stereotypes,” Rushdie wrote, but “the zealot protests serve to confirm, in the Western mind, all the worst stereotypes of the Muslim world.”

London’s Reform Club, on the Pall Mall, has had many illustrious authors as members: Henry James, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, E. M. Forster—and Graham Greene, who, one winter’s day in 1989, lunched at the club with international writers living in London.

“Rushdie!” he called out. “Come and sit here and tell me how you managed to make so much trouble! I never made nearly as much trouble as that!”

“This was oddly comforting,” Rushdie recalled. England’s most famous living author was making light of the fix he was in.

From hiding, Rushdie issued a statement of regret for “the distress that publication has occasioned to sincere followers of Islam. Living as we do in a world of many faiths this experience has served to remind us that we must all be conscious of the sensibilities of others.” From Tehran, Khomeini doubled down: “Even if Salman Rushdie repents and becomes the most pious man of all time, it is incumbent on every Muslim to employ everything he has got, his life and his wealth, to send him to hell.”

The British establishment set itself against the book and its author: from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie (who invoked England’s blasphemy laws), to the foreign secretary, Geoffrey Howe (who deemed the novel “extremely critical [and] rude” about Britain). Even Jimmy Carter—he whose presidency had been quashed by Khomeini—weighed in against the “insult to the sacred beliefs of our Moslem friends.”

“I had an argument with Prince Charles at a small dinner party,” Martin Amis recollects. “He said—very typically, it seems to me—‘I’m sorry, but if someone insults someone else’s deepest convictions, well then,’ blah blah blah . . . And I said that a novel doesn’t set out to insult anyone. ‘It sets out to give pleasure to its readers,’ I told him. ‘A novel is an essentially playful undertaking, and this is an exceedingly playful novel.’

“The Prince took it on board, but I’d suppose the next night at a different party he would have said the same thing.”

The idea for the gathering came from Gerald Marzorati, who had carved out an excerpt of the book that ran in the December Harper’s, and then wrote a Rushdie profile for The New York Times Magazine. Why not a public reading of Rushdie’s novel, to be coordinated by PEN and Harper’s publisher John “Rick” MacArthur? “I was given the task of choosing excerpts because very few people in New York had actually read the book,” Marzorati says, pointing out that the roster of participants was very broad—from Abbie Hoffman on the left to Midge Decter on the right. Edward Said was there; so was Leon Wieseltier. Robert Caro was there; so was Tom Wolfe. Joan Didion was there; so was Larry McMurtry.

The Columns held 500 people, and as the writers entered, cries could be heard from the demonstrators outside. “Death to Rushdie! Death to Rushdie!”

The first author stood up to read, and his opening remark was a kind of answer. “My name is Robert Stone,” he said, “but today we are all Salman Rushdie.”

They read and spoke into the evening. Mailer said of the fatwa, “This must be the largest hit contract in history.” Talese recited the Lord’s Prayer. Wieseltier declared that “one day the Muslim world may recall with admiration its late-20th-century Anglo-Indian Voltaire.” Rushdie’s close friend Christopher Hitchens transformed a single sentence from the novel into a brilliant defense of the whole: “To turn insults into strengths, whigs, tories, Blacks all chose to wear with pride the names they were given in scorn; likewise our mountain-climbing, prophet-motivated solitary is to be—Mahound.”

“It was inspiring and electrifying,” recalls Gerald Howard, a former Viking editor who was there. “It broke the fever of fear the literary world was living in.”

Bombs exploded in Cody’s bookstore, on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, and half a dozen bookshops in the U.K. The novel’s Japanese translator was shot and killed, its Italian translator stabbed, its Turkish translator attacked. Its Norwegian publisher was shot and left for dead. (He survived.) Two clerics who spoke out against the fatwa—one Saudi, one Tunisian—were shot and killed in Brussels.

Rushdie embraced Islam; then, just as suddenly, he turned away. Many in England’s Old Guard rounded on him, having figured out that he was a popular cause but not a popular person. Sir Stephen Spender coolly explained that “it is mass immigration that has got him into the trouble in which he now finds himself.” Former prime minister Edward Heath lamented that Rushdie’s “wretched book” had cost Great Britain “masses of trade.” Auberon Waugh asked “just how much we should exert ourselves, as deeply stained white imperialists, to protect him from his own people.” Hugh Trevor-Roper trumpeted that he “would not shed a tear if some British Muslims, deploring [Rushdie’s] manners, were to waylay him in a dark street and seek to improve them.”

“The fact of being alive compensated for what life did to one,” Rushdie wrote in The Satanic Verses, and he has asserted the fact of his aliveness. In the quarter-century since the fatwa, he has published a dozen books and given scores of public readings and addresses. In 2007 departing prime minister Tony Blair successfully recommended him for knighthood. He has fulfilled a lifelong dream of adapting Midnight’s Children into a feature film. And he has seen The Satanic Verses become, remarkably, just another great book on history’s shelf, regarded less as a forbidden book (talk of the fatwa has diminished with the years) than as a classic of contemporary English-language literature.

Historian, Theologian, Libertarian Economist

If legendary rocker Bob Dylan hadn’t become a musician, he’d have chosen a very different career.

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d be a schoolteacher,” he told AARP The Magazine.

And what would he have taught? “Probably Roman History or theology.”

[He also] has a solution for unemployment: Let the billionaires step up. In a new interview with AARP, the 73-year-old singer offered his solution while discussing broad subjects like happiness and misfortune, and specifically how the ultra-wealthy might step in to end the world’s problems.

“The government’s not going to create jobs,” he said. “It doesn’t have to. People have to create jobs, and these big billionaires are the ones who can do it.”

Pascal & Pascal Caricatured

I liked this, from Professor James Franklin:

Pascal caricatured:
Being base and greedy, we want lots of goodies in this life and, if possible, the next. So we are prepared to give up some pleasures now, on the off chance of a lot more later, if our eye to the main chancemakes it look worth our while. Since the loot on offer is infinite, even a smallchance of raking it in makes it worth a try to grovel to any deity that might do what we want.

What Pascal said:
You have to choose whether to accept religion. Think of itas a coin toss, where you don’t know the outcome. In this case, if you lose –there’s no God – you have not lost much. But if you win, there is an infinitepayoff. So, you should go to Mass, and pray for faith.

To be considered in light of mathematical exactitude rather than Catholic stridency, if that helps.

Posted without comment…

our lady of the rabbit


h/t RC

Not so fast, Mr. Broderick “Bugs Bunny” Barker….


“Large families are the most splendid flower-beds in the garden of the Church; happiness flowers in them and sanctity ripens in favorable soil. Every family group, even the smallest, was meant by God to be an oasis of spiritual peace. But there is a tremendous difference: where the number of children is not much more than one, that serene intimacy that gives value to life has a touch of melancholy or of pallor about it; it does not last as long, it may be more uncertain, it is often clouded by secret fears and remorse.” – Pius XII.

And more here.



Plus ca change…


Pour some sugar on me
Ooh, in the name of love
Pour some sugar on me
C’mon, fire me up
Pour your sugar on me
Oh, I can’t get enough
I’m hot, sticky sweet
From my head to my feet, yeah
— Def Leppard, “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” 1987

Pour your sugar on me, oh, yeah
Pour your sugar on me, honey
Pour your sugar on me, baby
I’m gonna make your life so sweet, yeah, yeah, yeah
Pour your sugar on me, honey
— The Archies, “Sugar Sugar,” 1969

NOW he tells me.



Story 2

The Show

Bob and Bono were cops. Homicide detectives, to be exact. And buddies. They were also the stars of a reality TV show called Murder Dicks. On top of that, they had both recently begun attending confirmation classes at St. Abigail’s Catholic Church.

This is their story.

Frank’s Biggest Fans

as far as I can tell, right now anyway, are Mark Steyn and Bob Dylan. Steyn has been posting his take on Sinatra’s take on the Great American Songbook. Here is an overly long quotation I especially like:

Not all icons survive death: I think of Leonard Bernstein or Bob Fosse, both at their passing the most celebrated practitioners in their respective fields, or Bing Crosby, the biggest selling recording artist of all time at the time he left us, and these days little more than a guy who gets played on the holiday channels in the month before Christmas. Either because of inept stewardship of the legacy, or a reputation that depended on live presence to maintain the conceit, or a combination of both, even the most dominant pop culture celebrity can dwindle away to the point where a decade later on no-one can quite recall what all the fuss was about. With Frank Sinatra, the opposite seems to have happened. When the gravelly old bruiser of the global stadium tours finally expired in 1998, it made it easier for a younger generation to see the man in his prime: the best singer of the best songs by the best writers in the best arrangements. Just about everything short of his morning mouthwash gargles has been excavated, digitally remastered and released on CD.

Well said, as usual. Frank’s other big fan at present is Bob Dylan, who recently recorded an entire album of songs sung earlier by Sinatra. NPR has included a link to Stay With Me to accompany the question, Diamond in the Rough or just Rough? I say Diamond, but then I would. Steyn—again, as far as I can tell—loathes Dylan, and I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say.

Looking forward to whatever anybody else has to say as well.


from The Mandelbaum Gate, by Muriel Spark

I recently finished The Mandelbaum Gate, an excellent novel by Muriel Spark. But then all the novels of Spark that I’ve read are excellent. And as in the others, she grafts quite a bit of her own life onto her characters—perhaps not unlike Rufus’ Roxanne, below. Here is an excerpt featuring the main character, Barbara, who has recently arrived in Israel to tour the Holy Land, and hopefully meet her fiancee, an archaeologist excavating sites around the Dead Sea.

She had hired a car early that morning and driven northward through the Judean hills to Gallilee. The scene with Freddy Hamilton resembled an alcoholic hangover. On the way, she began to feel a sense of her own identity, and realized that this in fact was what she had began to lose amongst the answers she had been obliged to devise to the questions of the Israelis since her arrival in the country. She recalled that day she had been driven by a guide along the road to Caesarea … It was eleven in the morning:

‘A half-Jew?’


‘Which half?’

‘Through my mother.’

‘Then you are a whole Jew. The Jew inherits through the mother by Jewish law.’

‘I know that. But one says half-Jew to say that to mean that one of the parents is a Gentile and the other—-‘

‘But the Jew inherits through the mother. You are then a full Jew by the law.’

‘Yes, but not according to the Gentile parent’s law.’

‘What was your father’s Law?’

That was a question indeed.

‘I’m afraid he was a Law himself,’ Barbara had said to the questioner, a large blond Pole. He laughed at that.

She told him of her father and  the wild upsurge of his middle age and downfall. ‘He broke his neck while fox hunting. The horse threw him. He landed in a ditch and died instantly.’

‘My father also died in a ditch. Shot by the S.S. Why have you made yourself a Catholic to deny your Jewish blood?’

‘I don’t deny it. I’ve just been telling you about it.’

‘You are brought up as a Gentile or a Jew?’

‘Neither. No religion.’

‘And your mother’s relatives and your father’s relatives, what religion?’

Barbara had felt displaced, she had felt her personal identity beginning to escape like smoke from among her bones. ‘What a lot of questions,’ she said. So they drove along the road to Caesarea through the fertile plain of Sharon, cultivated to the verge of the road on each side. They had found the car to be cooler with the window shut than open to the hot breeze. But not much cooler. ‘A lot of questions,’ she had said, with the dying-fall of a victim deprived of fresh air and civil rights.

‘I ask her a question, she makes a big thing of it that I am Gestapo,’ said the guide to some invisible witness.

Barbara said, ‘Well, it’s hot.’

He said, ‘I asked you, because you say you are half-Jew, you say you are a Catholic, and I ask you only what is the religion of your mother’s relations and the religion of your father’s relations. It is a natural discussion, if you would say to me, who are you, who is your mother, who is your father and how do you come to be an Israeli guide, and I would answer those questions. Then I should ask who are you, what is the family, your brothers and your sisters—–‘

Barbara thought, ‘Who am I?’ She felt she had known who she was till this moment: she said, ‘I am who I am.’ The guide spoke some short Hebrew phrase which, although she did not know the language, quite plainly signified that this didn’t get them any further in the discussion.

Anecdote of the Guitar

Click me.

Click me.

Three Short Poems

Light Shineth in Darkness
Whenever we played Scrabble,
we used an old Crown Royal
bag of purple felt to grabble
in dark chaos for each new tile.

Speculating About My Nieces’ Future Hobbies
Some day, will Bryn
play Poker, or Gin
Rummy? Will Natalie
take up philately?

S-A-M-M-A-M-I-S-H, Let’s Go!
My high school, Sammamish,
had a strange mascot, the totem,
as in pole, but seeing as a mascot
is itself a kind of totem, or type,
one and many, both specimen
and species, I learned early not
to take competition and hype
too seriously, though now I wish
I had, a little more anyway, when
blood was young, but pro tem.


“I know that one isn’t supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth, but in my admittedly limited experience, there is no such thing as a gift horse, so please do me a favor and open wide.”

“As a modern father, I used to watch old movies and marvel at the family dynamics: all these sons, desperate to please their dads, aching for some word of love or approval. ‘Goodness,’ I thought to myself, ‘these movies must have been written by men who were themselves desperate, aching sons.’ But I don’t think that any more. Now, my suspicion is that they were written by fathers, desperate for sons who gave a damn what they thought about anyone or anything.”