Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Friday, May 01, 2015

The spiritual "superiority" of digging with a spoon.

My pal, the lovely and gracious Kate O'Hare, blogged on the matter the intelligent application of technology to the task of outreach by the Catholic church. She asked me what I thought, and I -- not one to mince words -- told her:

“Of the current realities to which companies and other institutions must adapt — all of which involve the wise application of entrepreneurial principles — possibly the most crucial one is that of ‘branding.’

“To this end, technology, such as MasterChannel’s platform, is to be embraced intelligently, and not feared, shunned or left to ‘the other guys’ out of a stuntedly earnest sense of nobility-of-purpose; this is the same sort of thinking that supposes it’s more virtuous to dig with a spoon than with a bulldozer.”

Of course, one of the Usual Suspects took exception and posted comment which struck me as jejune and disjointed, a casual collation of Vaticanese doublespeak, filled with sound and fury and signifying nothing-ish.

There is an unfortunate mindset among some Catholics that entrepreneurship is, by its very nature...suspect. As if there were something not-quite-right about it, something with a faint whiff of, oh, I dunno, Calvinism or WASPism or something.

In my estimation, and I deeply regret I cannot phrase this more charitably, this is absolute, 100% organic USDA Prime drivel. (Were that MY blog my response would have been: "Nurse! He's out of bed again!")

My abbreviated translation of the unfortunate comment runs along these lines: The Catholic Church has the fullness of truth, etc. and "we don' need no stinkin' marketin' or any of your other kinds of witchcraft. "

This comment is PRECISELY the sort of thinking I had in mind when I made my comment which Kate quoted. The commenter is trying to silence opposition to that curious and quaint neo-obscurantist view.

The comment gets going from the first salvo, the "Are we the XYZ brand, are we?" Which is nothing Kate mentioned. To say you should use a hammer is not the same as claiming/desiring to be a carpenter. It claims that Kate is proposing a "push the ads" analogy. (Huh? What?) Then the commenter further throws in useless jargon, ascribing the Labor Theory of Value to "the Enlightenment," when it's Marx who proposed it.

While the commenter is right about what the Catholic Church has/is (mystical body of Christ, the Holy Eucharist, the Sacraments, etc.), it's also spectacularly besides the point. ALL of what this commenter states will come to nothing unless the Catholic Church can get bodies in the pews.

The commenter also fails to understand that we're talking about tools to use in Evangelization, no different that Gutenberg's printing press. I'm sure that someone in the 15th Century complained that Bibles should be copied by hand and only by monks.

The commenter is saying, in essence, "Forget all this pagan 'business-y' stuff, that's what got us in trouble in the first place."

Which is, naturally, wrong.

God, at Pentecost, gave the Apostles the first of the many tools useful and necessary for evangelization: the gift of speaking other languages. At no point did, say, Phillip pipe up and say "Why do we need to speak these other languages? Let's just carry on in Aramaic and God will fix everything." He didn't because they all knew that God prefers to allow us the tools to fulfill His purpose and the tasks he has entrusted to us.

This is why St. Jerome translated the Bible, why Gutenberg printed it, Fr. Daniel Lord, SJ used pamphlets, why Bp. Sheen used television and why the last three popes have used the Internet.

There is no nobility, or merit, or reward or viable reason, to do something the most backward way possible.

Put down that spoon, and let's dig.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Prom-ness

We are in that phase of Numbah One Son's last year where all the "Graduating Students" activities...stuff is going on. Banquets, presentations, etc., etc.

With each, there is usually a letter sent home. This letter explains the details of that specific event. Attire, dates for sending in deposits (if any), contact persons and, where applicable, the rules and regulations governing the event.

One such event is his Sr. Prom, and the letter arrived a few days ago. Given the nature of the event, the letter was (not unexpectedly) somewhat longer than usual, owing to the rules-and-regulations portion which was of an ample and generous size.

In the process of getting all of the details of this event squared away, I sat down with Joey to make sure that all deadlines were met, that he was not out of compliance with any unforeseen rule. That sort of thing.

It was then I ran into what Joey described as "the Falcon rule."

One of the things I have always noted is that EVERY rule that at first blush makes no sense is there because someone with an exceptional mind took advantage of the maxim: "Nulla pœna sine lege." (Literally, "No penalty without a law (against it)." but more succinctly "It didn't say you couldn't.")

For example, when I was at school, in my second year, the student handbook stated that one had to wear "lace up leather shoes" and then listed all of the UNacceptable forms of footwear: sneakers, deck shoes, etc. But then, in my THIRD year, that Forbidden Footwear list was amended to include -- and I am SO not kidding -- "bowling shoes."

Why?

Because someone wore such shoes the previous year and, when hauled before the Authorities on charges of Forbidden Footwearness, took the stand on his own behalf and noted that, wholly independent of the spirit (a subjective thing, he surely argued) of the law, in the LETTER of the law, there was no injunction against wearing bowling shoes. So was born the Bowling Shoe Rule, which has been enshrined in the school's Student Handbook, even to the present day.

Anyway.

It turns out that last year, a certain young Mr. Falcon (then a teammate of Joey's) saw fit to take to the Prom, as his date for the evening a young lady some six (!) years his senior*. While her (and their) conduct before, during and after the event was entirely acceptable -- unimpeachable, even -- and her background was also unblemished save for her being in her first year of some master's program, the matter drew the disapproval of several of the mothers chaperoning the event. (The historians have not recorded what, if anything, the chaperoning fathers may had had to say. Possibly an instance of suppression of dissent, although that would be mere conjecture.)

The objectors made their grievances with the obvious gap in regulatory coverage known to the authorities and prevailing upon them we have now, enshrined in the letter to the parents of graduating students, is The Falcon Rule.

Not that we were in the remotest danger of landing afoul** of it.

* That she was considered to be, and I quote verbatim, "rocket hot" is not, I explained to him whom I had offsprung, a relevant consideration for the Authorities in the formulation of policy and, possibly, may have added momentum for the decision.

** If a certain young man doesn't, er, "show some initiative, and SOON" we won't have to worry about landing afoul of even the most minuscule of rules.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pulp Fiction...a morality play??

UPDATE - I deleted an ignorant, unintelligent, antisemitic "comment." Don't do it again, or you are banned.

People’s eyebrows generally rocket upward when I state, without a hint of uncertainty or compunction, that Pulp Fiction is a ver-r-r-r-r-ry Catholic film. My interlocutors invariably disagree, citing the number of characters who are scattered merrily along the darker end of the lowlife spectrum.

To which I say, that relative to Christ, we are ALL pretty much situated along the darker end of the lowlife spectrum, even the most infrequent of venial sinners.

The examples are multiple (I'll revise and extend my remarks as time allows), and you may never see this film the same way again.

Here are a few such examples:

1- The stories contained by the film are out of sequence. This is because God is “outside time.”

2- When Vince and Jules (who has abused Scripture his whole “career”) are shot at, from nearly point-blank range, and emerge unscathed, Jules sees a miracle and changes his ways. He becomes transformed by the Divine action he recognizes. "...God stopped the bullets, or He changed Coke to Pepsi, He found my f***ing car keys. You don't judge s*** like this based on merit. Now, whether or not what we experienced was an according-to-Hoyle miracle is insignificant. What IS significant is that I felt the touch of God." In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read that Abraham is saved “through faith". Jules has a conversion and is spared. Vince, does not and is killed shortly after. (More on these facets to follow.)

3- Butch's story pivots around his father's watch. It symbolizes immortality (that whole “being outside of time” thing). It “served” honorably in a military context; it's his “birthright” handed down by ancestors who fought and died. However, Butch has squandered that potential, he hasn't fought for a noble cause, he has just fought as a sport. He doesn’t even feel too much remorse for the other boxer who dies in the match.

Butch goes back to retrieve the watch his father willed him (i.e., by retrieving the watch, he is doing his father’s will) where he encounters Vince, at this point without Jules who has experienced a conversion which Vince explicitly denies, and kills him with the weapon marked for Butch’s death. (The instrument of death becomes, after a chain of events, the catalyst for his forgiveness of Marcellus and the latter’s salvation.)

Butch’s story features a descent into Hell - the basement of the pawn shop used as an S&M rape dungeon. There he's finally presented with a clear decision. He COULD leave Marcellus Wallace (who until moments before tried to have him killed) to the S&M rapists or he could descend into Hell, go back and save him even if he doesn’t deserve being saved.

Butch decides the way of honor, embracing the risks of his military forebears and therefore honoring them. (Ancestors often symbolize God.) To underscore the point, after sifting through more prosaic choices, Butch decides on the weapon that most often is associated with honor, the samurai sword. Having descended into Hell, behaved nobly at great personal risk, he rescues Marcellus thus forgiving him. As a result of Butch’s forgiveness, he gets to leave his past life to a new one on a motorcycle named "Grace."

4- The attaché case that Jules and Vincent went to retrieve? It carries the soul of Marcellus Wallace. In ancient mythology, sometimes monsters would kidnap a soul through the back of the neck; this would explain the Band Aid on Marcellus' neck. What ELSE could Ringo possibly recognize to such an extent as to be rendered stunned in the middle of a heist? Oh, and the combination of the locks? 666.

5- The film opens with Ringo and Honey Bunny holding up a diner, and it ends with Jules choosing to let them live. Jules explicitly says that a) as a result what he’s experienced on this day, he gets to buy Ringo’s life, and b) that he is trying “real hard” to be the shepherd, like we are called upon to bring Christ to others.

Jules’ example teaches us that God’s mercy can be given even to a cold-blooded killer, and that mercy is in no way damaged or “tainted” if it’s manifested to one sinner from another, even the worst and most hardened of sinners. However, Jules recognizes that he has led a violently sinful past, and he recognizes that he, like Cain, must “walk the earth.”

6- In the “Mr. Wolf” scene, we see that as a consequence of his experience, Jules’ hands leave the towel in the bathroom spotlessly white, but Vince’s hands leave his towel red and bloodied. Jules has embraced (even if he hasn’t yet verbalized it) repentance and conversion, while Vince has refused it. The reason there’s even a “Mr. Wolf” scene in the first place is that Vince, somehow accidentally shoots Marvin in the head. Vince, dead in sin and refusing forgiveness, cannot but bring death even when he doesn’t intend to do so. Meanwhile, as we will see in the diner scene, Jules’ is now willfully bringing life to where once he sowed death.

7- We see that Mia is brought back from the dead by Vince acting upon the instructions of Lance (whose name recalls the piercing of Christ’s side, and whose wife is obviously a fan of body piercings) who has a curiously Jesus-like appearance – remember he’s not A Savior, he is, in this one scene, a Savior TYPE. Vince has been given a second chance to see the error of his ways and change, but again he refuses it.

So, um, WHY “litter” the story with pretty much the worst examples of humanity (and their not-quite Ivory Soap Pure behavior/language)? Drug dealers, murderers, organized crime? Because we have to realize that mercy extends to even the lowest of the low, and the low don’t talk like Leave it to Beaver or Shakespeare.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Burning thoughts on the NYT & Dating

A recent survey's results on dating was picked up and flung broad all over the Internet over the weekend. The very abbreviated version is that "you should" (ahem) have sex on/by the 3.53rd date.

So I posted this on my FB page and a pal of mine acidly noted (and justifiably so) that this makes dating very difficult if one is the sort of person who likes to "save" oneself for some point after the 3.53rd date like, say, marriage. She added: "That's if they stay around long enough to have a conversation after they find out you're not in a hurry to sleep with anyone."

The problem my pal poses is analogous to that of "burning" in real estate.

Let's suppose you buy a house in a pretty nice area. Let us also suppose all the houses are roughly equivalent. Let us further suppose you take good care of your house so as to, in your mind, maximize its resale value, which we will pretend is $100,000.

What happens if other people in your neighborhood with very similar houses start listing THEIR houses for, oh-I-dunno, $50,000? They have an Open House, they broadcast their noticeably lower price, the whole deal. Who will look at your house? 's right. No-body. They may or may not buy the other house, but they will almost certainly not even consider yours, even if yours has a host of unique and desirable features.

And even if the other houses sell (and more quickly!) they sell for lower, and they could very well sell to a purchaser whose main interest was the lower barrier to purchase and who may not have the wherewithal for long term ownership.

That's where we are.

-J.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Not necessarily Lent-only.

Today's lesson is "Kosher Dill Pickles" which is the only pickle worth ingesting.
Start with a clean and sterilized, large (24oz) Mason jar.
12oz, by weight, of pickling or "Kirby" cucumbers.
Slice them on a mandolin. Even a cheap one will work.
I wanted this batch as thin as possible. You do whatever. (You can also slice into "planks" or cut into "spears" etc.)
Clear your prep surface regularly by shoving the slices into the jar as you go.
You'll need garlic. 4 cloves if you're Iberic, 3 if you're Italian. 2 if you're a normal person.
Slice the garlic as thinly as you can without getting fanatical about it.
Add 2 t dried dill. (Make sure it's a fresh jar.)
1 T Kosher salt. (Do NOT USE REGULAR TABLE SALT. Don't be a cheapskate, Kosher salt is, like, only a buck for a silo.)
You'll need plain white vinegar. (If you can find the kind with "cultures" so much the better.)
¾ cup.
...and pour into the jar.
Top off with filtered, room-temperature water.
Shake furiously. Teenage boys you have offsprung may be conscripted for this purpose.
Put it in the corner, unlike Baby. 1-2 days to be "ready" about 3-4 to be ideal. (At which point I put them in the fridge.)
Note the color change. Pretty much ready, will improve with another couple of days, then on to the fridge. (If yours were sliced thicker, it may take an extra day across the board.)

-J.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Helping my pal Kate

The lovely and gracious Kate O'Hare, my co-conspirator in tilting at the windmills of lousy translations by the Vatican of Pope Francis and others, has an excellent blog, Pax Culturati. You should go there.

Anyway, earlier in Lent she asked for help in putting together a piece on grilled cheese sandwiches as she's -- the heart has its reasons, I s'pose -- somehow not fond of dining upon the piscine aspects of Creation. So I threw in this particular gem of mine.

I somehow missed her call for input on her piece on mac-and-cheese, so I was unable to render much assistance. (Mea maxima culpa.)

Now, for a number of reasons (geography, ethnicity, etc.) we-e-e-e-e-ell afield of this post, I didn't grow up eating mac-and-cheese. I didn't get to try it until well into my collegiate years. I prefer it as a side dish, myself, and the best I have ever had comes from Smoque in Chicago.

What a lot of people don't realize is that mac-and-cheese has its roots in penne ai quattro formaggi, which is something in my background from my Italian (maternal grandmother) side. Similarly, the tuna noodle casserole -- and even more alien craft to my palate -- comes from the classic tonnato sauce. This sauce most classically goes over cold poached veal but given the batch sizes of the sauce, leftovers are inevitable, and these find themselves dressing pasta. This becomes, therefore, the ur-Tuna Noodle Casserole.

Here ya go:

¼ c capers (rinsed of brine or salt in which they are packed)
1 T grated lemon zest, plus 3 T lemon juice
1 t anchovy paste (I prefer Amore) or 2 anchovy fillets, drained
2 egg yolks
1 can tuna packed in olive oil (try to find Italian or Spanish brands), drained
1 c extra virgin olive oil
salt and white pepper to taste

Purée the capers with the vinegar, zest, anchovies, yolks, tuna, salt, and pepper in a blender (best!) or food processor (OK) until smooth. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until sauce is emulsified. Garnish with additional capers.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Which got me thinking

I was watching a cooking show from Italy, featuring Spaghetti Puttanesca...which got me thinking. Would the basic components of a puttanesca work in a "salsa" configuration? After all, I'm live in the factory outlet of hyerfresh seafood and I'm sitting on 87 cubic yards of fresh, ripe tomatoes which need using ASAP as the unseasonable winter chill has wreaked havoc with our "seasonlessness."

So I came up with this:

Puttanesca Salsa
2-4 cloves garlic, sliced as thin as your patience will permit (I bought a truffle shaver on clearance just for this; garlic is a staple and truffles not so much)
12 large leaves basil, torn (not cut, tearing makes them mushy)
1 lb tomatoes, roughly chopped, retaining the liquid but jettisoning the seeds (use good canned tomatoes otherwise, the aseptic Pomi brand is especially good.)
½ c extra-virgin olive oil
1½ T capers (I like the salt-packed kind -- rinsed of salt. Either way, make sure they are drained)
¼ c tiny black olives (I like Picholines or Gaetas, anything short of cheap canned ones will work)
½ lemon, juiced (about 1½ oz juice, no need to be fanatical)
2 t sea salt
1-3 t crushed red pepper flakes (I go full-whack)
3 anchovy fillets, mashed into paste (or already in a paste, if you can find the kind made with only anchovies, salt and EVOO...Amore is my favorite brand)

OPTIONAL 1-1½ T tomato paste (I like the Italian stuff in tubes, again Amore is a good brand)

Warm half the EVOO and add the pepper and anchovy. You don't want the oil hot, just sort of at a poaching temperature. Stir until the anchovy dissolves. Let cool. In a large bowl, combine the oil mixture with the garlic, basil, tomatoes, EVOO, capers, olives, lemon juice, salt. Allow to stand in cool place for ½ hour.

Given the amount of liquid AND the salt (which'll draw out even more liquid) this might be a bit too watery for your tastes...I like to add a glob of tomato paste to balance things out. In such quantities it play along well with the other ingredients, "absorbs" any excess fluid, and doesn't overwhelm the salsa with a cooked (as opposed to raw) tomato flavor.

This goes GREAT with a hunk of grilled tuna or swordfish or even those big fat honkin' scallops you sometimes are lucky enough to get. If you live where fresh sseafood is a) not really likely, b) crazy expensive, or c) both, frozen scallops are a good choice, provided the only ingredients are scallops and salt. Scallops and shrimp, if not adulterated with "firming" or "color retention" ingredients are your very best bet in shellfish when your options are limited.

-J.