Sunday, March 30, 2008

How cool is this?

I got a blackberry yesterday. And I'm blogging from it! I feel so hip right now.
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

A prayer for Basra

The Iraqi government launched a major offensive to take back the city from Shia militias last week. It remains to be seen whether they're making any progress -- or what that might look like if it comes. It'd be a huge victory if they could pull it off in the near future; folks down there appear none-too-happy with the status quo, and bringing the port under central gov't control could be very promising in terms of prestige and infrastructure.

And yet. A friend just tipped me off to Anthony Cordesman's latest NY Times column. I know far too little about the war to endorse any particular analysis, but it looks to be a pretty comprehensive (and none-too-uplifting) run-through of all the accompanying political, um, difficulties. Plus, Cordesman's been to Basra recently -- which seems to be a lot more than most folks covering events there can say.

Well, we've been waiting for the next shoe to drop over there. This could -- could -- get a lot worse before it gets better.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Random, belated St. Paddy's Day reflections

Well it is the biggest mix-up that you have ever seen:
My father, he was Orange, and me mother, she was Green.
--Irish folk song

Sorry this is so late in coming, but hey, if the Catholic Church can change the date of St. Patrick's Day to avoid conflicting with Holy Week, then so can I.

**One of the fascinating things about New York City to me has always been not only how many Irish pubs there are, but how many still seem to be run -- or at least staffed -- by genuine Irish people. I'm fully aware of the extent of the Irish diaspora, but you'd think we would have assimilated by now. Did all these pubs just snatch up the last wave of pre-Celtic Tiger immigrants, or is there something more Disney/Epcot Center-y going on here? Does anybody know?

**Jeremy Grunert of CMC fame, now studying abroad in Belfast, has a fun blog documenting his adventures. Particularly interesting is this post, in which his Catholic Northern Irish roommates tell him the story of the "Troubles" of 1968-98 -- and teach him to stereotype the Orange-folk in the process.

**There were "Troubles," of course, long before the latest (last?) round began in '68, but it took my own visit to London two summers ago for me to realize just how fresh in everyone's memories they still are. I was staying with some Irish priests at the time, and, incidentally, reading Winston Churchill's World War II memoirs for leisure. Churchill relates his frustration, in the early war years, with the stubborn unhelpfulness of the neutral Irish government -- though thanks to the aforementioned diaspora, I was fascinated to learn, he typically went through Roosevelt to get whatever cooperation he could.

And yet, some of the names Churchill was using were unfamiliar to me. So I pulled aside one of the priests and asked in all innocence, "Fr. Martin, who was Eamon De Valera?" Two hours and several pints of cider later, I had my answer.

**It turns out that Churchill was heavily involved in negotiating a settlement for Irish Home Rule before and after WWI, too. In any case, as a Catholic anglophile with joint ancenstry and ecumenical tendencies (i.e., a mutt), I couldn't help but be fascinated with the history (I wound up devoting a good deal of my thesis to Churchill and the Irish question).

One short vignette: Churchill was a negotiator at the 1921 peace conference that laid the foundation for the Irish Free State. Opposite him was Michael Collins, the young and passionate IRA military commander, and soon to be De Valera's bitter enemy in the Irish Civil War. As Churchill tells it, the two of them were one night alone together in Churchill's London apartment, with Collins seething at all manner of past British injustice -- most presently, the 5,000-pound bounty on his head. Churchill responded by fetching a framed reward poster from his own days as an escaped prisoner of war in South Africa. The bounty: 25 pounds.

"He read the paper," Churchill later recounted, "and as he took it in he broke into a hearty laugh. All his irritation vanished. We had a really serviceable conversation, and thereafter…we never to the best of my belief lost the basis of a common understanding."

Lesson: There's nothing like the mutual experience of getting shot at to bring people together.

**Except for maybe a pitcher of cold green beer.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


He is risen.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Riding Westward

Okay, I know I should be contemplating weightier things at the moment. Still, my Huskies -- why?!? There goes my bracket, too. Guess I'll just consider this my Good Friday pennance.

UPDATE: In all seriousness, I have had some occasion to reflect today -- and much along the lines of a poem a good friend turned me on to several years ago. It's called "Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward" by the English poet John Donne:

"...Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul's form bends to the East...

"Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die;
What a death were it then to see God die?

"...Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They're present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and Thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I'll turn my face."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, R.I.P.

One of the literary mainstays of my childhood has passed away. John Derbyshire at The Corner has some good reflections. I wasn't what one would really call a sci-fi buff, but there was a time in my life when I simply inhaled Clarke's work.

Folks who know me understand that I'm ideologically about as far from techno-utopianism as they come (I was less so then), but Clarke nonetheless had a flair for technological imagination -- i.e., exploring the effects that new discoveries might have on the fabric of human society -- that was quite enthralling to the curious adolescent mind. Plus, his work was delightfully free of the dour dystopian cynicism that pervaded most of the science fiction I was exposed to.

Then there were Clarke's religious opinions: religion is "a necessary evil in the childhood of our particular species," was about as charitable as he got. But even as most of his works set out from that perspective, it always struck me how many of his heroes were deeply religious in the traditional sense -- and how he always tiptoed around the central mysteries of faith. My sense, though it's only a guess, is that he had a begrudging respect for serious religious people whose sense of wonder and mystery were equal to the attitude he took in his contemplation of the future.

In any case, rest in peace.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Claremont prof in Nazi art controversy

Speaking of news happening: Elise Viebeck, editor extraordinaire of the Claremont Independent, has just broken what looks to be a pretty major story about CMC history professor Jonathan Petropoulos and shady dealings in the world of Nazi-looted art restitution. We'll see how this unfolds.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Counting my blessings

Hey folks, sorry it's been a while since my last post. I promise I've been doing interesting things in the meantime. Though lest my legthy silence raise undue concern, by "interesting" I mean things such as "taking-a-Saturday-to-explore-Staten-Island interesting" and "losing-your-car-keys-on-a-ski-trip-to-the-Catskills interesting" -- not "$4,300-hookers-in-Washington-hotel-rooms interesting."

But as they say in my business, sometimes news happens.