Mitch Daniels for president!

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I actually know very little about the Indiana governor, but:

At 5'7", the Indiana governor wouldn't be the tallest man to occupy the White House, and he'd be the baldest president since Dwight D. Eisenhower.

You had me at short and bald. Somebody please tell me he's got a beer gut, too!

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Lay Ministry as Clericalism


There's much to chew on in Russell Shaw's argument that over-emphasis on lay liturgical ministry is a form of clericalism that is opposed to Gaudium et Spes's vision of Catholic engagement with the world:

The clericalist buzz surrounding lay ministry today places a premium on what lay people do in church. What they do out in the secular world is given comparatively short shrift. De facto, this reinforces the Kennedyesque project of privatizing religion, according to which, for Catholics like Pelosi, their split with the Church over things like abortion and gay rights is a "difference of opinion" in which their opinion wins. In another famous passage, Vatican II deplored "the dichotomy between the faith which many profess and the practice of their daily lives." The council called this "one of the gravest errors of our time" (Gaudium et Spes, 43). That was 1965. Forty-five years later, the dichotomy is thriving. To be sure, many things account for it. Secularization, expediency, and ignorance come to mind. And also, I submit, the clericalist notion that to be an involved Catholic lay person means doing ministry in church -- an idea whose silent corollary is that what goes on outside church doesn't have all that much bearing on one's religious identity. Let's be clear about this: Lay ministers are good people. Many of them do exemplary work in the community six days a week, with "ministry" on Sunday a kind of frosting on the cake of their commitment. The problem isn't with how good people like that organize their lives and live their faith. It is, as I keep repeating, with the mentality that exalts lay ministry and ignores lay apostolate. Lay people engaged in living their faith may or may not be lay ministers, but they will certainly be lay apostles in the world -- in their marriages, families, friendships, civic responsibilities, jobs. And in politics, if that's their line of work. That doesn't mean toeing the hierarchy's line on contingent political questions allowing for diverse opinions within the framework of agreement on principles. It means taking time and trouble to know and understand the principles and making conscientious decisions -- prudential judgments -- that apply them to concrete cases. Having done that, the laity, as Vatican II also said, "must bring to their cooperation with others their own special competence, and act on their own responsibility" (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7). Two years after Kennedy spoke in Houston, Vatican II began. In its four years, it spoke on many matters. What the council had to say about the laity, conscience, and political life was and remains forward-looking and sound. Kennedy's message of privatization sank in with many members of the Catholic political class. The wisdom of Vatican II apparently did not.
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Transform me. Renew me. Change me.

The Angel had said to the shepherds: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God's sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God's sign is his humility. God's sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God's power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love.

Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist's sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God's love. Origen says of the pagans: "Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood" (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: "Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)" (in Lk 22:3).

Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

Yes, yes, it is a month or so late, but this excerpt from Pope benedict XVI's midnight mass homily holds up pretty well year round.

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Zmirak on Tolkien


One of my favorite contemporary writers on one of my favorite all-time writers:

Instead of doing what most writers (trust me) settle for, the minimum needed to move the story forward, Tolkien showed all the Liberality of those medieval craftsmen who would carve even the backs of pillars that no man would ever see -- since they worked for the glory of God, Who would. Tolkien crafted for his creatu...res' use entire languages with alphabets and whole continents with maps. He limned out their history for thousands of years, from the mists of our own faded legends (such as Beowulf and the Brothers Grimm) all the way back to Creation.

It's also interesting to find out that a good deal of Tolkien's faith formation came under a priest who, Zmirak notes, was "one of John Henry Cardinal Newman's protégés at the Birmingham Oratory."

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Douthat on Hume and Woods


Ross Douthat's excellent take on the over-reaction to Brit Hume's altar call:

The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume's remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines -- explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.

When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe's religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.

If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher -- including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both -- who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live?

It's reasonable to doubt that a cable news analyst has the right answer to this question. But the debate that Brit Hume kicked off a week ago is still worth having. Indeed, it's the most important one there is.

There is a tension here between religious tolerance and religious dialogue. Believers of all faiths who aspire to any kind of orthodoxy are often scolded that they need to be more tolerant of other religions. Simultaneously, believers and non-believers alike see the need for and value of religious dialogue. Yet when Hume suggests in about the gentlest way possible that Jesus Christ, whom Hume presumably holds to be Lord and Savior of all men, might offer one particular man some answers, heads start exploding.

You can argue that Hume is wrong on the question of Buddhism's teachings, but to scold him for bringing it up is to mock the concept of dialogue. To see how rational this is, I'll only point out that people who riot and kill when the pope quotes Byzantine emperors also mock the concept of dialogue.

The other argument that could be made is that an individual's personal faith, as opposed to religion in general, is something so intensely private that we shouldn't discuss it in public. This is clearly absurd, as is evidenced by the fact that Mark Sanford's intensely private beliefs sure seemed to be legitimate public fodder last year. It's also a bit of a laugher since the media have no problem discussing Woods' sexual life, trotting out his mistresses, publishing his text messages, speculating about his marriage, psychoanalyzing him from every conceivable angle and offering dimestore advice over how to handle the P.R. disaster, maintain his focus on his career and save his marriage. All this, and yet a bit of spiritual advice is outside the bounds of acceptable discourse.

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Cap'n Sully


The NYRB has a review of a book on "The Miracle on the Hudson" with a fascinating account of the landing:

A man in the back had the poise and presence of mind to call out, "Exit row people, get ready!" A woman mid-plane with a baby boy on her lap did not know what to do. The man next to her asked if he could brace her son for her, and she passed the child to him, and he did.

In the cockpit the ground warning alarm had begun, an automatic voice repeating that the plane was too low. Sullenberger called for the flaps on the wings to be extended in order to slow the plane for impact. At two hundred feet he began breaking his glide and ballooned a little. They were at 150 knots--about 180 miles an hour. He lowered the nose slightly and then, pulling back on the stick in the last few seconds before touching down, his airspeed spent, remarked coolly to Skiles, "Got any ideas?"

"Actually not," Skiles said.

They touched the water at an optimum angle, nose slightly high, 120 knots. The left engine tore away, the plane's belly ripped open toward the rear, and the aircraft skimmed to a stop. There was such heavy spray that the passengers near the windows thought they had gone entirely underwater.

The evacuation of the plane was all one could hope for. Water entered quickly. There was an eighty-five-year-old woman who needed a walker, plus several children aboard. In the rear, the floor had buckled and a beam had broken through. There was more water there; it rose to almost chest-high before everyone was out. The flight had been sold out--only one empty seat. The flight attendants, three women all in their fifties, were exemplary. Doreen Welsh, the oldest, in the rear, had the greatest difficulties and was seriously injured. People tried to swim in the river, some slipped into the water and were pulled back, all ended up standing on the wings, some waist deep in water, or in the inflated slides and rafts. Sullenberger and Skiles had all along been moving through the cabin assisting and handing out life vests. In the end Sullenberger went through the deep water in the cabin one last time to make certain no one was left. The water was bone-chillingly cold, but within five minutes the first of the rescue boats was at the plane. There had been no casualties. All survived.

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That's why their food sucks!

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The [Pizza Connection case] concerned a diaspora of Sicilian heroin entrepreneurs who operated out of various slice-and-Coke emporiums in locations ranging from Queens to rural Illinois... On the night of February 11, 1987, when defense lawyers were giving their summations, another defendant, Pietro Alfano (whose pizzeria was situated in Oregon, Illinois), was shot three times on the way out of Balducci's.

Oregon is the town closest to our favorite camping spot. We've eaten at Alfano's and frankly, it would be somewhat of a relief if the place is still a mob front, because that would at least explain why the dump stays in business.

(If you happen to visit Oregon, avoid Alfano's and hop over to La Vigna. Much, much better.)

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Swine Flu--Vaccine Efficacy

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This lengthy Atlantic article outlining the views of flu-vaccine skeptics provides much food for thought:

This is the curious state of debate about the government's two main weapons in the fight against pandemic flu. At first, government officials declare that both vaccines and drugs are effective. When faced with contrary evidence, the adherents acknowledge that the science is not as crisp as they might wish. Then, in response to calls for placebo-controlled trials, which would provide clear results one way or the other, the proponents say such studies would deprive patients of vaccines and drugs that have already been deemed effective. "We can't just let people die," says Cox...

In the absence of such evidence, we are left with two possibilities. One is that flu vaccine is in fact highly beneficial, or at least helpful. Solid evidence to that effect would encourage more citizens--and particularly more health professionals--to get their shots and prevent the flu's spread. As it stands, more than 50 percent of health-care workers say they do not intend to get vaccinated for swine flu and don't routinely get their shots for seasonal flu, in part because many of them doubt the vaccines' efficacy. The other possibility, of course, is that we're relying heavily on vaccines and antivirals that simply don't work, or don't work as well as we believe. And as a result, we may be neglecting other, proven measures that could minimize the death rate during pandemics.

I added the italics there. the next time somebody hates on you for not getting the flu vaccine, mention to them that more than 50% of medical professionals agree with you.

Oh and also, relying on vaccines ad Tamiflu probably makes the situation worse because we don't emphasize proven preventative measures enough:

"Vaccines give us a false sense of security," says Sumit Majumdar. "When you have a strategy that [everybody thinks] reduces death by 50 percent, it's pretty hard to invest resources to come up with better remedies." For instance, health departments in every state are responsible for submitting plans to the CDC for educating the public, in the event of a serious pandemic, about hand-washing and "social distancing" (voluntary quarantines, school closings, and even enforcement of mandatory quarantines to keep infected people in their homes). Putting these plans into action will require considerable coordination among government officials, the media, and health-care workers--and widespread buy-in from the public. Yet little discussion has appeared in the press to help people understand the measures they can take to best protect themselves during a flu outbreak--other than vaccination and antivirals.

"Launched early enough and continued long enough, social distancing can blunt the impact of a pandemic," says Howard Markel, a pediatrician and historian of medicine at the University of Michigan. Washing hands diligently, avoiding public places during an outbreak, and having a supply of canned goods and water on hand are sound defenses, he says. Such steps could be highly effective in helping to slow the spread of the virus. In Mexico, for instance, where the first swine flu cases were identified in March, the government launched an aggressive program to get people to wash their hands and exhorted those who were sick to stay home and effectively quarantine themselves. In the United Kingdom, the national health department is promoting a "buddy" program, encouraging citizens to find a friend or neighbor willing to deliver food and medicine so people who fall ill can stay home.

In the U.S., by contrast, our reliance on vaccination may have the opposite effect: breeding feelings of invulnerability, and leading some people to ignore simple measures like better-than-normal hygiene, staying away from those who are sick, and staying home when they feel ill. Likewise, our encouragement of early treatment with antiviral drugs will likely lead many people to show up at the hospital at first sniffle. "There's no worse place to go than the hospital during flu season," says Majumdar. Those who don't have the flu are more likely to catch it there, and those who do will spread it around, he says. "But we don't tell people this."

All of which leaves open the question of what people should do when faced with a decision about whether to get themselves and their families vaccinated. There is little immediate danger from getting a seasonal flu shot, aside from a sore arm and mild flu-like symptoms. The safety of the swine flu vaccine remains to be seen. In the absence of better evidence, vaccines and antivirals must be viewed as only partial and uncertain defenses against the flu. And they may be mere talismans. By being afraid to do the proper studies now, we may be condemning ourselves to using treatments based on illusion and faith rather than sound science.

I didn't even quote the part where the man who knows more about flu vaccine research than anybody in the world says we have no clue whether vaccines make a difference.

It's important to note that these authors have no quarrel with vaccines in general, and readily admit the vaccines are effective in combating diseases such as polio.

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Believe it or not, this is progress


Actual conversation with my 3 year old:

Charlie: "Poppy, I hope you are happy today."

Me: "Thank you Charlie. I wish to show you some form of affection, but I don't know what would be acceptable. May I shake your hand?"

Charlie: "Yeah."

[Hands are shaken]

Me: "May I give you a hug?"

Charlie: "Yeah."

[Hug is exchanged]

Me: "Do you want to box?"

Charlie: "No."

Me: "Well, how about a hi-5, then?"

Charlie: "Yeah."

[High 5 is exchanged.]

According to my wife, this day should go down in family history as a day of positive breakthroughs for Charlie and me.

UPDATE! Today, Charlie did, indeed, wish to box, so I took on the three of them, including Little T, who came after me saying, "Peas Me?"

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Newman on literature by Christians


This is one of those quotes that's probably been posted on Catholic blogs a bajillion times, but I'd never seen it before, so here it is, 'cuz I like to share:

I say from the nature of the case, if Literature is to be made a study of human nature, you cannot have a Christian Literature. It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless Literature of sinful man. You may gather together something very great and high, something higher than any Literature ever was; and when you have done so, you will find that it is not Literature at all.

John Henry Cardinal Newman, as quoted by Graham Greene, as quoted by Edward Short here.

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System maintenance is now complete.


Thanks, readers, for your patience during the system maintenance Friday evening.

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Earlier this year when I was teaching in Princeton and writing a new book, I decided to abstain from alcohol for the six weeks of Lent. It was hard, especially in a restaurant at night when I longed for a glass or two of red wine.

As I stuck it out, I began to plan the pleasure I would have after midnight mass on Saturday, April 11, when my pledge would come to an end. For six weeks I had treasured a special bottle of red wine to be drunk slowly and savored that night. But as mass went on at St. Boniface's Oratory in Brooklyn, with all the lighting of candles and singing of hymns, I began to be tempted by thoughts of Guinness.

Instead of praying and concentrating on the glories of the resurrection, I began to imagine a pub with a large window and the moment of watching the miracle of the black liquid and the tilted glass, and of standing there and watching the Guinness settle and then, almost as though this were a secular sacrament, the glass being slowly filled to the brim with the creamy clerical collar. For six weeks I had been good, and now, when the religious ceremony had ended and we were told to go in peace, I set off with my companions to Pete's Waterfront Alehouse and I proved to myself, if not to the wider world, that the notion that Guinness doesn't travel, or can only be drunk with pure satisfaction in Ireland, is a myth.

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Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel


Happy Feast Day to all Carmelites, especially the one in our family!

i'd like to say we purchased our new Our Lady of Lourdes statue to honor the Marian feast day, but in truth, we ordered it weeks ago and it just arrived today. But we did, um, put it out front to celebrate the feast day.

mary 002.jpg

I'd be happy to tell you the maker, so long as you promise to order it through your local Catholic book/gift store if you have one. They don't direct ship to consumers anyway.

mary 003.jpg

Why Our Lady of Lourdes? Well, although I do have somewhat of a devotion to Lourdes (details here), the main reason is that it seems odd to buy a 27" statue that is going to rest on the ground and have Mary looking down. This one was one of the few where she is actually looking up.

mary 001.jpg

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This is how we do scandals in the I-L


The best part about the Roland Burris/Rob Blagojevich transcript is where Burris (D, IL), in telling the former governor's brother that he hopes to launder campaign contributions to Governor Blagojevich through his law firm so that if Burris gets the senate seat there wouldn't be appearance of a quid pro quo, also mentions that his partner is in New York trying to turn federal bailout money into contracts for his ailing financial law firm.

Burris: So if I can talk to my law partner who's been, you know, in New York trying to drum up business

Blagojevich: Oh, good for you,...

Burris: (chuckles)

Blagojevich: good for you.

Burris: 'Cause you know he's trying to get a part of that, ah, Federal bailout stuff.

Blagojevich: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Burris: Okay, 'cause you know we're, you know he's, we've got a financial law firm here so they're trying to get involved in that.

I note here, that as much as this is all madness, aside from this being excellent evidence that Burris perjured himself, it doesn't appear that there's much illegal going on in this conversation.

And by the way, I never did get myself any of that federal bailout stuff...

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Douthat on Dan Brown


Reading this in the New York Times makes me smile:

Brown's message has been called anti-Catholic, but that's only part of the story. True, his depiction of the Roman Church's past constitutes a greatest hits of anti-Catholicism, with slurs invented by 19th-century Protestants jostling for space alongside libels fabricated by 20th-century Wiccans. (If he targeted Judaism or Islam this way, one suspects that no publisher would touch him.)...

In the Brownian worldview, all religions -- even Roman Catholicism -- have the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one of them might be particularly true. It's a message perfectly tailored for 21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized "religiousness" detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.

The polls that show more Americans abandoning organized religion don't suggest a dramatic uptick in atheism: They reveal the growth of do-it-yourself spirituality, with traditional religion's dogmas and moral requirements shorn away. The same trend is at work within organized faiths as well, where both liberal and conservative believers often encounter a God who's too busy validating their particular version of the American Dream to raise a peep about, say, how much money they're making or how many times they've been married.

These are Dan Brown's kind of readers. Piggybacking on the fascination with lost gospels and alternative Christianities, he serves up a Jesus who's a thoroughly modern sort of messiah -- sexy, worldly, and Goddess-worshiping, with a wife and kids, a house in the Galilean suburbs, and no delusions about his own divinity.

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Prayer for Memorial Day


Via Vatican Information Services, here is a prayer Pope Benedict XVI offered yesterday at a military cemetery:

VATICAN CITY, 24 MAY 2009 (VIS) - At 6 p.m. today, after celebrating Vespers, the Pope travelled by car to the Polish military cemetery at Montecassino which contains the bodies of 1,052 soldiers who died in the battle of May 1944 against German forces occupying the hill on which the abbey stands.

The Holy Father lit a votive candle and recited the following prayer for the fallen of all countries in all wars:

"O God, our Father,
endless source of life and peace,
welcome into Your merciful embrace
the fallen of the war that raged here,
the fallen on all wars that have bloodied the earth.
Grant that they may enjoy the light that does not fail,
which in the reflection of Your splendour
illumines the consciences of all men and women of good will.
You, Who in Your Son Jesus Christ gave suffering humanity
a glorious witness of Your love for us,
You, Who in our Lord Christ
gave us the sign of a suffering that is never in vain,
but fruitful in Your redeeming power,
grant those who yet suffer
for the blind violence of fratricidal wars
the strength of the hope that does not fade,
the dream of a definitive civilisation of live,
the courage of a real and daily activity of peace.
Give us your Paraclete Spirit
so that the men of our time
may understand that the gift of peace
is much more precious than any corruptible treasure,
and that while awaiting the day that does not end
we are all called to be builders of peace for the future of Your children.
Make all Christians more convinced witnesses of life,
the inestimable gift of Your love,
You Who live and reign for ever and ever

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Ahhh... the good old days.


From David Denby's look back at the work of Victor Fleming, director of, incredibly, both The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind.

In this manner, the three men worked eighteen or twenty hours a day, sustained by Dexedrine, peanuts, and bananas, a combination that Selznick believed would stimulate the creative process. On the fourth day, according to Hecht, a blood vessel burst in Fleming's eye. On the fifth, Selznick, eating a banana, swooned, and had to be revived by a doctor. Many good Hollywood movies have been saved by last-minute revisions, but this ill-fed, hazardous, all-male acting-and-writing marathon must be the strangest of all interventions.

I'm sure many a director wishes they could return to the days where directors could smack around their starlets and humiliate leading men onset for their alcoholism.

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MT4 Tip


So, since we switched over to Movable Type 4, several things about my own blog have annoyed me. One is that I could not figure out how to separate the "Lu" in Papa Lu from the "on" that follows it in the line just below the title. I even found the spot in the template where the code that produces this line resides and I still couldn't fix it after adding an empty space. Well, I just fixed it and am posting it here in case anybody else using MT4 has this problem:

After you log in to Movable type, go to the blog you wish to fix and click the "Design" button towards the top of the screen. When it loads, you'll see a box with a heading that says "Quickfilters." One of the links under there should be "Template Modules." Click this link and in the list that then appears click "Entry Metadata"

You will now be inside the template that produces that text. Find the line that begins with the word "By." It should read somewhat as follows:

By <address class="vcard author"><$MTEntryAuthorLink show h_card="1"$></address> on

You might think that all you need to do is add a space between the code that prints the name of the author of the post and the word "on." That's where I made my mistake trying to fix it the first time, but you'll notice there's already a space there. So I put a space in between each of the bracketed lines, so my template now looks like this:

By <address class="vcard author"> <$MTEntryAuthorLink show h_card="1"$> </address> on

I don't know exactly which of the two extra spaces fixed it, but it worked.

Yes, it's a small problem, but when I got my 20th email addressed to "PapaLuon," I decided enough was enough.

QUICK UPDATE: I don't know if this works the same for all styles, or not, but I think it should. In case it matters, I'm using "Minimalist Green." I imagine it would at least be the same for all "minimalist" styles.

UPDATE 2: ARGH! Figures! this is only an internet Explorer thing. All of you people who use real browsers (I only have IE at work) were probably wondering what the h I was talking about.
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Help a brother out


Just a few posts down I mentioned Daniel Mitsui as one of my favorite bloggers. As it turns out, Daniel's wife just gave birth to their firstborn son, and the medical bills for 3 days of labor and a caesarian delivery are staggering. He has put some of his original artwork up for sale at reduced prices to pay the costs. If you've not seen his stuff before, well, I don't know what to say except that you have to see it. This is an opportunity to obtain original, stunning works of art and help a young family.

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I nominate John Zmirak for the Laetare medal


Notre Dame's craven hunger for secular esteem is hardly unique in American Catholic history. Think how giddy with joy we were when the skirt-chasing son of a bootlegging Nazi appeaser won the election in 1960 on the votes of dead Chicagoans. From the grubby, roughnecked immigrant families of eight or nine Vinnies and Patricks who'd filled the ethnic parishes and pickle factories, we'd finally made our way into the "mainstream," to join the lapsing members of the old American elite -- whose Protestant faith and natural virtues were even then dribbling down their pants leg like John Cheever's spilled seventh martini. We've arrived. There goes the neighborhood.

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