Archives for July 2006

Poetry Corner, Farm Edition

Well, some rather brilliant wiseacres have been opining about the deeper themes buried in the goat poem. I thought it might be fun to let them have at a couple more.

I’m fond
Of the pond.
The fishes sleep
Where the water is deep
The marshy mallow
Grows where it’s shallow.
The little creek chatters
Like it’s all that matters
But suddenly hushes
When it reaches the rushes
At the edge of the pond.

More in a bit…


Wife [to Daughter, age 2.5]: You’re so cute!

Daughter: No, I’m not cute, I’m a speech therapist. [Coincidentally, the wife’s profession.]

Wife: Oh, you’re a speech therapist! What do you do when you’re being a speech therapist?

Daughter: No, I’m not a speech therapist. I’m an alligator!

A Little Miracle

Lately Matt’s been posting, here and there, directly and indirectly, about Red Rose Farm. Tonight was the first major family gathering at the place since wife Lisa and I took possession and gave the place its new name –a little “grown-up party” (thanks to two expert sitters) with me and Lisa, Matt and D., Uncle Grammy–I mean Uncle Terry–and Aunt Cheryl and hubby Chad. At dinner’s end Mom and Dad sat back to back and, in a version of The Newlywed Game, delighted all of us with just how well each knew the other’s likes, dislikes, gifts, weaknesses, foibles. At night’s end, more than one party expressed a sort of delighted surprise at how easy, enjoyable, memorable the evening was. Not all of us share the Faith, there were old injuries to be recalled, even new causes for bitterness awaiting their cue–in short, plenty of dysfunction waiting in the wings. Yes, there was good wine, and of course there was no real occasion for reviewing our family’s history. But what won the day was our desire to be family–together with something about the place, about which Lisa (or I) may blog before long and for which I am grateful to God, since only He can be responsible for such mysteries. I report this for what it’s worth. These little miracles must be noted when they occur. They seem too few and far between not to.

UPDATE: Lisa’s farm blog is here.

Enneadoku International Preparing to Open in New Building April 1st

SEATTLE, WA – The directors of the IEF (International Enneagram Foundation) and the WSI (World Sudoku Institute) have agreed to the creation of a new institute combining the theoretical frameworks and practices of both disciplines. The name of this new institute, Enneadoku International, has already been agreed upon, and teams from both organizations will be meeting in Seattle this coming December to establish procedural protocols for what has become a fast growing personality assessment and puzzle pastime for commuters, vacationers, the young, the old and everyone in between. A new building for the institute near the south of Lake Union should be open by April 1st.

As stated on its website, the IEF is dedicated to “human freedom and transformation”. An individual’s liberation and full potential are achieved by using the Enneagram, an ancient symbol of unity and diversity, change and transformation. According to Enneagrammatic theory, there are nine basic personality types, usually numbered from 1 to 9 and given such nicknames as “The Mediator” (number 9) and “The Investigator” (number 5). A more nuanced assessment of an individual’s personality may involve the assigning of ‘wing types’ in phases of either ‘integrating’ or ‘disintigrating’ direction, sometimes all at the same time.

“It really is an old tradition,” says Philip Loving, chief spokesman and head of the Enneagram group. “We can trace are roots back to practices as diverse as the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and Kemetic Orthodoxy, and practitioners really strive for a holistic integration of the self with one’s self, as well as that self with society.”

In Sudoku, the object is to solve a puzzle by entering a numerical digit from 1 through 9 in each cell of a 9×9 grid made up of 3×3 subgrids (called “regions”), starting with various digits given in some cells (the “givens”); each row, column, and region must contain only one instance of each numeral.

“Completing the Sudoku puzzles requires patience and logical ability,” says Takashi Imamura, predident of the WSI. Patience and logical reasoning are big sellers these days; in the last two years sales of Sudoku magazines have surpassed those of crossword puzzles and word searches combined. Mr. Imamura is also one of the leading advocates of a combination of the two disciplines.

“The popularity of Sudoku shows no sign of slowing down,” said Mr. Imamura. As evidence of this, he pointed out that puzzles can now be found in most major newspapers, and even on television game shows. “In a survey conducted on an evening train from Tokyo to Kamakura, the amount of puzzle solvers in one car was estimated at 75 percent. That’s a lot of people who could be working on personal development.”

Enneadoku International will promote the practice of combining the puzzle with the personality profiling technique. “Grassroots organizations have sprung up all over the world in the last year or so, but it really is important that these various methods were codified and regulated by an oversight organization,” said Loving. “We would really hate to see someone unneccessarily injured, simply because committee members had failed to reach a consensus on accepted practice.”

These thoughts were echoed by Dr. Vicki Peterson, professor of Neuroscience and head of the new Cognitive Exploration Lab at the University of Washington. She is also a chief consultant for Enneagram International. “Basically, what most people are doing is taking the nine personality types of the Enneagram and working on developing their respective strengths as a group.” Dr. Peterson emphasized that it’s usually helpful to get each of the nine types together to solve a Sudoku puzzle. Each individual, or player, is responsible for placing his personality type in each cell of the 9X9 grid. To do this he must work with other numbers (i.e., personality types) to find his proper place on the grid.

According to Dr. Peterson, since one number is usually filled in ahead of the others, it gives people the opportunity to practice leadership skills. Others can work on their ability to take direction. “And patience, as usual, is required by all.”

“The first question often on people’s minds is whether what we call the self is inherently logical. It is. Another question is whether logic can be fun. It can be. A further question might be whether puzzle solvers who spend a great deal of time hiding from personal responsibilities while ratcheting up their developmental disabilities can work together in harmony to take care of their own and each other’s avoidance issues. We can only hope so. “

According to Mike Anstruther, the leader of a Palo Alto support group that began combining the two disciplines last winter, such leadership will be especially welcome for those who prefer to work at Enneadoku Development on their own. When practiced individually, Enneadoku requires imagination in addition to logical reasoning. “Basically, what most people do is work on their memories of past experience with different personality types,” said Anstruther. He pointed out that while the method is perhaps more prone to error, solitary practitioners often make faster progress. “I don’t think anybody is saying that we can’t be creative in whatever approach we use,” he said, “but people have been getting by on trial-and-error with web discussion boards for nearly a year now, and we could really benefit from some guidance.”

Anstruther emphasizes the universal appeal of Enneadoku, even when practiced by solitary individuals. “Really, it’s for everybody. The rational, the irrational, and the just plain bonkers. Or just anybody who likes to kill time while sitting on the toilet.”

Walker Percy Remembered

A Portrait in the Words of Those Who Knew Him

by David Horace Harwell

First Son, Poet

We wrote this one together…

Don’t forget the goats
With their scrawny throats
Don’t leave them behind
For you to find
Unwatered, unfed,
Probably half-dead
Because you forgot the goats

Chesterton v. Sacramone

Tomorrow, I head East, to the gentleman’s farm recently occupied by my brother, his wife, and their six children. They have acquired goats. I believe chickens are next. Sister-in-Law plans to grow flowers and sell them. Vegetable gardens are in order. Sixteen gorgeous acres, on the outskirts of a very, very small town. An old (but wonderfully built) farmhouse and two barns. A spring-fed pond. Flatland and a hill. Fantastic trees.

Blogging will be (much) lighter for the next couple of weeks, but this seems like an appropriate time to muster some response to this post by Mr. Anthony Sacramone on the First Things blog. And so…(Sacramone’s post, with my comments in parantheses):

Among several books I intend someday to write, one stands out: The Great Indoors: Why Going Outside Is Vastly Overrrated.

(Very funny opening. Kudos to Mr. Sacramone.)

Now is probably the time to pitch it—contrarian cant at its finest—given all the hugga-mugga over Crunchy Cons and the various websites supported by sundry disciples of Wendell Berry, who believe consumerism, free markets, and technological obsolescence are destroying our souls, families, and communities.

(Does anyone argue that consumerism is good for our souls, families, and communities? That a life spent in the pursuit of acquisition is beneficial for souls, families, and communities? If so, what are the arguments?)

This concern is an old one. And the solution—high-tail it for the Ozarks—is also old. I believe Aristophanes was the first to give it dramatic form (while side-swiping poor old Socrates at the same time): Abandon the cities, abandon false patriotism, abandon the quack sciences and gimcrack philosophies that threaten old religion; abandon the battlefields, politics, and sausage salesmen.

(I get a whiff of ageism here: because the concern is old, it is not worthwhile. Perhaps not even worth considering.)

This was old comedy at war with everything new, improved, and by implication, synthetic. And Christians are again becoming suckers for this type of plea.

(But how do you really feel, Mr. Sacramone?)

All right, it’s not the apogee of spirituality to log on and buy the latest iteration of an iPod or an iMac or an eyesore of a Hummer. And yes, it’s probably wise to limit your daily consumption of pesticides to roughly half your bodyweight. I’ll grant you that kids are probably spending ’way too much time wide-eyed in front of the flat panel ogling yet another edition of Grand Theft Auto or the director’s cut of Girls Gone Wild 13—Logical Positivists Stripped Bare. It also couldn’t hurt to be able to distinguish between one type of tree and another type of tree, if just to make a more detailed report for the police when you drive into one while talking on your cell.

But surely the Scriptures teach that the New Jerusalem will be a city—not a town, a village, or a set of mud huts.

(Well put. Perhaps it is also worth noting, as long as we’re going to Scripture, just how many analogies Jesus draws between the Kingdom of Heaven and farming, how many agricultural images are employed. Mustard seeds, vineyards, seeds scattered on various types of ground… For the record, I’m not quite a Wendell Berry disciple. I live on the edge of a big city, and I like many, many things about the place where I live. And I’m happy to admit that I do love our gardens.)

And, meanwhile, the City of Man is not Hicksville. It’s the Big Apple, where a “piebald Parliament, an Anarchasis Cloots congress of all kinds of that multiform pilgrim species, man” (to quote Melville) congregates, to buy and sell, to breed and forego breeding, to invent a new mouse trap and spit in the street. The city is where natural law, lawlessness, and the Sword of the Spirit do battle on their Broadways; where multiple cultures jostle for breathing room in the same cathedrals; and where cultural barbarities do us all the favor of advertising the Fall without our having to read about all those “begats” once again.

(Um, the fall gets advertised wherever two or three are gathered. Faulkner didn’t need to set his stories in Mammon City.)

The city is where the first Christians did polemical battle with old pagans, and where the many heard that Christ died for not a few.

(Even my brother’s new home, a tiny town, has three different churches within a few blocks of one another – and the town is only a few blocks. You’ll find religious differences wherever two or three are gathered as well.)

As for greed, envy, lust, and all those other black arts for which the city is a synonym, you can’t tell me Farmer Jones doesn’t practice them in spades, simply on smaller luxuries, more primitive needs, and stockier women.

(Well, maybe I can’t and maybe I can. I can suggest that a lack of anonymity will prevent some men from committing some sins that they might have committed if they were in a big city where nobody knew them nor cared what they were doing. I can suggest that a sense of mutual responsibility for the civic good is easier to maintain in a small community, where one’s actions have more noticeable reverberations. This condition has its dangers, of course, but it is not without its virtues. And it seems to me hard to deny that the city affords more opportunity for certain sorts of sins than a small town could ever hope to do. This may be what Sacramone is getting at with “more primitive needs.”)

So instead of keeping up with the latest E: True Hollywood Story, he’s only keeping up a new pair of bib overalls, because he won’t be outclassed by that wise-acre who runs the general store. And tell me what all that fresh air and sunshine gets you: death by radiation poisoning. The city, on the other freckled hand, offers pollution, tall buildings, and plenty of indoors—manifold opportunities to elude that bullying cancer-causer without having to slather on an SPF 67 that stinks faintly of driftwood and dead sea life. And how many of those countrified ex-urbans bootleg Palm Pilots, Blackberries, and wirelessly networked laptops like so many bottles of Prohibition-era gin—if for no other reason than to keep their blogs live and comment-moderating in order to warn the rest of us how the modern age is killing us softly.

(See, this would actually be an interesting discussion – the extent to which a person may partake of the goods of a technological society while at the same time bemoaning the ill effects of said technology on society. But the interesting part is undermined by the silliness about sunscreen and bib overalls.)

The country, I’ll concede, may be where you find community, if by that you mean your next-door neighbor walking uninvited through your canted screen door to borrow a few shotgun shells to dust back yet another coyote. But it is also where you are apt to find the same old prejudices, superstitions, and gross habits masquerading as traditions.

(No, by “community,” I mean people who actually know one another and talk to one another, simply because they live together in some real way, instead of simply living just across the hall. Is there any isolation like the isolation of one lonely soul in the midst of the urban throng?)

Not that the big city is bereft of such things, but at least you’re confronted with competing and contradictory prejudices, superstitions, and habits. In short, it’s hard to stay a city person for long and not be made aware that there’s someone else out there—probably right down the hall in a nicer apartment—who thinks you’re an idiot.

(And here’s where I really disagree with Sacramone – me and Chesterton both. From his book Heretics: “It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of the small community. We are told that we must go in for large empires and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the city, or the village, which only the willfully blind can overlook. The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies, groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique. The man of the clan live together because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their souls, by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colors than in any tartan. But the men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell….If we were tomorrow morning snowed up in the street in which we live, we should step suddenly into a much larger and much wilder world than we have ever known.”)

And if that’s not spiritual—to be humbled by people richer and more powerful, smarter and more beautiful, than you—then I don’t know what is.

(Well, I suppose being humbled by those with more money, power, and beauty is spiritual in that one’s pride is bruised. But first, there are those with more money, power, and beauty in any community, no matter how big or how small, so that’s not quite an argument for the city. And second, that kind of humbling doesn’t strike me as having a great deal of spiritual worth, in the sense of progressing on the road to holiness. If those things matter to you – if money, power, and beauty are what you want, then it’s likely that you’re going to be jealous and resentful. Hard to see the virtue there.)

Humility, not to mention a nagging, gnawing sense of want for all those things you’re never going to get, is the springboard of true conversion.

(Interesting. It seems to me the nagging, gnawing sense of want for all those things you’re never going to get is the springboard to a live of worldly striving. And being humbled – especially via someone else’s show of money, power, or beauty – is not the same as gaining humility.)

So draw the blinds, praise the Lord, and pass the universal remote.

(Well, they do have satellite dishes in the country as well. And people who stay inside all day and watch TV.)

Andre the Giant has a Posse…

…but Dappled Things has a forum. Someone is actually saying something about the thing I wrote for their last issue, but that’s not why I’m noting it. I’m noting it because I really would like to see them succeed. It’s got to start somewhere.

Cheeto Negotiations in the Land of Plenty

Driving home from Wenatchee tonight on a dark and desolate Hwy 2, we (the wife, the daughter, and myself) stopped in Davenport and procured some Cheetos to snack on. We tore into them with abandon and had half the bag consumed before the lights of the town had disappeared from the rearview mirror.

Daughter (two and a half years old, mind you, and quite orange-handed at this point): Daddy, I want the whole bag of Cheetos.

Myself: You can have three more and that’s it. We’re putting the Cheetos away and saving the rest for later.

I reach back and hand her three Cheetos.

Crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch.


Daughter: Daddy, I want some more Cheetos. I don’t want the whole bag, I just want plenty of them.

Myself: Good job on anticipating my objection to taking the whole bag, but we’re going to put away the Cheetos for now.

The Wife: Plenty? Nice vocabulary!

Daughter (singing melodiously): I — wa-ant — mo-ore — Chee-ee-ee-tos!


Heard this one today on the way home…

We wanna be, lapsed Catholic, got the contraception, haven’t got the knack yet.
We’ve tried it a variety of ways, I’ve not slept in about 4 days.
– Art Brut, “Good Weekend”

See You in the Funny Papers

Now I’m not saying that Peter Jackson took his inspiration for certain parts of King Kong from Liberty Meadows, but this is clearly a rerun from way, way back. You can tell by the way Leslie the Frog’s eyes are drawn.

And yes, I do think that should allow you to design your own Sunday Funnies pages, which they will then email to you in pdf format or some such, every Sunday, without charge. But nobody asked me.

Add this to the interminable list of things I didn’t know…

James Carville is a Catholic. However, as he noted during a panel discussion at Boston College in March, he’s not too fond of certain teachings:

“The Church’s position on condoms and AIDS is just silly, it’s ridiculous,” he continued. “The position on birth control in marriage is ridiculous. The Church says that masturbation is a sin. All for that raise your hands.”

St. Benedict and the BBC

“Five men, ranging from an atheist in the pornography trade to a former Protestant paramilitary, have found their lives unexpectedly transformed in the latest incarnation of reality television – the monastery. More Oh Brother! than Big Brother, the five underwent a spiritual makeover by spending 40 days and 40 nights living with Roman Catholic monks in Worth Abbey, West Sussex.”

Read the whole story here.

Today in Porn, Monastic Edition

A great big tip of Godsbody’s straw hat to the Korrektiv, who dug up this little gem about a bunch of guys who signed on for a British reality-TV show set in a Benedictine Monastery.

“Although participants were not required to vote each other out, they faced the challenge of living together in a community and following a disciplined regime of work and prayer. By the end, the atheist, Tony Burke, 29, became a believer and gave up his job producing trailers for a sex chat line after having what he described as a ‘religious experience.'”

First Son, Theologian

I said something about the necessity of work at dinner last night.

First Son: We only have to work because of original sin. That’s why a time machine would be the best invention. That way, you could go back to just a few hours before Adam and Eve sinned and stop them from doing it.

Me: Yeah, but every human born after that would still have that gift of freedom, the ability to choose whether to sin or not. Odds are, somewhere down the line, one of them would decide to sin.

First Son: Yeah, but then only that person’s descendents would have the punishment.

Me: …

Ancient Someone: “Oh, those poor Smiths. Their great-great-great-grandparents sinned, don’t you know, and now they are under the penalty of death. And not only that, they have to work, and Mrs. Smith suffers terribly in childbirth.”


Someone in the comments on the deleted Today in Porn post asked, for reasons that are not entirely clear, for this blog to address the issue of stem-cell research.

Elsewhere, the Catholic blogosphere has been abuzz about Stephen Colbert, a man who has somehow found a way to be funny and Catholic and on television, for which he has my deep, deep admiration.

So, in keeping with our theme of Yesterday’s News Today, I’m linking to this index of Colbert interviews, which includes a chat with Lee Silver about stem cells and cloning. A twofer!

Korrektiv: The Band

Quin Finnegan on bass

Rufus McCain, vocals and harmonica

Jonathan Potter on rhythm guitar and accordion

Jonathan Webb on lead guitar and saxophone

Henri Young on drums


So I deleted the last Today in Porn post. It contained a reference that a bunch of people didn’t get, and I realized that it wasn’t wasn’t worth arousing anybody’s curiosity as to its meaning. Ladies and gentlemen, he has a conscience!