Monday, March 29, 2010

Say it like you mean it, Dick...



thanks Dick.

We kinda already knew that.

"Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears. "

"...and how dare you suggest I am motivated by hate? I'll have you know I'm a terribly important scientist, and my every utterance is founded upon a cool, Vulcan-like objectivity, a life-long dedication to dispassionate scientific investigation and love of reasoned and informed debate..."

God peeks out from behind the wing of a dragonfly

Now, I am not a math person, and I am really not terribly up on the whole Intelligent Design theories, but I know that the universe is made of math.

Quite a few years ago now I signed up for a summer course in mathematics designed to help life-long math-handicapped people like me get past the elementary level and upgrade to the point where they could make a start in sciences. I then followed up with a course in basic geometry, since I had found that part of the first course so very interesting. Some years after that, I read about Euclid and bought a school-boy's version of his book and started working my way through it.

What my geometry experiment taught me is that, just as it is logically indisputable that God exists, it is geometically indisputable that there is design in the universe. Reality is mathematically explicable.

Some years after my math flirtation, I had one of the most memorable walks I have ever taken. It was after a Sunday Mass, and John Muggeridge and another friend of ours took a long walk through High Park. Our friend, who is a math teacher and a brilliant amateur woodworker, told us all about these mathematical ideas like the Fibonacci series, spirals and Golden Angles and all the mystical things of math that were known by the ancients and rediscovered by the Renaissance geniuses, that explain the orderliness of the universe and why modern art and architecture have been such flops.

Later, Fr. Martin Hilbert of the Toronto Oratory (another ridiculously smart math-person) gave a talk all about the design that is evident is the flagellum of microscopic creatures. I was again mesmerised.

Today, I am beginning a course in drawing. Instruction will be given in the classical methods that were taught to all the great artists of Europe until the Asteroid that Destroyed Everything Good Holy and True. I will be studying three hours a week at first, and I hope there will be no end.

I hope that it will move from the classical drawing and painting techniques, to a deeper study of the observable universe. I have no idea if I have any sort of talent for two-D art, and I don't care. There is something, something about these lost secrets of our Western Tradition, that have whispered to me all my life. There is order in the universe, and it can be comprehended. God speaks through creation.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Why we left the seas

...the neighbours.

(These are some of the weird fish that washed up on the beach after the big tsunami in 2004.)

Lent Lite

I love these guys...
I said we'd celebrate Earth Hour in the Moot House, with an hour-long meditation on the darkness. That meant, after much nagging, that even the lights were switched off in the Archdruidical Suite.

But Hnaef had agreed, after even more nagging, that Milton Ernest was going to be allowed to organise an authentic Celtic worship evening. I had real reservations, but you know how I am - once I'd heard that the authentic Celtic worship evening was going to include Taizé chant and Tibetan Prayer Bells I was in.

Love the yurt.

(...and it beats flying off to Brazlaffistan, or wherever it is, to go seek out some pure and pristine form of liturgy that does not offend even one single little know who you are Mr. Fusspot.)

h/t and thanks for the smile, Fr. Tim

Only Canadians know how properly to Mock Canada

Friday, March 26, 2010

Welcome to the future

I had my first online video phone call tonight, and am feeling very Star Trek-y/Jetsons-y/Space 1999-y. Now where's my robot maid with the hot water bottle and a nice warm milk, so I can get into my flying car and go to work nice and rested tomorrow.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Hey! I just had a nice conversation with an old Italian guy In Italian!

I made up two whole sentences.


All by myself!

He said (something like) "Don't work too much," and I said, "Work never ends."

Then he gave me a bunch more Italian I didn't quite catch, and I said, "I'm sorry, Italian is not easy for me." He looked a little sad, and smiled and said "Buon Lavoro".

He seemed really nice. And was wearing a great old fashioned fedora.

That was the third two or three-sentence conversation I've had in Italian this month.

Maybe I could learn not to hate it here so much.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

University of Stupid strikes again

...but I'll defend to the death your right to...


Never mind.

More Natural History Nerds

I've been posted to their Twitter page.

I don't actually know what Twitter is, being old and all, but I think it's supposed to be fairly cool.

(No! please don't explain it. I really don't want to know until I absolutely have to.)

Purcell Wednesday

It's Wednesday and it's Lent, so we will have something in a minor key.

Hilary the Amateur Naturalist

Remember these guys?

Just received the following response identifying my little friends.

Dear Hilary,

Thank you for your enquiry.
We have just received your wonderful image and can now proceed to inform you about this remarkable sighting.

These are the caterpillar of the Pine Processionary Moth

Order: Lepidoptera

Family: Thaumetopoeidae

Genus: Thaumetopoea

Species: Thaumetopoea pityocampa

This species is not native to the UK but is found throughout central and southern Europe and considered a major pest of pine forests. As you rightly state, they do fashion ‘tents’ which they live in communally.

Their unusual habit of forming a ‘procession’ is two-fold. The feed by night on pine needles and form this single line. When they are ready to pupate, they too form this single line and head to the forest floor where they will break free individually to find a suitable pupation site in a sandy soil. The single line is defensive behaviour against predatory attack; visually they look like a snake, which by both day and night is far less likely to be mistaken for a caterpillar by a predator such as a bird of prey.

As with most of the hairy caterpillar, these hairs are there for a reason, namely as a defence tactic against predators whereby the hairs will release and cause extensive irritation. As attractive as they may seem, they should not be handled!

Best wishes,

Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity
Natural History Museum
Cromwell Road
London, SW7 5BD

On my walk home, I cross a bridge that opens onto a little park-like thing. When I am coming home at night, at this time of year when there is lots of water around, I often find two large frogs sitting placidly on the path. Being incapable of resisting frogs, I always stop and pick one up. They are quite docile, and react very stoically to being handled, merely giving me a resentful look, and wiggling their fingers in a resigned fashion. They have been there nearly every night in the last couple of weeks. Next time I see them, I will be sure to take a picture and send it off to my nice new friends at the Natural History Museum.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

One day closer to the last one...

and thank God.

Remember that movie with Vinnie Barbarino Whatsis Name...where he plays this really nice ordinary guy who suddenly got really smart and could read fifty books a day and invent super-fertilisers for his friend Forrest Gump's corn, and learn a language a day and make pencils float in the air, and all that? Remember that one?

Anyway, just before he gets smacked in the head by the aliens' Smartysmart Raygun from space, he's standing in front of the pub where his nice friends have given him a birthday party.

He's standing outside holding a pint, and looking up to heaven, smiles and says, "Thirty-seven... All right. Thirty seven." And we're supposed to see from that that he's a really together guy who's quite nice and pretty contented with his life, even though he hasn't become a NASA scientist or cured cancer or invented a time machine yet or anything really good.

He's a car mechanic I think.


"Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven."

Nope. Just doesn't work the same way for "Forty-four. All right. Forty-four."

I woke up last Monday and found I was still living in a weird foreign country where I can't figure anything out and I STILL didn't know how the hell I got here or what I'm doing here.

I don't think I feel like everything's OK. I think I feel more like some minor character in BSG who wanders around stunned in the background all the time going, "What the frack? What the frack?"

Me too

...and things were very historical...


Fiddle music today

Well, that was an interesting little trip into the weird past.

Today, I think we're going to change directions a bit:

The Cuckold Comes out of the Amery, a traditional Irish fiddle piece.

Now, I noticed something yesterday that was interesting. I was listening to all that stuff from the early 1970s for a good portion of the afternoon and I noticed that it did not have what one might call a positive effect on my mood.

I am interested in whether this reaction is repeated elsewhere, and why. I suppose other people have already done most of the research footwork, but we can indulge in a little pretend science here, just for fun.

Let's play a game. (This may take a few minutes).

Listen to the pieces I posted yesterday carefully, and jot down what sort of emotional effect, if any, it might have on you. Then, take a little palate cleansing break and then listen to the jolly Irish piece above and write down your reactions.

Put them in the commbox, and we will see what we see.

Then maybe we can talk about why.

Frumenty update

I've just done a batch with some extra additions. Try sauteing a pan of mushrooms and onions, cut fairly small and throwing it in the pot with the barley together with a handful of pine nuts.

Also, I substituted rosehip syrup for sugar...mmmm...

And a caution, be very careful not to allow the mixture to stick to the bottom of the pan, a danger when the liquid level is low. Stir more often as it comes closer to being done.

An excellent Lent meal.

Unless you're one of those weird Super Lent people who eschew dairy and eggs and all that, in which case, enjoy your daily handful of gravel.


Have these people ever come clean about where, precisely, we're all supposed to be progressing to?

If "mankind" (has anyone ever actually met that guy?) is all in a big procession moving forward, can we please all be given some hint as to the actual destination? What is the actual, final goal of all this? Where are we going? I think, however, if we were given a hint as to the final destination of the train, no one would be compelled, no matter how many guns were pointed at us, to get into that cattle car.

Of course, we have all read Marx, or at least read about Marx, and anyone over age 20 has been witness to all the changes in the world and in society that are on a sharp acceleration curve. So we all have a hint. But the sections of Marx's writing, his utopian dream - the "withering away" of the state and the glowing fantasy in which everyone has everything he needs and there are no hierarchies, people go happily off to work, the "monogamous family" and religion, are a dark dream of the oppressive past and everyone and everything belongs to everyone else - are his least convincing.

I'm not sure that even the most dedicated Utopians actually believe or even think about the Marxian fantasy. At least, not the ones who pretend to a measure of respectability. Thoreau is for dreamy-eyed undergraduates, and the urge to go off to some remote woodsy part of North America and live in a communal long-house, is supposed to be something one grows out of. (And trust me, you grow out of it pretty quick. I've lived in the woods, and the arctic, and it's not something to undertake in a haze of idealism.)

Certainly a creature like Emma Bonino would never dare to drop a hint of such hazy soft-focus goals. A politician has to be seen to want things that are concrete, reachable.

I don't know really, what people like her actually think the final goal is. I suspect that they do not really give it much thought. I have heard from them many times that the "journey is the goal".

But C.S. Lewis gave a memorable description of the final result of the "progressive" utopian vision. In That Hideous Strength, he puts a description of the real goal into the mouth of one of his denizens of the N.I.C.E. I cannot find the quote online and haven't a copy of the book presently, but I remember that it was a description of a moonscape, in which all life, all softness, all hope and all joy are entirely extinguished. This was described as a "clean" environment in which the enlightened, disembodied beings who were able to rise above the salacious entrapments of the flesh could endlessly hover and brood on their own sterility and the emptiness of the world they had created.

I've been following the Bonino candidacy for president of Lazio, and the more I look into her, the more it becomes clear that she is just another of the same ilk. What did my friend Eric call it? Utopian Nihilists?

But not everyone is going along with the Great Progression.

This amusing, and somewhat scandalous story comes from a fellow ex-pat refugee in Rome:

So my Franciscan priest friend tells me that he and a confrere (both wearing the full franciscan habit mind you) were accosted on the streets by a Boninite asking them to vote for her. Once the initial shock wore out my friend started to explain why they could not vote for her--but was interrupted by the troglodyte who said 'Why do you care so much; you're all fags aren't you? Bonino supports you." To which the other Franciscan responded (quite inappropriately but still very funny) "Bring me your sister right here and now and I'll show you who is the fag." Ahh, Italy, where even a large portion of the clergy is not PC.

There are a lot of ways that Italy drives me up the wall. But the ability to say or think anything you happen to want to say or think is a big part of the reason I intend to stay a while yet.

What went wrong?

My old man is eighty four
His generation won the war
He left the farm forever when
They only kept on one in ten
Landed gentry county snobs
Where were you when they lost their jobs
No-one marched or subsidised
To save a country way of life

If you want cheap food well here's the deal
Family farms are brought to heel
Hammer blows of size and scale
Foot and mouth the final nail
The coffin of our English dream
Lies out on the village green
While agri-barons cap in hand
Strip this green and pleasant land
Of meadow, woodland, hedgerow, pond
What remains gets built upon

No trains, jobs
No shops, no pubs

What went wrong

H.J. Massingham called it "willful murder". We can look to Labour for the latest manifestations of it, but it's been going on a long time. When the land lost the Faith, there was nothing to constrain the wealthy and powerful from taking everything for themselves.

It's that simple, I think.

(Thanks for reminding me Elinor.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Just a quick note on the whole Pope/Irish/Media thing..

It might be worthwhile to point out to those people who are claiming that Benedict's papacy is being "marred" by the sexual abuse scandal, that he is the one who is cleaning up the mess left by others. He is, in fact, taking the rap for someone else who failed to deal with it in the past.

The abuse cases all date to a previous papacy, and it only appears to be happening now because he's finally dealing with it openly. As a certain other high-level Vatican official manifestly failed to do, even while it spent decades brewing away under his nose.

Led Zep

I was fifteen, and they were already "nostalgia rock," if not "retro" (an expression that was not invented yet).

Who the hell am I again?

God, I've forgotten.


Here's another one.

Getting you through the Monday

At pubquiz the other night (did I mention we won?!) I got a bunch of answers right about the music of 1970.

Yes. You read that right.

Nine. Teen. Seventy.

It was a shock when I heard the opening bars of this in the pub. I probably haven't heard the Guess Who in 25 years. Suddenly I had the odd sensation that I was in two places at once. I was 44 years old, in Rome, surrounded by my adult friends, drinking a pint, thinking about work the next day, and other kinds of grown-up things. In an instant, that was superimposed by a skinny eight year-old kid in bell bottoms, lying on the living room floor in our apartment in Victoria, with the album cover on the floor while the big black round thing went round and round on the turntable. I knew all the lyrics.

The Guess Who, Cream and Jefferson Airplane (and the Beatles and Simon and G, godhelpme) was what was playing in my whole world when I was still in rubber pants. It is, in other words, deeply ingrained. Hardwired, one might say.

It's weird that I had so thoroughly forgotten it.

I've often felt as if I died or diverged somehow, and became someone else at about 25. Who did that kid go on to become? I've no idea. She's just another person from the deep and misty past with whom I've long since lost touch.

But the Doors are a different set of memories.

Oh lordy! That three days! I was only 17!

Oh the tequila! Oh the vat of lime Jello! Oh the chocolate cake! Oh the cigarillos!

Was I ever 17? Is it possible really to be that young?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Seemlie Feast

From reading Lark Rise to Candleford, it became clear that bacon, and pig products in general, were the main staple of the English peasant class. Examination of the early laws of England, back to the time of Alfred and before, show that the family pig was the most important food item for the whole year and the loss of or injury to a pig was a serious matter. In later, post-Catholic England, when the Church no longer had the power or the will to care for the poor, the peasant classes lived very close to the edge of disaster and the difference between subsistence and the workhouse for the whole family could be decided by the fate of the pig.

One thing that LR. to C makes abundantly clear is that the Protestantisation of England, followed by the Enclosures that so coloured the post-Catholic economy and social system, was devastating to the landless peasants. The feudal system of which the Church had been so much a part, certainly allowed for many abuses, but it is a Victorian/Protestant myth that the peasants under that system starved or lived in misery. A scurrilous lie, in fact.

The importance of bacon in the peasant diet is demonstrated by the large section in the book Good Things in England showing a few of the many ways English housewives prepared it for their husbands and sons who worked in the fields and took it with them for their lunch.

[Remembering of course that English people have two kinds of bacon; regular bacon and “streaky” bacon. Their streaky bacon is about the same as N. American bacon you buy in those flat plastic packages. But eaten much more regularly is what we N. Americans might call “English bacon”, slabs of yummy cured pork with very little fat in pieces about four mm thick and the size of the palm of your hand. This might be substituted with “back bacon” in Canada, which is (oddly) called “Canadian bacon” in the US.]

More from the very charming Good Things in England:

Yorkshire way of cooking bacon:
Mr. A. Dupuis Brown writes:
‘Recollections of my boyhood in Yorkshire remind me of the method of cooking the breakfast bacon, which was always roasted in an oblong tin dish suspended by hooks from one of the bars of the open fire range. It was not fried.’

Another bacon method:

If you have any cold cooked bacon, you may make a very nice dish of it by cutting it into slices about ¼ inch thick. Grate some crusts of bread and powder the rashers well with it on both sides. Toast them in front of the fire (or under electric grill). They will be browned on one side in about three minutes. Turn them and do the other.

While cooking bacon by frying was not recommended, it describes the frying pan that is quite different from our modern ones.

“Good frying is in fact boiling in fat, and the frying pan should be perfectly flat with a thick bottom, 12 inches long, 9 inches broad, with perpendicular sides and must be half-filled with fat.”

I have seen these pans for sale in Italy where many old domestic customs survive from earlier times (you should see the ladies out on washing day at their outdoor sinks scrubbing their husbands’ shirts with a soap stick). The pans referred to in the book would, of course, be cast iron.

It also describes a “Double Hanging Grid”:

“Wherever there was an open range with bars, sprats [a kind of fish like a sardine], bloaters, fresh herrings, dried or finnan-haddock, as well as sausages, kidney and bacon, chops etc., were all beautifully and easily cooked between the wires of a double grid which possessed a tin tray underneath to gather the ‘drips,’ and hooks on top to attach to the bars. There were hooks on both sides and a handle on top by which the contraption could be easily turned completely round when one side was sufficiently cooked; the double grid was kept together and the food kept in its place by means of a strong, wire band which was fixed on the handle side and slipped over the other.”

The book adds a NB:
“This is worth mentioning because it required less attention and gave better results than a frying pan, and we are apt to think the 20th century takes the palm for labour-saving! It is also worth noting because a correspondent writes, ‘my mother used to say ‘good cooking in England went out when closed kitchen ranges and stoves were introduced and generally adopted’.”

What’s good: Frumenty

I have a wonderful little book, (for which I paid a dear price…traded a first edition for it) called Good Things In England. It was published first in the inter-war years by a little organisation of housewives who set about rescuing and testing traditional English recipes.

It is one of those axioms accepted by everyone, without need of evidence, that English food is dreadful. And certainly until very recently, memories of cooked-to-a-paste brussels sprouts and boiled beef haunted the dark dreams of many frequenters of the now-ubiquitous Indian take-away places. I myself retain painful memories of sitting in front of a nauseous pile of reconstituted powdered mashed potatoes, having been told that I could not leave the table until I had choked down at least three forkfuls. I was only five, but even then I knew the better portion was to sit there the rest of the night if necessary.

It is not widely known but English food used to be wonderful. And plentiful. The peasant culture of England’s Catholic middle ages produced an incredibly wide variety of regional dishes, with the usual peasant’s ability to use whatever was available in ingenious ways.

Now, I know you’re thinking about head cheese and boiled pigs trotters, and I am only too familiar with the face you must be making. (But I must ask, have you ever actually tried pigs trotters? You never know ‘til you’ve tried it.) I myself will not eat tongue or tripe; even I have limits, and I refuse to eat anything that is tasting me as I taste it.

Good Things in England was the final product of a society called the English Folk Cookery Association, founded by a group of ladies who, being aware that the traditional customs and habits of over a thousand years of English culture were being rapidly abandoned and lost, undertook to rescue them. It was first published in 1931 and the edition I have was published with an index in 1962.

They solicited help from around the country from ordinary people who sent them their mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes, some of them reliably dated to the 1700s. Some are simply ageless, having likely been staple food since the stone age.

From the introduction:

“Men and women still living have come forward and helped to remember eating in days gone by, and of things made in their own homes today from recipes that have been in their families for over a century. These are so many and so varied that the present volume is merely a small installment of our kitchen and stillroom riches. England does not know her wealth.

They have written of good things – amusing things too! – they enjoyed in schooldays and have never met since, throughout sixty or seventy years, in spite of frequent enquiries. Famous housekeepers, now grandmothers and great-grandmothers, have told stories of seeing oatcakes baked on the ‘bak’ ston’’ in the West Riding of Yorkshire by men whose grandsons are making and baking them in much the same way today. Old ladies’ eyes have brightened at the memory of girlhood days when pies and stews were made of lambs’ tails in various ways; these are still used in similar fashion in country places.”

…but probably not any more.

I was horrified to discover when I went to England how far things had gone. I don’t know if I have written about this before, but while I was there, I re-read the Earthsea books by Ursula K. LeGuin. In the last of these (really excellent) books, the main character, a great wizard, seeks a terrible enemy who has cast a dreadful spell over the whole of Earthsea. He has cut a hole in the fabric of the universe and all the knowledge and memory of what they once were has been draining out of the minds of the people. They have forgotten songs that were sung at festivals for thousands of years. They have abandoned all their stories and histories. The fields are left unploughed, the nets unmended and children are taught nothing. They are becoming a shell of a people who do not remember who they are. The evil wizard cast this spell in an effort to live forever.

The English do not remember who they are, or how to live their lives. There are television shows that try to tell parents how to raise their children. There are clubs for women to lose the fat they have accumulated from eating nothing, really nothing, but frozen take-away. There was a story in the newspapers a while ago about a family run by a woman who did not know how to make a pot of tea. She literally could not boil water and had fed her now-obese children (all by different fathers) entirely on food heated up in a microwave.

When I was a child, I read the Narnia books in a way similar to that of a Southern Baptist reading the Bible. I memorised them, and tried to live in them, and longed for a way to leave this world, whose cultural dankness and sterility I knew firsthand, and get into that other world, glowing with more reality and solidity than can be found here. Before I was ten, I knew the world was shrinking and fading, darkening. At the time, I didn’t know how long it had been going on.

When my English cookery book was first published in 1931, there were still old people, and people not so old, who remembered the days when everyone had a natural place, and the world was something understandable. There were social, historical, and religious structures that made sense. People married and had children and knew how to raise them. But even then, there were many who knew something had gone terribly wrong. They looked at the disaster of WWI and saw that something fundamental had shifted away, and that a way of seeing the world was gone forever.

I have just finished reading the book Lark Rise to Candleford, about the life of a woman raised in a hamlet in Hampshire in the 1880s. Flora Thompson gives the smallest details of the kind of life people lived and it is easy to see that what we have now, comfortable and wealthy as we all are, is a poor, ragged and pathetic life, devoid of inherent meaning and purpose. It was also published in the late 1930s, and into the years of the second war.

In the introduction to my precious little Penguin edition, H. J. Massingham in 1944, reveals the terrible secret of the “unraveling” of the world. Even then, it was known that The Real was draining away.

“The supreme value of Flora Thompson’s presentation is that she makes us see the passing of this England, not as a milestone along the road of inevitable progress, but as the attempted murder of something timeless in and quintessential to the spirit of man. A design for living has become unraveled, and there can be no substitute, because, however imperfect the pattern, it was part of the essential constitution of human nature.

The fatal flaw of the modern theory of progress is that it is untrue to historical reality. The frustrations and convolutions of our own time are the effect of aiming this mortal blow at the core of man’s integral nature, which can be perverted but not destroyed.”

But some of it must remain. Good Things in England says, “It was delightful to see how everyone was interested when once the veneer of fashion for foreign cookery and modern fads was chipped. At first some simple country folk would be shy or apologetic: ‘We must go with the times, those things are out of date’. But always there was found a genuine love of the good old English dishes, when it was realised that these had once more come into their own and were now ‘the vogue’.”

One recipe that I have lately been using, slightly modified, has been for frumenty.

Good Things in England says of Frumenty:
“From an ancient manuscript in the British Museum Frumenty appears to have been used formerly as an accompaniment to animal food, as ‘venison with frumenty’, and ‘porpoise with frumenty’ formed part of the second course served at the royal banquet given to Henry IV at Winchester on his marriage to Joan of Navarre; and again at the coronation feast of Henry VII and the heiress of the House of York we meet with ‘venison and frumenty;’ but at the present day it is usually boiled with new milk and sugar, to which some add spices, currants, yolks of eggs, etc, and is occasionally eaten cold as a dinner sweet at various times of the year – as mid-Lent, Easter and Christmas; but in the North it is considered to form part of the Christmas fare alone and is eaten hot without any other addition than new milk, sugar, nutmeg, with a little flour mixed with the milk to thicken it and then prepared. [Yes, that is an absurdly long sentence, not my fault.] If the wheat be sufficiently boiled and prepared as follows it forms a cheap, pleasant and wholesome breakfast food usually much relished by children.”

When I was an SCA geek, I ate lots of this stuff, usually off a wooden trencher, sitting in front of the first fire in the morning with a large mug of tea. It has many happy memories attached to it, of clean air in the morning, the smell of wood smoke and friends all around. The name frumenty dates at least to the middle ages in England but the stuff itself is extremely ancient, and is possibly one of the first foods eaten after the development of agriculture. It is, simply, whole wheat grains cooked in milk with salt. Porridge.

I recall reading some of the pre-Christian Irish myths, the doings of the Tuatha De Danan and the heroes of ancient Irish legend. In it a great feast was prepared in which a pit was dug and lined with hot stones, milk and butter and wheat was poured in with all sorts of meat, particularly sheep and lamb, cooked together. Frumenty.

I do it with pot barley, but its pretty much the same food my ancestors probably ate ten thousand years ago.


A cup of pot barley
Two cups of milk
Nob of butter
Two to three teaspoons of chicken stock powder
A teaspoon or so of sugar
Two egg yolks.

Bring the milk and barley to a boil, add the chicken powder, sugar and butter. Allow the barley to simmer covered on a low heat, adding water as needed and stirring often, but not continuously. It will take about ½ an hour for the barley to get to a pleasant chewiness. When it is nice and thick and the barley softened, and still piping hot, take it off the heat and stir in the two egg yolks.


Friday, March 19, 2010

...and they're doing something fun tomorrow

A manifestazione against Emma Bonino

By Centro Culturale Lepanto, reporting from Rome and the Vatican



Centro Culturale Lepanto is calling upon friends and suppporters in Rome and Italy to take to the streets on March 20th, 2010, against the possible election of Radical Party leader Emma Bonino as President of Latium region.

For those who are not aware, she is a "radical" staunchest enemy of any principle Christianity stands for, from abortion to same sex unions and drug liberalisation, to name just a few, so much so that she is on record for having attacked the Vatican with the following slogan "Vatican = Taliban".

Moreover, she is fully backed by the famous financier George Soros and its "Open Society", with the implication that cash-strapped budgets won't prevent her from pressing her agenda.

The banner of Centro Culturale Lepanto will mark the rallying point for its supporters at Circo Massimo, just prior to the starting of the demonstration, due to unfold precisely from there at 2 pm.

And if you physically and materially can't join and support us, please pray for our initiative to be successful!

For adhesions and further information, please call +39.06.95558604 or +39.347.2282760
or email at

Il Presidente
Fabio Bernabei

Fighting the War in Italy

Just found the blog of some nice people I met in Washington, Culturale Lepanto, a group based in Rome that defends the Christian voice in political life.

And yes, we all commented on how funny it was that I had to go all the way to Washington to meet people from Rome. It got even funnier when I found out that they go to my parish every week.

They're busy people, putting out a newsletter, organising events and publishing excellent books explaining the Catholic Church's positions on things like homosexuality and marriage.

They've got a few other websites:

Centro Culturale Lepanto, their main site,

Lepanto Focus
, where you can download their newsletters (in Italian),

And they're on Facebook.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Italian Spring

It's lovely. The weather has perked up, the flowers are out, the birds are singing...

...all meant, of course, to lull you into a false sense of security until it can hit you with its nightmare summer...

But for now, it's nice.


Lemons and kumquats in my garden. I've been picking the kumquats and boiling them in syrup. V. tasty.

This lemon has been ripening all winter.

They make lemons here as big as your head. This is a small one.

Starting seeds. A complex procedure.

I've got a few hyacinths and have put in

pansies and hibiscus. Planted some gladiolus bulbs, a row of sunflowers and sweet peas and have some beans standing by waiting to go in.

Got the bike put together at last, but it needs some attention from the bike guy. (Yes, it's the same one I had in Toronto. Yes, I already know it's completely nutty to take a bike all the way to Europe.)


Went shopping at the market in Civitavecchia. Fresh out of the sea that morning.

The fish guy always likes to have his picture taken.

If you're looking for old fashioned Italian ambiance, the outdoor markets are the place to go. There a a couple of good ones in Rome still, but the better ones are in the outlying towns. Civi is a very old port, but there's not much to see there now since it was bombed very heavily in the war.

It's the place to go to get bedding plants and bulbs too. A little portable garden centre is there from very early in the spring.

Best fresh fruit and veg too. Straight from the farmers.


This little train of caterpillars caught my attention. They seemed quite intent on getting wherever they were going. I'd never seen caterpillars act like this.

When I bent down to look at them, I accidentally poked one with the tip of my umbrella. The whole line stopped and waited while he gathered his little caterpillar wits. When he had righted himself, they all linked up again and trundled off. I wish I had had time to stop and find out where they were headed.

I later wrote a note to an entymologist at the London Museum of Natural History, and he said they were caterpillars of the aptly named "processional moths". Fascinating.


Pubquiz. It's where a lot of the Anglo-American-Canucks go to have a bit of fun, and forget about being in a weird foreign country for a few hours.

I got at least two answers right.

Little fuzz-brain cutie-pie. Winnie knows how to spend a cold, windy, rainy day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bit tired lately

Just busy with things.

But had a pretty good time last night.

On the winning team at the Rome Pubquiz!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pop Culture Quiz: You all know him...

or think you do...

Which enormously famous Canadian pop culture icon was WAY cooler, more interesting and important than the (admittedly extremely cool) TV character he is ridiculously famous for?

At the beginning of the Second World War, ------ joined the Royal Canadian Artillery. He was commissioned a lieutenant in the 13th Field Artillery Regiment of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. ------ went to the United Kingdom in 1940 for training. His first combat was the invasion of Normandy at Juno Beach on D-Day. Shooting two snipers, ------ led his men to higher ground through a field of anti-tank mines, where they took defensive positions for the night[Coo-Whul!]. Crossing between command posts at 11:30 that night, ------ was hit by six rounds fired from a Bren gun by a nervous Canadian sentry: four in his leg, one in the chest, and one through his right middle finger. The bullet to his chest was stopped by a silver cigarette case [Oh come on! No one is that cool!]. His right middle finger had to be amputated,

...and he hid his injured hand for the TV cameras.

It's the only hint you're going to get.


Well, OK, maybe just a bit more,

------ trained as a pilot and flew Taylorcraft Auster Mark V aircraft for 666 (AOP) Squadron, RCAF, as a Royal Canadian Artillery officer in in support of #1 Canadian AGRA (Army Groups Royal Artillery). All three Canadian (AOP) RCAF Squadrons were manned by Artillery Officer-pilots and accompanied by enlisted RCA and RCAF personnel serving as observers.

Though he was never actually a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, he was once labeled the "craziest pilot in the Canadian Air Forces." A story from his flying years tells of ------ slaloming a plane — variously cited as a Hurricane or a jet trainer — between mountainside telegraph poles to prove it could be done, which earned him a serious reprimand.

- After storming the beach at Normandy, he saw a tank, which was carrying his substantial winnings from a card game, blown to pieces before his eyes.

- His aerobatic exploits included nearly crashing his aircraft in Holland while taking "a look" at a German U-boat, earned him the title of "the craziest pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force".

He spent the second half of his life using his fame to be a kind of ambassador to encourage people to go out there and reach for big life goals. He helped people, encouraged them, spoke to them about his exploits and what life was supposed to be for.

He related the story of a woman fan who sent him a suicide note. He contacted her immediately, and helped her to see new possibilities in life. Eight years later, she sent him a message thanking him for his kindness and telling him that she had earned a degree in electrical engineering.

Oh, and one last note,

Welcomed his last child into the world at 80.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Am I odd?

Am I the only one whose first reaction to this

Dutch Group Pushes for Suicide for Elderly Who are "Tired of Living"


"Why just the elderly?"

I'm tired of living.

But these days I also qualify as "elderly".

A Policeman's Lot is not a Happy One

...happy one.

This from a blog that I visit from time to time, illustrates what I mean by the political correctification of the criminal justice system in Britain, and how it simply gives permission to criminals to go on being criminals.

And it's a bit of a laugh.

In my job, outside of the public order van on a Saturday night, there is precious little opportunity for a really good laugh. With new probationary officers (now called Student Constables) encouraged to note down any “inappropriate” conversations between their peers, the ability to “challenge” ones colleagues for politically incorrect language a prerequisite for career advancement and the new Police Regulations making it an offence to even hear something “inappropriate” without reporting it, even the van is strangely quiet.

Humour is almost exclusively at someone elses expense, and in todays modern police service, we cannot mock anything or anyone, even if they can’t hear us, without being labelled as an “ist” of some kind. The public can ridicule the police as much as they like of course.

So, eight beautiful girls on a hen night, two men with funny hats, a uni-cyclist(???) and three lads dressed as penguins all walk past without even a comment or a snigger from the F Division Public Order team.

One night, an absolutely stunning woman approached the van and pulled aside her blouse to show us her naked chest. This happens a lot in Ruraltown, and in every big town. Hen night ladies are notorious for it. Imagine her shame when we simply stared at her, unmoved and silent.

“What the hell is wrong with you lads? You havent seen better than this have you?

What was I supposed to say?

“I’m sorry madam but your outdated and sexist humour is not appreciated here; we are modern policemen you know, now move on and show your flesh no more”

Shamelessly using the anonymity of this Blog, I feel that I can finally answer the lady in question. And my answer is this, No, we have not seen better than that. I thank you.

Unto the poor beleaguered British constabulary, I offer the following consolation

The Wailing of the Women

I was commenting to a friend the other night about this latest fad in the pro-life movement.

There is a big sub-movement in the pro-life world now of lending pity to women who have had abortions. The latest manifestation of it can be seen here.

He argued for it, saying that things like this, Silent No More, and what not, are effective. That people react to emotions more than they do to reasoned argument.

Well, perhaps, but there is still something in all this that strikes a deeply false note for me.

I call it, the "Crying into the microphone" strategy, and there is just something about it that rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's just the English in me (I'm only 1/4 English, genetically, so it isn't exactly dominant), maybe it is just that I recoil culturally from this kind of public display of personal misery. A previous generation would simply call it "shameless". And that I think is the clew as to what bothers me about it.

These are women who have done something terrible, and now they are attempting to elicit my sympathy because they feel badly about it.

There is something about it that brings to mind the noisesome cringing and wheedling self-pity of Gollum.

More rationally, I don't think it is, in the long run, a good thing to do. I think it is playing to the culture's deadliest weaknesses. We cannot use the enemy's ring.

The abortion movement was started by using wailing women standing in front of microphones telling the world how their lives had been ruined by having children, and the only solution was to make it legal to kill them so they could be free of the evils of motherhood. It used emotions, and emotive slogans, to get the law changed and to create a culture that, when it hears the word "abortion" can think of nothing more than "Women's rights".

The abortion movement succeeded in changing the law based on the pain and suffering of their Wailing Women because, by the late 1960s and early 1970s when these laws were being put in place, we had already shifted the culture away from a concern, in law and public policy, with Things As They Really Are, towards a culture based primarily on concern for feelings. Roe v. Wade was a triumph of the supremacy of Feelings over the Real. The law as it is in the US now, in Canada and Britain, is schizophrenic. It has kept its eyes determinedly shut, stopped its ears as hard as it can, to the inescapable fact that we all know where babies come from. It has said, in effect, that reality does not matter, as long as women feel badly about motherhood.

I think I have two objections to this trend in the pro-life movement to have more Wailing Women sobbing into microphones and telling gymnasiums full of high school students that their abortions have ruined their lives.

How does it help us to have more Wailing Women? If the world has decided, which is emphatically has, that the bigger problem for women is enforced motherhood, and if it has decided this because of the Wailing of the Women, then how are we winning by setting up a few Wailing Women to weep in the other direction? When we are just using emotions, how do our Wailing Women trump their Wailing Women? Why should the pain of the anti-abortion movement's weepers overrule the pro-abort weepers? If we now, as we clearly do, make laws according to these kinds of rules, if subjective emotions are the foundation, then it simply becomes a question of who can weep the loudest and the longest. And they have a 40 year head start. The Wailing Women strategy is merely playing along with a legal and legislative culture that bases itself on feelings. When we are there, we have nothing objective, nothing Real, to base our laws on, which means we are left only with force. Either the force of our feelings or the force of their fists.

If I were in the abortion movement, my response to these displays would be, well, precisely what it has been in fact. "I'm awfully sorry your abortion didn't work out for you, but your individual, personal experience, however painful it might be for you, does not mean that abortion should be outlawed for all the millions for whom it has been necessary and who don't feel badly about it."

In other words, "Suck it up sweetheart, life is full of disappointments".

Admittedly this is what should have been said to the pro-aborts 40 years ago by the Supreme Court and the world's legislatures, but those bodies had already been corrupted by the Feelings Culture and were incapable of a forthright, manly defence of The Real. But now that they have the upper hand in law, in media, in education and in every other cultural field, they would be fools not to use that response. Indeed, we have seen that they are not fools.

The other objection I have is a little less friendly.

The pro-lifers are, naturally, fed up with being called mean and nasty. We don't like being screeched at when we go and hold our placards, and called Nazis and all that.

No no! we protest. We're perfectly nice people. We love women. Most of us are women. We feel so terribly deeply for their pain...

Well, hold on there a second.

Isn't there something about this that seems just a wee bit self-serving?

And more than a little like pandering?

I am wholly on side with the idea of crisis pregnancy centres. Offering women concrete material assistance, particularly assistance that does not come from the state, is probably the ideal solution. There should be more of it. A lot more.

But when we start pulling long faces when confronted with women who have already had abortions, when we start furrowing our brows and nodding and saying, "Oh yes, there there dear. I understand that you've had a terrible time after your abortion. I feel your pain," aren't we playing the game of the other side.

Aren't we conceding that the issue is all about "women's rights"? Or worse, women's feelings.

These post-abortion "counselling" centres have always given me the creeps, honestly.

This rhetoric that we like to trot out at rallies, "Oh yes, the woman is a victim too..."

Hang on a second.

I think we need to make something clear.

When a Christian goes to a prison to visit the inmates, it is not with the attitude that what has happened to a criminal, the punishment he is enduring, is a bad thing. We don't go in saying, "Oh there there dear, I'm sure your feelings of repentance are so great that you don't deserve to be incarcerated as punishment for your crime." If we do that, we are failing to serve the criminal.

This has been the "liberal" approach to wrongdoing that has created the disaster of Britain's current, laughably named "criminal justice system". It has resulted in the criminals deciding that it is perfectly acceptable to go on being criminals.

It is all of a piece with the trendy psychologising of badness, of sin, that we have indulged in since the 1960s. The theory goes, "A person isn't ever really bad, he doesn't ever really do bad things. If he does something that looks bad, it is because of some pain or trauma in his past, and he is therefore as much a victim of someone else, as is the victim of his crime. Criminals need a cure, not punishment. Indeed, criminals are, by definition, victims."

This mindset is so ubiquitous in our culture now that we find it nearly impossible forthrightly to face the fact that people do evil, and that evil merits punishment. That punishing the evildoer is a just act. It is the proper response to evil.

The trendy weeping over and consoling of women who have had abortions, who have (perhaps it needs to be said) killed their children, stinks of this corruption. Reeks of it. It is the same moral and intellectual corruption that has allowed the euthanasia movement to gain so much ground in Britain. Women who murder or "assist the suicide" of their disabled daughters, are lauded in the press and in court as heroes who have "suffered terribly".

I think we make a grave error, and one which our enemies can see is a sign of weakness, when we trot out our Wailing Women to talk about their pain and suffering from abortion. It is an error, moreover, that does nothing, objectively, to help the women who have done this terrible thing.

It is a sign that we are trying to make friends, to be liked by our opponents. That we fear their name-calling more than we fear the evil we are fighting. It means the other side is winning a major part of the battle.

I have seen, as I have related here more than once, that pro-lifers are often deeply intimidated by the position they feel compelled to take. They see that their position is vilified and hated. They see that they will themselves be hated if they hold it. They see that the other side has taken the appearance of the moral high ground by setting themselves up as "champions of women's rights" and that they are cast universally as knuckle-dragging troglodytes who want to ruin all the freedom and progress achieved in the 20th century.

I have seen that the pro-lifers who suffer from this weakness are, in general, adherents of this "freedom and progress". They think that the society we live in is generally a great improvement over what went before, that the restructuring of the western Christian world into the modern globalist society has been a good thing overall. They think that the presence of abortion and euthanasia and the Culture of Death, is some kind of accident, and one that can be corrected by changing a few laws. It is a mistake, in an otherwise glorious new world.

These are the people who hate to be called 'retrograde' and 'fascists'. It wounds their feelings of solidarity with the modern world. They protest that they are just like everyone else, that they believe in progress and modernity as much as the next man, but with this one little adjustment.

It is this kind of pro-liferism that is so susceptible to what I have called Pro-lifer Stockholm Syndrome. It produces the kind of pro-lifer that I heard years ago at a meeting of the (diocesan funded) Nova Scotians United for Life in Halifax, where I was told that it was wrong to try to change the law, that women did indeed have a "right to choose" and that it is merely the work of the pro-life movement to try to persuade her, gently, to choose something other than abortion. They have gone over to the other side in the desire to be loved and accepted by our enemies.

So, I think my response to the "Silent no More" campaign, to the Project Rachel people, is, please tell these women that they have done something terrible, and shameful and that they ought to feel badly about it for the rest of their lives.

That there is a difference between a perpetrator and a victim. That the person who is dead is properly understood as the victim of a crime, and that the person who does the killing is the criminal. The perpetrator of a crime ought to be punished, and if the law will not do so because it has become corrupt, it is not the place of the Christian community to tell that perpetrator that she should stop feeling badly about her crime.

My response to the women is, "Yes, you have done something terrible. Something foul and unspeakable. You have committed a crime that "cries to heaven" and you will have to live with it for the rest of your life. Abortion does indeed change you, as committing murder should.

It is right and just that you suffer for that crime and it might be a good idea for you to think about penance, more than is currently fashionable in the Church."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One of my most favourite books


maybe Greece next.

I don't remember the first time I read My Family and Other Animals, but it is one of those books I have made sure to always have a copy of no matter what. It has always been popular too. Just the other day, I saw a copy of it, in Italian, in one of the outdoor book stalls near the church.

When I was 16 or so, I decided I wanted to see Greece, specifically, Corfu. And since I was a kid being taken along on my mother's university marine biology field trips, I've wanted to be an amateur naturalist.

Never really thought I would get this close to either of those goals.

I have a mess of photos for you, some magnificent ones of Rome from the top of the Janiculum and some more nature pics of wildlife in Santa Marinella. But I've forgotten to bring home the little cable thingy I use to connect my camera to the computer to download them (or upload, or whatever you call it), so you're going to have to wait.

But I'll tell you a funny story.

The other day, I realised I had left my plug adaptor at home, and needed to get a new one so I could plug my American computer into its European electrical socket. By the time I had found an electronics shop that had one, I was at the base of the road leading up to the Janiculum, and its parks on top. Well, I had a bit of time and didn't need to rush back to the office.

After what turned out to be a very long and tedious walk up the hill, (enclosed on both sides by high walls so I could see nothing, and with the horrible Italian sun beating down on my head) I found my way into the park and had a lovely time with the view and the statues and the inscriptions.

When I was done, I thought I would go down the Trastevere side and catch the bus back to the office. Accordingly, I set out on one of the little paths that look so enticing, winding muddily through the woodsy bits on the down slope of the big hill. Well, I had assumed that the muddy woodsy path I was taking would connect up to the more civilised looking ones lower down that I could see as I switched back and forth, pushing foliage out of the way. When I had got all the way down to the bottom, I discovered to my dismay that the path I was on did not connect, or at least, it would have had someone not locked the gate in the fence I had been following.

The fence was very high, stone up to about waist high, and topped with very tall iron railings that ended in rather ominous looking spikes. The gate was meant to impress and was at least ten feet high. The padlock on it was not the least bit rusty.

I looked ahead up the path that swung back up the hill and thought, "Bugger that!" I wasn't about to climb all the way back up the hill, just because some careless idiot park employee had left the damn gate locked.

No one was looking, and I saw that I could climb up on the stone part of the wall, and use the gate hinges as footholds. I hung my handbag on a spike and gingerly heaved my middle-aged and beskirted self over the fence with much grabbing of ankles and hauling of somewhat podgy legs over the deadly spikes.

It has been probably twenty years at least since I have hopped a fence, and I can tell you it is one of those childhood skills that never leaves one. The only concern I had that I didn't have when I was ten, was pulling holes in my stockings.

Well pleased with self, I retrieved my handbag and set off down the rest of the hill. As I was going along, I noticed that the trees, shrubs and bits of greenery were all very helpfully labelled. I went around reading the little signs and figuring out the Latin names for all sorts of palms, and pampas grasses.

It was not until I had got all the way to the bottom that I began to suspect. There was a large and very well organised (for Italy) garden, with carefully (for Italy) maintained beds, all labeled and with lots of signage.

A few more twists of the gravel path, and I came to the gate leading out into the street by the Palazzo Corsini, which was guarded by an information centre and a kiosk where you have to pay to get into the Rome Botanical Gardens.

Ant-eating mushrooms

Just when you thought science couldn't get any cooler,

nor nature any creepier...

meet the Cordyceps fungus. Yep, it's a fungus that kills you by growing out of your head!

Well, maybe not your head exactly. Unless you happen to be an insect living on the floor of the Amazon jungle.

Why yes. I am a big fan of the Giant Bug from Outer Space kind of sci-fi movie. Why do you ask?


I'm annoyed.

I was looking seriously into taking courses in environmental science and biology from the Open University in London. Their courses are generally well-regarded and they are not terribly expensive...

if you live in Britain.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered that if you live abroad, a course costing £350-£450 for British residents, jumps to £900-1500 for people living in Italy. I could see saving up enough to take a course at a time for £350, but 900 is, I'm afraid, right out.

I would like to be more annoyed about this, but having written asking why this is, I was given a perfectly good reason. The UK govt' subsidises students taking OU courses in Britain, but not those living away. The higher price, therefore, is the actual cost of the course.

Looking around for something else, but I'm not very hopeful.

Talking Shop

with Andrew Cusack,

He flattered me the other day by sending a note asking which Italian papers I read daily...

I reply:


I hate to admit this to such a world-famous newspaper fan as yourself, but I actually don't read any Italian papers, except for the free ones that get left on the train.

Two reasons for this:

- am lazy.
- don't read enough Italian to make it worth the effort.

But when I lived in England (oh! dear me! how briefly and how much longed-for now!) I took the Telegraph nearly every day in the mournful hope that it would tidy itself up and become again the great thing it used to be. The last time I picked up the Telegraph, however, was at my two-hour stopover at Heathrow in January. As I plonked myself down in the Nervous Seat in the departure lounge, I was distressed to see that it had been reduced in size.

"Hey, didn't this used to be a broadsheet?"

And, if I'm not mistaken, it had colour pictures on the front... disgraceful! I was ashamed to be seen with it.

Now I go down occasionally to the newsagent kiosk in the Campo di Fiori and buy a Telegraph and a Spectator, to squeeze the last little dribbles of conservatism out of the English press, but it is a sad and nostalgic task, nearly always ending with me being more depressed than before.

I like magazines better. I'm saving up to get an overseas subscription to the Oldie (which is itself distressingly full of words like "partners" and stories of old people moving in together and living in sin...).

Why aren't there any magazines for young tweedy fogies like us who can't stand the sight of sixty year-old ladies wearing jeans?

Cusack responds...
The problem with the Telegraph, ironically, is that it actually makes money, so no one is willing to increase its quality for fear of disturbing its money-making status. I think this is illogical, and that given their readership they could only make more money if they went a bit more high-brow than of late, but they probably don't want to lose the constituency of housewives who would read the Daily Mail but are a bit socially ambitious so pick up the Telly instead.

Last time I was in London I solved the usual conundrum of what English paper to buy by just getting the Scotsman, or every so often the Irish Times, instead. Both leave a lot to be desired but the Scotsman covers my favourite land in the whole world and the Irish Times is brazenly wide in its broadsheet size. (Irritatingly it gets shrunk for overseas printing).

The Spectator's relatively new editor is an Oratory-attending Catholic, much better than his predecessor Matthew d'Ancona, so there's hope for the Speccie improving. Say what you want about it, but if you ever compare the Spectator to National Review, the Spectator comes out looking like gold.

The Oldie is strange like that! I sometimes get the sense that it's as if their age and experience is telling them one thing but they're still trying to convince themselves the rot of the modern world is good and true. Still, every now and then they have some excellent stuff.

As to the conundrum presented in the link you sent, the basic reality is this: the general-purpose profit-making newspaper is dead. This is NOT the same as saying 'newspapers are dead', because they're not.

There are a few ways for newspapers to succeed in these days.

1) Be owned by someone who owns a multiplicity of other, much more profit-making ventures, thus being able to subsidise the newspaper in exchange for the political influence and/or cultural cachet it brings.

2) Trusts. The Irish Times and the Guardian are run by charitable trusts instead of being profit-seeking ventures and both have been fairly successful.

3) Niche-ification. Find a niche and stick to it. The New York Observer is a weekly aimed at relatively wealthy, college-educated Manhattanites. The (monthly) Arts Newspaper covers the art world extensively. There are a few legal daily newspapers.

4) Being of such high quality that readers will want to read and buy your newspaper. BUT high quality isn't very profitable unless you're aiming for a certain kind of high quality, namely the wealthy, so that you can bring in the most lucrative kind of advertising. And among the wealthy you have too many men interested primarily in making money and too many women interested primarily in following fashions for high quality to really be what you or I would think of as high quality.

5) Having a monopoly. For example, if you're the only newspaper operating on, say, a small Caribbean island, you're pretty much set. The weakness is that, if complacency and lack of competition drives your product down, it would be easy for a deep-pocketed rival to set up shop and there goes your monopoly.

But I don't see how outfits like the Los Angeles Times or Boston Globe are going to survive unless they radically reorganise themselves with their locations as their niche, which they are loath to do because everyone wants to be a big shot.

There's my two cents!

I've been working from home the last few days

Winnie is being perfectly well behaved.

Catholic question...

Settle an argument for me...

Why, exactly, do we refer to the cardinals as "George Cardinal Spinelessmarshmallow" and not "Cardinal Seamless O'Boychaser"?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Science is just so darn cool!

And nature?

Well, nature sometimes just plain goes beyond description...

Remember a while ago, when I introduced us all to our new Isopod overlords?

Well, after meeting one (admittedly dead in a jar of formaldehyde) at the Smithsonian a couple of months ago, I'm delighted to find out a bit more about them.

Are you sitting down? Well, meet Cymothoa exigua ... "tongue-eating louse"

Get ready for what they do to fish!

Yes, you really are seeing what you think you're seeing. That is an isopod that has replaced the tongue of that fish.

No. I'm really not making it up.

This parasite enters through the gills, and then attaches itself at the base of the spotted rose snapper's (Lutjanus guttatus) tongue. It extracts blood through the claws on its front, causing the tongue to atrophy from lack of blood. The parasite then replaces the fish's tongue by attaching its own body to the muscles of the tongue stub. The fish is able to use the parasite just like a normal tongue. It appears that the parasite does not cause any other damage to the host fish.

Marine researcher Paul Chambers, from the Société Jersiaise, was one of the fishing party and identified the find.

He said he was surprised to find the isopod away from the Mediterranean sea.

Isopods are normally about 2cm (1in) long and live in fish, surviving on the animal's blood, in warm waters.

Mr Chambers told: "When we emptied the fish bag out there at the bottom was this incredibly ugly looking isopod.

"Really quite large, really quite hideous - if you turn it over its got dozens of these really sharp, nasty claws underneath and I thought 'that's a bit of a nasty beast'.

"I struggled for weeks to find an identification for this thing until, quite by chance I stumbled across something that looked similar in a Victorian journal.

"Apparently there's not too much ill effect to the fish itself except it's lost its tongue."

Experts at the University of Southampton confirmed that the creature was an isopod and that there had been several sightings of them in Cornwall in 1996.

Mr Chambers added: "It doesn't affect humans other than if you do actually come across a live one and try and pick it up - they are quite vicious, they will deliver a good nip."

Some good ones for a change

Long long looong time readers of this blogger will remember that there was once a time when I was somewhat more "Devout". The previous incarnation here was The Devout Life, and was taken from my dedication to St. Francis de Sales' book and its spiritual counsels. I was told once by an Oratorian (a member of a community that has an almost entirely "oral" spiritual tradition, one that is not easily passed on to outsiders) that St. Francis d. S., and by extension is Order of the Visitation and St. Jane Frances de Chantal, were the spiritual inheritors of St. Philip Neri's way. The founder and superior of the Toronto Oratory said to me once, "St. Francis de Sales is the public Oratorian."

For that reason, I felt an affinity for the Visitation order, and even went to visit the Ottawa Visitation convent (it was disappointing for various reasons, and by the end of it, I was grateful that I understood very little French). I bought and read a copy of St. Francis's rule for the Visitation and read a book (that has since been left behind) of his Letters to Persons in Religion, full of his spiritual wisdom.

I'm not sure what has happened since (...actually, I lie, I'm exactly sure about every single detail of what has happened since... but never mind all that for the moment...) but there are those who have wondered what has happened to my devotion to St. Philip and to his thought, and to that of his inheritor.


me too, to be honest.

But yesterday, I had occasion to visit a very lovely church in Rome. One of the very few that is not in the Baroque style. In fact, it is very new for a Roman church, and is in the comfortingly familiar style of Victorian neo-Gothic, the kind of church I grew up attending. And in it, there seems to be a preponderance of Visitation/St. Francis related stuff, (as well as a little museum of very spooky Purgatory related things) and it got me thinking about all that stuff again. It all kind of came rushing back.

I remember writing to the Tyringham Visitation once, and it's a funny thing but here is an article about those very nuns.

(And no, just to stave off the tiresome nudgenudgewinkwinks that invariably come with these kinds of posts, I don't think it was a sign of anything.)


Face it, hippies...'s over.

H/T to the long-lost Greg.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

See what I mean?

Twenty minutes ago, the stupid thing wouldn't open even Google.

Now it's ticking along like a house on fire...


Saturday, March 06, 2010


I'm working now from an internet connection that comes from one of those newfangled "stick" things. Got it the other day and am still trying to figure out the best way to use it.

Does anyone else use those things?

Is the signal notoriously bad and unreliable? Or is it just me?

I've noticed that my apartment is something of a dead zone for my mobile and that I can't use the phone at all if I'm sitting on the sofa. Standing by the kitchen sink it's better, but still tends to cut in and out.

Now I'm using the internet stick that, I think, works on the same general principle. It works great sometimes, and others it does a variety of weird things.

When it is apparently running the internet, it will open a window that says something like "Connecting to Tim" (Tim is the local server). Then a few seconds later another window will pop up and say, "Error 680, no dial tone". If you click "redial" it just goes away for a few seconds and then comes back with the same error message. If you click "cancel" it just does the same thing. While the error window is up, you can't use anything else, and it keeps coming up again and again every few seconds. There doesn't seem to be any way to turn it off.

All the while it is messing about with all that, the websites I want to open simply won't go. Other times it is as good as using an ethernet cable high speed connection. But there seems to be no way to control the quality of the signal, like right now, it is so low the Blogger window is telling me "Could not contact Saving and publishing may fail. Retrying..." In a few seconds the signal will pop back up. It sometimes helps to shut off the connection and start again.

It is quite frustrating.

I am wondering if I should just take it back to the Tim store in Civitavecchia and tell them it doesn't work well enough for me and can I have something that connects to the landline.

Does anyone else use these things? Any idea how to get it to work better?

Friday, March 05, 2010

What?! Where? Lemme get my gun...

Was just enjoying this little exchange.

"Satanists are working in the Vatican"

A friend sent me this article the other day.

It is an interview with the indominable Fr. Amorth by Il Foglio. He says, in a nutshell, "There are satanists in the Vatican Curia".

Satanists in the Vatican? "Yes, even in the Vatican there are members of satanic cults."

Who is involved? These simple priests or laity? "There are priests, monsignors and even cardinals."

Forgive me, Father Gabriel, but how do you know? "I know from people that I have been able to report because they had no way of knowing directly. And it's 'confession' several times by the devil himself under obedience in the exorcisms.

Is the Pope informed? "Of course he was informed!"

Of course, my response to my friend was exactly what you're thinking: "Well, duh!"

"Flash! Ocean discovered to be very large and filled with water!"

But wait!

Not every one is yawning and switching over to see the Onion's latest funny video about orangutans or Sarah Palin.

Apparently some are shocked. Some are even "beyond shocked", (and apparently, not just for laughs).

Others, however, are outraged. Some are saying what a horrible thing it is to dare to malign the wonderful "edifying and virtuous" collection of prelates we have in the glorious post-JPII Catholic Church. In fact, some have said that saying such a thing is uncharitable, scandal-mongering ...


Fr. Jose Antonio Fortea Cucurull, a Spanish priest and theologian who specializes in demonology and is now studying for his doctorate of theology in Rome, responded to Fr. Amorth's assertions on March 1.

After reading reports of Fr. Amorth's accusations pointing a finger at members of the clergy, including cardinals [Oh no! not the great and glorious college of cardinals! Why, it can't be!], Fr. Fortea declared that it is a "duty of justice" to speak out in their defense.

Noting that some prelates "are more spiritual and others more earthly, some more virtuous and others more human," he wrote on his blog, "from there to affirm that some cardinals are members of Satanic sects is an unacceptable distance."

I'm sure it is. Quite unacceptable.

Apparently, the current crop of cardinals is the most virtuous the Catholic Church has ever seen.

"Our College of Cardinals, if we compare it with past centuries is the most edifying and virtuous that history has ever known. One would have to go back to the epoch of the Roman Empire to find a body of electors so distanced from all earthly pretension as the current one is."

Well. We've been told.

It all made me think of an amusing game.

A quiz, actually, "How to tell if you're a Trad-Catholic or a Neo-Con Catholic".

A little while ago, someone poked Mark Shea's anti-Trad button and he went all wiggy, as he does, flailing and spitting and doing his usual apoplectic head-spinning Shea thing. It was all very amusing.

What seemed to set him off this time was the assertion by the Trads that he is a "neo-con".
"Wot?!Wot?!Wot?! I don't even know what that means!

I'M JUST A CATHOLIC, dammit, and anyone making such unnecessary distinctions is just plain...


So, I've been trying to think of ways to help him out.

Quiz: "How to tell if you're a Trad-Catholic or a Neo-Con Catholic"

How do you respond to the following assertion?

"There are satanists in the Vatican curia"

1) "That's an outrageous accusation! The Catholic Church is the last bastion of righteousness in the world. There is nothing whatever going wrong in the Vatican, and all the problems in the Church stem from inexplicably bad individual bishops that are connected in no way to the Curia.

...and our Pope, John Paul the Great, is the very mouthpiece of God on earth..."


"Oooo, wait, I meant the new guy."

2) "Well, Duh. Where have you been?"

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Getcher Bloggie Brollies out...

there's been a Binky-burst.

And he linked to me. Twice!

At least someone out there still loves me...

Monday, March 01, 2010

Yes, it's true

Canadians are actually all hockey nuts.

Stereotypes are usually really just truths.

I've never had to give Winnie a pill yet,

But if it is anything like what we go through when I have to clip her claws...

H/T to the Carolina Canonball

Khyra Ishaq

Khyra Ishaq, who weighed just 2st 9lb (16.8kg), was said by a paramedic to be like a concentration camp victim when she was finally rescued from her home. She later died of an infection that was complicated by her condition.

I was just reading up on the prosecution's case against her mother.
He also said that just because Khyra had died of an infection it did not mean that there had not been a murder. "The fact she ultimately died of an infection is really neither here nor there. The cause of her death was the physical state that she was in. In a nutshell, their (position) is exactly the same as anyone who kept a prisoner and set out to starve them to the point where their life is at risk.

It’s just as much murder . . . as if they had shot, stabbed, beaten or strangled Khyra to death. It is our case that they were acting in effect jointly to do that which was done,” he said

I believe Angela Gordon was convicted last Friday of manslaughter.

Too bad the little girl wasn't already in a coma. Everyone would be hailing her mother as a tragic, tormented hero for compassionately saving her daughter from a life unworthy of life.

Or am I being overly cynical?

The good old game...

and Stompin' Tom.


(BTW: "Bobby scores!" is a reference to the great Bobby Orr, for those of us old enough to remember the time before Gretzky.)

But still my all time favourite spectator sport...


Nigel Farage, no big charisma guy himself, has a go at the new Lord High Exalted President of the Presidency of the Imperial European High United Unification, Herman van Rompuy.

Gobs o' fun.

(thanks for the heads-up Greg...and come home soon)

More Canadian moments

He shoots! ... HE SCORES!!!

Well, I don't know what all the fuss is about...

Canada wins Gold in Hockey,

Isn't that kind of like commenting on the direction the sun is rising?

I close my eyes, and I am lying on the living room floor of my grandparents' house in front of the tv after dinner, with my chin on the heel of my hands, feet kicking back and forth while my grandfather brings the after-dinner tea tray in, cups rattling. Or I am "skating" around on the hardwood floor in sock feet, shooting an imaginary puck between the goal posts of the sofa legs.

From our on-the-spot Vancouver correspondent:

"We won, the whole neighborhood is going nuts, kids are screaming and running in the halls, fireworks are going off, the cats look confused.

...Cars are honking on Main Street, kids are running up and down the street with horns and cymbals and someone is playing Oh, Canada on a piano upstairs...Just back from downtown.

The clean up bill is going to be insane."