February 2009 Archives

Operation "Not those rice bowls again!"


Admit it! That's what you think when you see your parish vestibule overflowing with oddly shaped purple cardboard boxes. But you grab one anyway, take it home, throw some change in it and return it at the end of Lent.

Have you ever wondered where the money actually goes?

Well, it goes to these folks and what may be a minor annual ritual in our lives is a huge deal to them. So take some time to visit their website, maybe even check out their blog, which shares stories from their work around the world (RSS feed), and perhaps find it in you to pack that rice bowl with some serious silver, or better yet, some green.

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Making it up as they go


If that sounds ludicrous to you, trust your instincts. These people really don't know what they're doing, and they're spending hundreds of billions to do it.

In an unusual joint statement, several U.S. agencies tried to clarify the government's goals as they prepare for Wednesday's launch of so-called stress tests, an attempt to measure the ability of large U.S. banks to survive a protracted recession.


The Obama administration announced its stress-test plans several weeks ago but initially provided little information. On Monday, the government issued a 500-word statement that the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and other government officials plan to begin running banks through rigorous tests to measure whether they hold enough of a cushion to continue lending during the downturn.

The federal statement still stopped short of explaining what economic conditions the government would simulate to determine a bank's health. Officials said Monday they will likely consider a series of nightmarish economic scenarios, including drastically lower housing prices, rising unemployment and continued negative growth. They will ask some 20 banks to predict losses for these events against asset classes such as auto loans, mortgages and commercial credits.

According to the government's statement, firms that need capital would be allowed to sell the Treasury convertible preferred shares, which the government can convert to common shares as banks need more common equity. This would improve banks' cushion against losses but would also boost the government's ownership stake.

Full story.

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This review of The Superorganism, a book about ants, is pretty frickin' aweome if you look past the author's bizarre and disturbing lamentations that humans aren't as much like ants as we should be.

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St. Jude Catholic Worker House


Kudos to the News-Gazette for profiling our local Catholic Worker House, which is seeing a surge in clients and could use your help.

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Politics in the Land of Honest Abe


NYTimes headline: Burris Defends His Evolving Description of Talks

So apparently Burris' story is mutating randomly and he's merely selecting the story that's best adapted to current circumstances. Political Darwinism. So much makes sense now.

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Bishop Jenky's statement on abuse lawsuits


Since various news outlets are castigating my bishop for "lashing out" against just about everybody in his recent letter, I thought I'd post the whole thing so you can see what a "blistering attack" it really is.

The background, as far as I can tell, is that an appellate court recently overturned a lower court ruling that dismissed several lawsuits due to the statute of limitations expiring. SNAP -- the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests -- then organized a demonstration after mass outside of Peoria's St. Mary's Cathedral asking Bishop Jenky not to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court. This letter seems at least in part a response to that request.

So here's the full text of the bishop's letter,followed by my comments.

February 7-8, 2009

Dear Priests, Deacons, Religious and Faithful of the Diocese of Peoria,

My greatest responsibility as your bishop is to preach the Gospel, celebrate the Sacraments, and to try my best to be a good shepherd for this local church. The saddest part of my ministry has been to deal with our part of the immense societal issue of sexual misconduct with minors. Where there have been credible accusations made against individuals and with the advice of my Review Commission, I have not hesitated to remove them from all active ministry. I have also tried to attentively follow the charter adopted by the American bishops that deals in a comprehensive manner with this painful subject. I have not discovered any evidence in this Diocese that priests guilty of misconduct were ever moved from assignment to assignment. Our Diocese normally offers counseling to victims rather than paying out large cash settlements. Not every allegation has been found to be credible by our Review Commission, and so our Diocese resists supporting those claims that simply cannot be sustained by the facts. I take very seriously my responsibility to protect all the children entrusted to our care, and I am absolutely convinced that today the programs of our Church now provide the safest possible environment in America for your children.

In these perilous economic times, I will work to be a prudent steward of the money you offer for the work of Christ. Attorneys representing some claimants and some "victims groups" obviously have a significant financial stake in trying to overturn our Diocesan policies. Recent decisions in the Illinois courts may make our legal situation even more difficult in the future. It should be noted that the sexual abuse of minors cuts across all socio-economic lines, ethnicities, ministries, and religions. It is important to remember that the State basically exempts its own institutions from civil litigation. Amid all the tensions of our nation's culture wars and in the face of the media's intense hatred for our Catholic Faith, I am increasingly concerned that our Church in effect no longer enjoys equal justice under the law. I will not be intimidated by choreographed demonstrations or the abuse that is sometimes personally directed against me. I remain immensely proud of the zealous and holy priesthood of our Diocese. May God guide and protect his Holy Church and bless us all in his service.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C.

Now, had anybody aked my opinion, I'd have strongly advised against referring to "the media's intense hatred for our Catholic Faith." That the media hate the Church is more or less true depending on individuals, but when you're dealing with a national scandal where many churchmen were not forthcoming about the abuse of children until and in many cases even after the press revealed their malfeasance, beating up on the media comes off as retaliatory, and in the context of this letter is unnecessary.

Be that as it may, Bishop Jenky's larger point, that the Church is being shaken down by victims' groups (enabled by courts and legislatures) in a way that no other institution could be, deserves attention. With one hand, the government exempts itself from being sued for abuse and with the other it breaks down legal barriers for the Church to be sued for the same wrongdoing (and remember, the statute of limitations exists for a reason). This unequal treatment affects the Church's spiritual mission and the related material goods it provides: schools, hospitals, family services and other social services. This is something that every Catholic and all people of good will should be very concened about.

Lastly, after reading the bishop's letter, is it not comical to read the characterization of it as an attack? I understand that journalists might bristle at being accused of hating the Catholic faith, but you would try in vain to see a journalist wrestle with Bishop Jenky's arguments about "equal treatment." That's not hatred of the Church -- it's just laziness.

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My crappy Lourdes story

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Lourdes.jpgToday is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the apparition of the Virgin Mary to St. Bernadette Soubiroux, a French peasant girl, over 5 months in 1858. Mary called herself "The Immaculate Conception," confirming the Pope's proclamation of that dogma just four years earlier. She appeared near a cave and directed Bernadette inside, where Bernadette discovered a previously unknown spring.

As far as Marian apparitions go, Lourdes is fairly uncontroversial. There are no secret messages inspiring conspiracy theories, no railing against her as a symbol of colonialism (I won't even get into Medjugorje). About 5 million pilgrims flock there every year out of devotion and to seek healing from the fountain, which has reportedly worked countless miracles. That number swelled to 8 million last year for the 150th anniversary of the apparitions.

I've long been somewhat of a francophile going back to 4th grade when we did country reports and I chose France. I then took French for eight years and it was even my major for a few semesters in college. Furthermore, though my Catholic family wasn't particularly devout, the closest parish to us when I grew up was Our Lady of Lourdes in Chicago, an absolutely gorgeous church which I attended for a while as an adult after I embraced the faith of my Baptism. And spiritually, I owe a great deal to Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity (soon may she be canonized!) and St. Francis de Sales.

So you would be right to think that Lourdes, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and St. Bernadette would hold a special place in my heart (though, to my shame, I still have not yet seen Song of Bernadette).

You might further think that, given the chance, there's no way I would pass up a chance to visit Lourdes -- to pray for my loved ones at the grotto and collect as much Lourdes water as I could carry.

And you'd be right, I would -- if I had another chance.

In the summer of 1994 I traveled to Paris for a week and then stayed two weeks in Tarbes, a small French town near the Pyrénées mountains, with a family who then sent their son (my "correspondent," Paul) to stay with my family in Chicago for three weeks -- all part of an annual exchange program my high school participated in.

One morning, Paul was arguing with his mom over breakfast (they argued in Spanish so I couldn't understand -- they were Spanish immigrants, the irony being that everybody in my extended family but me speaks Spanish). I had no idea what they were arguing about and finally Paul acquiesced to whatever she was asking and we were off on a road trip.

We took about a half hour trip further into the Pyrénées and when we got there Paul asked me if we had seen Versailles when we were in Paris. I said I had and he commented that Versailles was a very beautiful castle, a castle for a king and for diplomats. He said that I was now going to see un chateau très fort. And he was right, we visited a huge castle, parts of which date back to the 11th century. He showed me the narrow slits from which archers could fire without getting hit and pointed out various other nifty features. Then I think we ate lunch and headed home. On the return trip I remember thinking, I'll never get those three hours of my life back.

We got back to the house and the mother, with an eagerness I now find a bit tragic, asked me how the trip was. When I told her about the castle, she first looked puzzled, but then turned to Paul, who was avoiding her look. Another, much more furious argument immediately erupted. I'd had enough of this bizarre day, so I went to my room and let them fight it out.

The next day, I told some of the other students from my school about it, and one of them said something vague about a religious shrine and special water. It would be another 5 years until I discovered that I had been to Lourdes and had not visited any of the holy sites.

I don't exactly blame Paul. He and I got along fairly well (better, if I remember correctly, than any of my friends got along with their correspondents), and if he had told me we were going to a religious shrine, I probably would have talked him into taking me to the cafe where we used to drink demi-pêches (beer w/peach syrup) and check out girls.

Still, I'VE BEEN TO LOURDES WITHOUT KNOWING IT. Every February 11 I think about this fact and my heart breaks a little bit. I used to think about what would have happened if I'd had my conversion there in Lourdes instead of 4 years and a lot of stupid mistakes later. I'm a bit calmer about that now, but yet I can't help but lament that I WAS WITHIN 3/4 MILES OF THE GROTTO AND I WAS PISSED TO BE THERE.

So there, my friends, is my crappy Lourdes story. The story of an incurious dope who missed his chance to visit one of the holiest shrines in the world.

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So, um, you may have noticed the decrease in activity on this blog. I've started a Twitter account and a lot of my snark has migrated over there. (You can see my updates over at the top of the right sidebar or follow me here if you're on Twitter.)

Anyway, most people I mention Twitter to say something like, "Oh yeah, Twitter, I've heard of that. What exactly is it?" This NY Mag article is a pretty good look at just what the heck Twitter is.

The first day I was in the Twitter office, I sat in the corner, playing with my own Twitter page, taking notes (it feels somewhat silly to write in a notebook there), and waiting to talk to Williams. For lunch, executives, including Stone, hosted programmers in the lounge to talk about some sort of open-source mumbo jumbo I didn't understand. Their HD television was tuned to a still photo of a fireplace. They were wrapped up in the meeting. I attended to my computer.

And then I noticed something on Twitter Search. The first person was "manolantern," who, at 12:33 local time, posted, "I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive (sic) in manhattan." After that, the updates were unceasing. Some fifteen minutes before the New York Times had a story on its website (and some fifteen hours before it had one in print), Twitter users who witnessed the crash of US Airways Flight 1549 were giving me updates in real time. One of them was a man named Janis Krums. Krums lives in Sarasota, Florida, and happened to be on a ferry navigating the Hudson when the plane hit the water. He immediately took a photo and posted it to TwitPic and sent a "tweet" with a link to the picture and "There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy." He then, perhaps coming to his senses, began to help passengers off the plane. (He ended up giving his phone to one of them and didn't get it back until that night.)

Now think about that for a second. In the midst of chaos--a plane just crashed right in front of him!--Krums's first instinct was to take a picture and load it to the web. There was nothing capitalistic or altruistic about it. Something amazing happened, and without thinking, he sent it out to the world. And let's say he hadn't. Let's say he took this incredible photo--a photo any journalist would send to the Pulitzer board--and decided to sell it, said he was hanging onto it for the highest bidder. He would have been vilified by bloggers and Twitterers alike. His is a culture of sharing information. This is the culture Twitter is counting on. Whatever your thoughts on its ability to exist outside the collapsing economy or its inability (so far) to put a price tag on its services, that's a real thing. That's the instinct Stone was talking about. If the nation has tens of millions of people like Krums, that's a phenomenon. That's what Twitter is waiting for.

Of course, no one at Twitter noticed any of this going on. This is the New Communication. There was no screaming and running through a newsroom, dispatching any reporter in the vicinity to the scene. For an hour, the boring open-source meeting droned on. No one in the room knew a plane had crashed. The next day, Stone would tell me that the site didn't even get a traffic spike. "That's only for huge shared experiences, like the inauguration, or Mumbai." Twitter had unleashed something ... and its executives were completely unaware, as its system worked on its own, without them. That might be what the future holds for Twitter. Or it might not be. It all depends on whether you're willing to wait for something that might not come. It all depends on whether you're willing to believe.

Well, I can't say I "believe" in Twitter, but it's combination of immediacy and simplicity is compelling.

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Almost as trendy as grunge

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To all the dumb schlups writing with condescencion and clever ironic distance about the "25 random things" Facebook meme, allow me to dump some cold water on your "journalism."

You might think that by "covering" social media such as Facebook, you're ingratiating yourself with the millenials who live and breathe the stuff (and who, by the way, will still never buy your newspapers). Let's leave aside the possibility that what your friends are doing on Facebook might not be newsworthy and concentrate on the fact that this new, apparently disturbing trend is not actually a new thing at all. The same exact "random crap about me" chain letters were filling up my email inbox 7-10 years ago. Your treatment of this "trend" as something new in any way except scale betrays real, actual ignorance.


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Mama-Lu's Etsy Shop

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from February 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

January 2009 is the previous archive.

March 2009 is the next archive.

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