Monday, June 15, 2009

How Long Does It Take to Grade A Law School Exam?

Tomorrow it will have been six weeks since I took the first of my second-semester exams. That exam, Intellectual Property, was on May 5th; the next day, May 6th, Rowena was born. My wife has rightly pointed out that Rowena has passed through several developmental stages (eye opening, head lifting, etc.) while this exam has been out for grading. Will she be capable of sitting in her Bumbo by the time I get this grade back?

I'm posting this public complaint, then, out of a superstitious belief that if I write about it one day then the grade will come in the next. The universe has a way of making us look silly, like this morning when I was carrying an empty diaper box down to the recycling can and I stumbled over a bump in my driveway because I was staring at my neighbors.

I'll let you know when (if?) I get this grade. Until then, think positive thoughts and watch out for those bumps.

Update: The day after I posted this, the missing grades was published.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Corpus Christ

Today was the Feast of Corpus Christ - the Feast of Christ's Body. Why celebrate or even think about Christ's body? I want to get at an answer by thinking about a current American figure of great influence: Oprah.

Oprah has followers who read her writings, watch her show, and listen very attentively to what she has to say. She is very much a teacher and purveyor of wisdom. And it seems to me that much of her power and influence have to do with her body and with the promise others see implicit in it.

Now it is news, isn't it, when Oprah's weight is up and when she diets? Of course, this is true of many "stars," especially when bikini season is upon us; and Kirsti Allie's career currently revolves around fluctuations in her tonnage. But no one has built an empire upon the transformation of her body and her self in the way that Oprah has. Jenny Craig? Different: she has a plan, a method, a clinical routine. Oprah, though possesses prestige or, better yet, glory. And in her glory she offers hope to millions.

Quibble with me if you will, but the main point is this: Oprah's body has something to do with the hope that she kindles in so many hearts. She shows women that if they diet and exercise they can have self-confidence, happiness, and - perhaps like Oprah - limitless success. She herself is the example.

There is something similar in Catholicism. Jesus is more than a name, Christianity more than a message. There is in the flesh of Christ an example of the hope that many people aspire to: resurrection and everlasting life. The same body that hung from a cross and that was placed inside a grave is now alive and well and placed in a position of power. We can follow that example, Christian belief teaches, and expect something similar.

Of course between what Oprah inspires and Christian faith there are many, many differences - the comparison is only a weak analogy. But in a culture where the body and the shape of the body are the almost exclusive subjects of much popular literature (i.e. the stuff at grocery store checkouts), none should be puzzled that Catholic religion devotes a day to Jesus' body. Americans are fascinated by the body, elevate it to a special place, and listen attentively to promises regarding it.

Corpus Christ is nothing strange, then. It is another form of attention to the body, only it happens to be the adoration of that Body which is itself the promise of eternal life. Amen.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Personal Letters

When was the last time you mailed a personal letter? I mailed one this morning, and you should mail one tomorrow – by Monday at the latest.

Back in March, I went to a legal-writing seminar presented by Bryan Garner, legal-writing instructor extraordinaire. In addition to receiving all the free Starbucks coffee I could drink in the Biltmore's Copper Room, I received several directives aimed at forcing me to put into effect what I had learned. One of these was: "Write a letter every day for six months."

Now of course I haven't been able to do this. I had a writing assignment to finish, exams to take, as well as a baby to deliver (well, I didn't actually deliver the baby, but you get my drift). But even if I haven't lived up to the ideal, it's better than living without it. The ideal has an attractive power. So when I do get too busy to write, the ideal pulls me back into the writing life.

But how does daily letter writing serve the ideal? The ideal writer writes every day, practices every day, gets better every day. Writing letters to friends and acquaintances gives a writer ample material to work with. There is a natural variety of subject matter in the events of daily life and the differences between recipients gives some scope for varying tone and treatment.

Plus, letters strengthen the fine mesh of friendship. So write a letter today, tonight, or tomorrow.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Double Indemnity

As I mentioned in a previous post, Double Indemnity is the first film noir I have watched in my survey of the genre. There is much to say, but I offer you this for now:

The story's narration takes the form of a confession, and the narrator - Fred MacMurray's character, Walter Neff - uses that term himself, calling it a "kind of confession." That qualification is significant since Neff's confession is made into a dictation machine, and not to a living person.

This is interesting because there is a sense in which Neff is making his confession to a living person. Neff begins his tale by specifying that this is an office memorandum addressed to one Barton Keyes. Because we know nothing about Keyes, we're wondering, "Who is he? Why does he matter? Why tell Keyes the whole story?" And further, we begin the film by seeing something stand between Neff and Keyes: an apparatus for office convenience, an impersonal formality of business .

The film ends with the idea of something between these two men. Neff, as he is dying, tells Keyes that Keyes was unable to discover his crime because Keyes was "too close to him...right across the desk." Keyes replies: "Closer than that."

Why do I think this matters? Because it reveals the different characters of these two men. Keyes, it turns out, had thought of their relationship as some kind of friendship; Neff, on the other hand, had conceived of it merely as business - there was a desk between them. As his end approaches, Neff doesn't go to Keyes's house to make a confession face to face (as Keyes had gone to Neff's apartment in order to discuss his disquiet about discrepancies in the case that pointed to fraud); he goes bleeding into the office to explain his crimes on a recording.

All of this takes place in the unreal world of Double Indemnity, a world of business and commerce - dangerous business and unhealthy commerce. Neff is able to commit murder under the pretense of selling life insurance to an oilman, an occupation fraught with peril. He and Phyllis Dietrichson, Stanwyck's character, discuss the details and consequences of their crime at a large grocery store, confident that consumers won't be distracted from their shopping.

I'm tempted, then, to see in Keyes a counterbalancing element of health, a sound sense of moral reality in this disorded universe. But that interpretation is complicated by the form that Keyes's conscience takes, his "little man" who alerts him when insurance fraud is afoot. His awareness of moral disorder and attempted deceipt expresses itself as indigestion - that is, as unhealthiness. When Keyes is discussing with Neff the seemingly accidental death of Mr. Dietrichson, he complains of severe stomach problems and asks for antacid. His moral insight makes him a sick man. (We also learn that Keyes almost married once, but that he investigated his future bride - just as he would investigate any other claim submitted to him - and learned that things weren't as they seemed. Again, Keyes would be an odd paragon of healthiness.)

At one point, unaware of Neff's crime, Keyes invites Neff to leave sales and come work as his assistant and, ultimately, as his replacement. Neff points out that there would be a pay cut; Keyes counters by pointing to the solidity and satisfaction of this work as opposed to sales. He suggests that there's something stupid and immoral about sales or, at the very least, that it's unworthy of Neff's character and capabilities. But sales, Neff says, is where he wants to be.

I see in that a kind of parable, and a way to understand Keyes. He recognizes that the way the younger men make their money is low and slightly dishonest. Yet he cannot persuade the brighest and apparently best of them to pursue something higher. In fact, his kind of work seems to Neff rather repugnant - sitting behind a desk and crunching numbers, rather than working people and making sales. Keyes asks Neff if that is all he can see in what Keyes does, and nothing Keyes says is able to make him see more.

Double Indemnity, then, shows me a sad degeneration. There is no place in that insurance office for truly personal conscience or a fully human confession of the truth. While Keyes with his "little man" and mastery of the actuarial tables (and the scene in which he rattles of the statistics for various kinds of suicide is my favorite) might sustain a certain level of morality and honesty, it isn't enough to keep a Walter Neff from exploiting the system and committing a murder.

Film noir, indeed.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Trinity Sunday

Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam. This is my favorite line from the Latin text of the Gloria, which is heard each Sunday during Mass, although usually in English in this diocese. Today I heard the Latin because Stella and I attended the eleven o'clock at the cathedral, a Mass replete with smells, bells, hymns, and chant.

The current translation of the line is "we praise you for your glory." The "praise," however, is not quite right. Literally, the line is "we thank You for Your great glory." And this observation is more than pedantry. A different conception of human and divine reality is at stake; a different feeling for God's being and our own is involved.

Here's what I mean: I can praise a distant thing for its own proper excellence without feeling that it touches or concerns me at all. But thanks is usually the thing to do when I have received a benefit; gratitude is the feeling I ought to have when my own life is now better since someone else has done something good for me.

So it strikes me as a rather wild idea to thank God for His glory. Yes, I suppose that left to myself I would be inclined to thank Him for what He has done, especially what He has done for me: thanks for my Baptism, thanks for my faith, thanks for my computer, etc.

To thank Him for what amounts to His own Being is something I wouldn't have thought of. And I admit: thanking God for being God isn't something I normally think of in the course of a weekday. But the Church, in this particular form of worship, does teach me to give thanks for this. It's something I haven't quite got my mind around, yet it does make sense.

Much in the modern world makes it seem like life is meaningless. Much in current American culture gives off the impression that the sexiest and savviest know the truth of things: all is just matter in a swirl, and happiness is just grabbing something pleasant from out of the swirling mess.

But it turns out that the ultimate ground of reality is not without meaning. In fact, it has almost too much meaning - or so it can feel to a mind not properly disposed to reverence that ultimate ground. Instead of swirling about and bumping into things nasty and nice, we are called by God to partake in the life of the Trinity - to live lives that are divine in their understanding and acceptance of what is true, good, and beautiful.

It would, in a way, be easier just to swirl around.

The mind, though, that has some faith, some hope, and some charity knows otherwise. Even in this modern world, sometimes pulled hither by bizarre attractions and sometimes pushed thither by current notions, the Catholic mind looks up to God and is grateful for His glory.

I, at least, am grateful for the Glory; it casts over the whole spectacle of my own life a strange and lovely light. And so I say, yes: gratias agimus tibi propter magnam gloriam tuam. Amen.

Monday, June 01, 2009

My Formal Foray into Film Noir

Because I kept hearing film noir discussed on Mars Hill Audio Journal, I decided that I needed to watch some examples of the genre. And so far I have watched two: Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep.

I started with Double Indemnity because Mars Hill played an excerpt that intrigued me: the narrator's speech about meeting his femme fatale with the smell of honeysuckles in the air. Murder, he tells us, can smell like honeysuckle.

I followed up with Bogart's The Big Sleep because it was available on Netflix for immediate streaming; plus, the title intrigued me. Bogart is always good, and I enjoyed him in this.

But so that I wouldn't proceed totally ignorant, I turned for guidance to a documentary, Bringing Darkness to Light. It interviews writers, directors, cinematographers, etc. in order to answer the question, "What is film noir?" None had an indisputable definition; indeed, one man argued that all the supposed elements of film noir could be found in Casablanca, which is not, though, within the genre. Slippery thing, film noir.

I will watch more of these films noir and attempt to articulate what I perceive those elements to be. I will also try to say which films are good, which are bad, and my reasons for thinking so.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Visiting the Acacia Branch

My two oldest girls and I are at the library. We are at the Acacia branch, to be exact. Yesterday evening we went to the Mesquite branch. The difference between the two is striking.

This Hogarth print captures the general impression of entering the Acacia branch, especially around 3:30 PM on a school day. It's then that the ne'er-do-wells are out of high school and the bums (or those who look like they're on the verge of becoming bums) are waiting for the Circulator. The Circulator is the local free transit system that "circulates" through Sunnyslope (though it must go farther afield since I have seen it moving about Desert Ridge).

My wife says that she doesn't like going to the Acacia branch because of the "weirdos." She enjoyed the month-long closure of Acacia for remodelling because it was a good excuse to go to Mesquite.

As for me, I prefer Acacia. It's closer; the children's area is smaller (so my own children's wandering range is restricted); and it has more "colorful characters." That's how I like to think of the weirdos.

One of the colorful characters commented on the great beauty of my children. This toothless man with a tattoo on his forearm was sitting on one of the small walls outside the library. He was chatting with a bibulous woman about Heaven know's what (admitted: I don't know that she is bibulous; but it fits my sense of the scene). And he was struck by Gianna and Stella and told me, "You did right there."

True, my good man, true.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Back From Vacation

We arrived back in town on Sunday evening. Yesterday was a day for settling back in. Today is the first day of home-life fully resumed.

Living in another house for nearly two weeks made me appreciate my own home all the more. I like knowing where things are, the good spots to sit in, and what won't kill my children or maim them. I like having my books about me. I like Phoenix.

Yesterday evening I dropped some books off at the Acacia branch of the library before going on a walk along the "bridle path" on Central Avenue. Our local library doesn't measure up to the one on Coronado: theirs has a wide selection, ours a surly band of teens. But, still, it's ours. And though the temperature is far from cool, and there is no refreshing breeze from the sea, a walk along Central after 8:00 PM has its own charms (the lack of public restrooms not being one of them).

Now, ensconced in my study, I set out in earnest on the road to law school. Ojalá que llueva café.

Monday, June 16, 2008

One Week of Vacation

We have vacationed for one week, and we have one week to go. It has been good so far: no major fights, no broken limbs or debilitating sun burns, and lots of Monk has been watched. If you've never seen Monk, I recommend it. There's mystery and detection without the serial killing and sexual assault that Law and Order trucks in.

I'm in the library plugging away at Torts. I love it. I'm working on the res ipsa loquitur chapter. If I walk down a street and a barrel of flour falls out of a window and onto my head, I can sue even if I don't know exactly how it happened. Why? Barrels don't usually fall out of windows sua sponte. The situation bespeaks negligence. Res ipsa loquitur.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Vacation: Day Three

Today we met Elmo. Arriving early, we ate the sausages and tasteless eggs provided by Sea World (at $19 for each adult, and gratis for the children) in eager expectation. When Bert entered followed by the star himself, Stella became a quivering chunk of clingy two-year old. I had more sausages.

All told, Sea World was a success for the Hansons. We saw Arctic animals, as well as Antarctic. A polar bear walked right past our viewing-window, and the puffins were a particular delight. We left after four hours, so there were no emotional melt-downs in the park. The children were tired enough to nap for three hours each, which meant some major reading time for Hansonius (Finally, Lord Peter has arrived at Shrewsbury College to do some detecting himself!).

We ate dinner at the park. I was able to dart across the street to check some books out from the library. I came away with some Barzun I never heard of and some I never had time for.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Vacation: Day Three

Gianna wouldn't go to sleep easily last night. Well, she wouldn't go back to sleep easily, I should say. Stella woke her up. The adults didn't sleep well.

We spent the morning in the park. I went and bought two Gyros and a turkey sandwich for the girls. Life is easier when you can walk everywhere you need to go and you can spend the hours between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM out of doors.

Instead of napping when the others did, I ate ice cream, drank coffee, and read some chapters from my last Dorothy Sayers' mystery story: Gaudy Night. It's her best. (I recommend starting from the beginning, McCaleb. Read Whose Body? I started with Sayers last summer based on Jacques Barzun's recommendation. I haven't been disappointed.)

After an afternoon at the beach, we rode bikes to get some pizza by the harbor. Now Stella is watching some Backyardigans, and I'll be watching some Monk after her bedtime. Tomorrow we have Breakfast with Elmo® at Sea World, if we can get Alishia away from the Law and Order.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Vacation: Day Two

We're on Coronado Island. I'm in the public library. I had to mail some grades to Veritas, and the internet access at the rental wasn't working. So, while I'm waiting for the agent at the Bank of America to type his response (which involves a story that doesn't concern you), I thought I would take advantage of the free bandwidth to blog.

I like Coronado Island. We're in the middle of their June gloom while we're here, but it beats the hell out of 100 degree weather back home. Mr. Sun can stay behind his clouds; I'll have a cup of coffee.

I brought four kinds of books: 1. Hegel 2. German 3. Law 4. Miscellanea.

1. I'm into Hegel right now. I ordered his History of Philosophy using a gift certificate. Using another certificate, I bought a new translation of the preface (yes, just the preface) to Phenomenology of the Spirit.

2. I have an edition of Hegel's Phenomenology that has German/English text. I thought I'd try to dive into the German and see what happens.

3. I'm going to read about Torts and, if there's time, Contracts.

4. I'm reading a book called Holy Madness about nations and nationalism in 19th C Europe. I bought a book about the British Empire that I'll move into next. I also bought a new book about Churchill by a historian I recently discovered: John Lukacs.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I am glad that I didn't publicize my New Year's resolution: to blog more frequently. This first month has seen an embarrassing scarcity of posts.

I'll blame it on my work. I had to leave the leisure of my winter break for grueling days in parent conferences. Then I was back in the classroom, my most fruitful hours spent explaining the genitive case and the ablative of time to 7th graders. And in the evening, after work, I want to spend time with my wife and my daughters, good books and the cast of The Office on DVD. Blogging falls by the wayside when I'm working.

I'm fortunate, though, because my work brings with it reminders of why I blog (when I do) and why I should (when I don't). My seniors and I are reading Montaigne's Essays, and Montaigne, as I noted last year, is an inspiration and a model for my blogs. His learning and judgment flow through his essays with ease and charming grace. They are perfect instances of culture: a human mind enriched by reading the best books and that has made those books its own.

How does a book become mine, though? What does that mean? Montaigne helps me here: it means that I must judge it. Is the book helpful and insightful when it comes to living life, or is it silly and pedantic? Making a cultivated judgment involves learning and studying (what people call "book smarts"), but it also requires an honest assessment of the way things - and our selves - really are.

That encounter with reality is what distinguishes culture from effete and ineffectual erudition. The books and old ideas found in them give our gaze a depth and breadth that is often lacking in those endeavoring to simply "tell it like it is." The cultivated mind is balanced by the weight of a great, humane tradition as it engages with the contemporary scene. Because our time (like most other times in history) is shifting and unstable, culture is not just a frivolous extra for those who can afford it. Culture is an urgent need for everyone.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

More Thoughts on Powys' Defintion of Culture

"Culture is what is left over after you have forgotten all you have definitely set out to learn."

I was thinking of yesterday's quote and a book I know of: the Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. It was written by a man named E.D. Hirsch in the early nineties. Hirsch thinks there are certain things every American needs to know in order to be considered "educated" or "cultured."

Some thought Hirsch was too dictatorial. Deciding what counts as cultural knowledge and what doesn't struck them as arrogant. But Hirsch had a good intention. He realized that in order to participate fully in an educated society, people need to know more than their A,B,C's. They need to have at least a vagues sense of the Boston Tea Party or what the Odyssey was. Hirsch's point is valid: pretending like there isn't a general body of knowledge called "culture" doesn't make it go away.

There's something admirable in Hirsch's attempt to help people toward attaining culture. But if Powys is right, then real culture is miles away from Hirsch's dictionary. Culture is not something you can set out to learn in a reference book. Culture is not something you can set out to learn, evidently, in any book. Culture is something that follows in the wake of learning.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

My New Year's Resolution

"Culture is what is left over after you have forgotten all you have definitely set out to learn."

In December 2006 I was reading through the introductory material of Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence. In his discussion of the word culture's various meanings, Barzun quotes the above and attributes it to a wise man unnamed in the text. I checked the endnote and found the wise man named there (with a name I'm not sure I can pronounce correctly) as John Cowper Powys.

A search of ASU's online catalog showed that the library at ASU West had a copy of Powys's The Meaning of Culture. I got it, read it, and was impressed. It reminded me of another little book I liked: The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet.

Both Powys and Dimnet wrote in the early part of the 20th century, and you can tell by the style of their prose. Their common intention is also somewhat dated: to indicate how a person can "be cultured."

I am drawn to both books, but I'm also embarrassed by my attraction. There is something that seems pretentious and prissy about a book with chapter titles like "Culture and the Art of Reading" or "Living One's Life on a Higher Plane."

I suspect, though, that what seems like pretentiousness to me only seems so because I'm swamped by a leveling and uninspired popular culture. What seems like prissiness is probably just refinement, and refinement seems weird in a culture that routinely celebrates the gross and even brutal pleasures human life contains.

I resolve, then, not to be embarrassed if, during the course of this new year, my Hansoniana offer to the blogosphere something in the line of Barzun, Powys, and Dimnet.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

LSAT Completed

With the completion of the LSAT yesterday, I should have more time to blog. At least that's the theory.

There are still numerous demands on my time: teaching, family, and spiritual exercises. That last has become something I'm increasingly aware of as a necessity. Man does not live by bread alone.

Also, I really ought to finish my MA. I have 3 more credits to complete, then I'm done. Of course, those credits are thesis credits, which means that I have a thesis to write.

Don't be shocked then, faithful Hansoniana reader, if the lack of blogging continues.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Stratosphere

Today I took my 4th Kaplan LSAT practice test. I finally did it: I broke into the Stratosphere.

Unfortunately for me, if you know nothing of Kaplan's cutesy terminology for doing well on the LSAT, this means absolutely nothing to you. I'll say it plainly: I did well enough to begin Kaplan's advanced stage of study. I feel like a successful wizard.

Someone asked me if I thought preparing for the LSAT as intensely as I have been feels like a waste of time. Is it frustrating to prepare for a test that you take once (in my case, thrice) and never see again?

I say no. My mind has become sharper, perhaps too sharp. For instance, I asked a guy at today's test if the downstairs bathroom (I wanted to save myself a trip down the stairs) were the only bathroom available. He answered that it was the only available bathroom that he knew of. Any serious reader of LSAT's Logical Reasoning section will do what I did: recognize the subtle shift in scope.

Do I really need to be recognizing that? I just needed a bathroom.

Monday, September 03, 2007

My New MacBook

So I'm writing this blog on my new MacBook. The iBookG4 I loved for so long pooped out on me last week. I went to do some school work at 5:30 AM and was met with a black screen. And this after I had sung the praises of the Apple to a colleague.

It turns out that something was corrupted and the "Genius" could fix it. Well, I'm taking no chances. I bought myself a new MacBook with more space and more memory. Now I can finally get all my music onto my laptop.

I'd like to thank my wife for being so lenient and the man who invented 90 days same as cash financing.

The clock is ticking.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


The following are some of the reasons that I have not blogged:

1. The birth of my second child, Gianna Maria, on July 10th.

2. Being busy with the beginning of a new school year.

3. Taking a Kaplan LSAT course...boring.

4. Reading the mystery novels of Dorothy Sayers.

5. Learning Greek.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Almost a Month...

...without blogging - not a bad lapse when you're me. It's so hard to blog faithfully! There's too many other pressing things to do: read Dorothy Sayers mystery novels, prepare for the upcoming school year, fret about finance, and give up one's internships.

McCaleb and Faith Salutes, the first digitally and the latter in person, have urged me to update. Here it is, then, my friends: a new post. I'll keep it short, though; I don't want to burn out.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Westin Kierland Resort

The lack of blogs over this weekend should not be interpreted as a sign of my slipping into old, negligent ways. Take it, rather, as a sign of the price that the Westin Kierland Resort charges for its Internet connections: exorbitant!

Since the Hansons are expecting a child in July, they weren't expecting a fancy vacation in June. As a substitute for beautiful beaches and exotic locale, we opted for a Lazy River in north Scottsdale. Thus it was that I found myself unable to blog in the midst of so much luxury. But who could complain with a Barnes and Noble within walking distance?

Night One was not so pleasant as we had hoped. The evening went fine: a nice dinner, bagpipe music in the courtyard, and Smores for Stella and me in Windsinger Canyon (a well landscaped area between two wings of the hotel - not an actual canyon). But back upstairs we realized that the fanciest hotel room (even with cable) quickly becomes a prison cell when a toddler is involved.

Things would not have been so bad if we hadn't made a fatal mistake: trying to put her to bed at her regular bedtime. What at first seemed like an easy war of domination became a nightmare of insurgency. Stella, tuckered out from exploring the grounds, should have gone to sleep quickly; but her little head kept popping up over the rim of her Pack-and-Play, trying to see what was on TV. My advice: either let the child watch the Showtime movie or shut it off!

Day Two started off well, once I had some of the hotel restaurant's strong coffee and eggs Benedict in my system. After some pool time, Stella and I spent the late morning and early afternoon engrossed in a surprisingly good USA movie about a plucky band of archaeologists who travel back in time to 1357. But anything seems good when the thermostat is set to 68 degrees Fahrenheit and your eating lime-dusted Tostitos in bed.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Familiar Essay

Yesterday evening, as I was driving from the oncologist's to the southwestern grill, NPR's All Things Considered had an interview with Anne Fadiman. Fadiman has written a collection (which I have not read) of familiar essays.

For Fadiman, the familiar essay is a species of the personal essay. The personal essay is about oneself, she says; the familiar essay is about oneself and the world, especially some aspect of the world with which one is (you probably saw it coming) familiar.

This doesn't mean that the reader needs to be familiar with the subject. The familiar essay is free to deal with any bizarre bit of esoterica as long as it's one that the writer feels at home in. So Esperanto or Yeats's use of Berkeley's philosophy would be fair game for a familiar essay.

The familiar essay is my ideal for blogging. A little bit of me, but not autobiography; a little bit of something interesting, but no formal lecturing. The thought and the thinker should both be of interest to the reader. Who can tell the dancer from the dance?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Yesterday evening, after my guitar lesson and before my mission to Sprouts, I stopped by the Borders by Paradise Valley Mall. My subscription to First Things is lapsed and I wanted this month's edition. While I was glancing through that, Poets & Writers caught my eye and I thought, "If I buy that then I'll feel compelled to submit something (anything) to someone soon, to justify the purchase." We'll see if this line of reasoning works.

I then wandered up and down the fiction wall. I shouldn't have done this; looking at the rows and rows of novels induces what I call "fiction-guilt." My wife thinks I'm a book snob, that I only read high-brow books of history, philosophy, politics. The truth is that I feel compelled to push back the vast regions of murky ignorance that fill so much of my mind. Euryalus, is it the gods who put this fire in our minds, or is it that each man's relentless longing becomes a god to him?

I enjoy reading novels, in fact, whether they're Oprah's Book Club selections or neglected 19th century gems (Marius the Epicurean will have it's day again). But I only have so much time to spend reading and I want to learn, know, and understand things. So I spend my the majority of my time in that vast negative, non-fiction. Consequently, "fiction-guilt" is the feeling I have when I see the all novels that deserve to be read but which I haven't.

This feeling is crippling. I'll see James Fenimore Cooper's books and feel ashamed for only having seen Daniel Day Lewis wearing moccasins and running in slow motion. Then Theodore Dreiser catches my eye - didn't I just read an essay that mentioned him? But there's Dickens: do David Copperfield and Great Expectations (and A Tale of Two Cities, if high school reading counts) satisfy my debt of honor? And with Twain so neglected, can I call myself an American? Who in the hell is John Updike? I thought James Thurber made baby food. Gore Vidal was on the Civil War documentary I watched (I think). And there, down by the cash registers, Emile Zola sits as a reproach.

This clamor of authors, each with valid claim to my attention, confuses me, and I, indecisive, turn my back on them and leave without purchasing literature. So it continues...

One More Chuck Norris Fact

Here's another Chuck Norris fact from C. Seamus of the Mahwah Literary Review.

It's a proven medical fact that Chuck Norris's tears can cure cancer. The only problem: Chuck Norris doesn't cry.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Chuck Norris

La Petite Bete's recent post included a photo: Chuck Norris. So that got me thinking: Chuck Norris. I decided to do a Google search: Chuck Norris. And so I found: Chuck Norris.

I recommend the website Chuck Norris Facts. There you can learn that there is no theory of evolution, just a list of animals Chuck Norris allows to live or that Chuck Norris counted to infinity - twice.

Croce: History of Europe in the 19th Century

Who is Benedetto Croce? Allow the blurb at back of my book to tell you:

Benedetto Croce (1866-1952), generally acknowledged as the greatest thinker and historian of twentieth-century Italy, Senator of Italy in 1910, Minister of Education in 1920-21, and Minister Without Portfolio in 1944, is the author of more than forty books ranging widely through philosophy, literature, and history.

I first heard about Croce last summer while I was studying Yeats in Ireland. Yeats read and admired Croce's whilom friend Giovanni Gentile. In learning about Gentile, I learned about Croce. In fact, I blogged about him (uninformatively) back in August, 2006.

I came across Croce's history of 19th century Europe last weekend. In studying Yeats I became conscious of my ignorance of Europe in the 19th century; Romantics, Nationalism, and the Industrial Revolution were all jumbled together unhelpfully in my brain. I have since several books covering the time period, but, given the connection to Yeats, Croce's book was an excellent find.

Three quarters of the way through, I have not been disappointed. Although I feel my own lack of factual knowledge as I read, Croce's view is sweeping and moves me along in its wake. Liberty is the dominating idea and the forces that realize or resist it shape the century's history. And for Croce the 19th century spills over into the 20th, ending with the end of WWI in 1918.

This grand sweep is helpful for me in placing Yeats. He lived through the culmination and collapse of one century, and was present at the beginning of another. What amazes me about Yeats is that he wrote poetry all the while. His style never stuck in one era or mood.

Croce's vision is also helpful in placing this notion of "liberty." Seeing the historical development of liberalism and parliamentarianism give me a perspective that will (perhaps) be salutary as I continue to intern at the Goldwater Institute.

It is also good to remember that the content of categories like "liberal" and "conservative" shift over time. More on that later.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Catholic Writing

Yesterday was a festive day, a day that saw the Hanson family at two different parties. Party Number One was a little girl's birthday party (I think she turned 3 or 4) and I went mainly to watch Stella enjoy herself among the little people. As it turned out, I enjoyed myself among the big people, meeting a man who was excited to hear about our group of aspiring writers, the Kindlings. This man, Mark, is working on a screenplay (which I would describe as a biblico-political thriller) and had been on the lookout for a group of like-minded writers.

He was in luck (if a group of unpublished scribblers qualifies for being called 'writers'). The Kindlings were planning on meeting for a barbecue that very evening, Party Number Two. So within the space of 5 hours, Mark went from being a guy I met at some party to the newest member of the Kindlings, celebrating with his wife and children the joy of gigantic, inflatable water toys at the home of the Chestertonian Rob Drapeau. Life works out wonderfully sometimes.

Since I am on the subject of fledgling Catholic writers, let me direct your attention to another blog, the Mahwah Literary Review. This blog used to be under my sole proprietorship and under that condition I would not have had the temerity to recommend it. But things have changed. My friend and fellow Mahwahvian, Chris, has taken on the task of making it a blog worth reading. Chris has the learning (and the degree) of a PhD in English Literature together with the soul of a poet.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Summer Time Format

Every now and then I like to give my blog a new look. It makes me feel like I'm a responsible blogger.

You'll notice (if you've been an attentive reader) that the text has changed sides. This shift to the right has nothing to do with my time at the Goldwater Institute.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Goldwater Institute - Day 2

The Libertarians run a tight ship. My summer boss, Starlee, announced that she had found my blog. Her morning google turned up some Hansoniana (that doesn't sound so good) when she searched for "Goldwater Institute" on the Internet. So, even if I were so inclined, there can be no juicy office gossip. Sorry, folks.

Not that there's much to gossip about. My fellow Fellows are a calm bunch of interns. A room full of conservatives just isn't a recipe for whacky; you need a dash of liberalism to get things cooking. Although I'm not sure that "conservative" is the proper word: "libertarian" is how the other interns described themselves this morning.

Conservative, libertarian, liberal* -- beneath all the labels there is still the seething soul that is Hanson.

*I purposefully left out hegemonic to thwart my detractors.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Goldwater Institute: Day One

Today was my first day at the Goldwater Institute. Having taught for four years, it's odd to be new, incompetent, and without 12-year-olds to boss around.

The day began at 11:30. The other interns and I gathered at the Institute for lunch and a briefing. We watched Mr. Conservative, the HBO documentary on the life of Barry Goldwater. The movie made me glad to be an Arizonan, though I have some problems with Goldwater's radical libertarianism. More on that later.

After lunch we settled into desks and began to work on our assignments. The 9 to 5 office thing is something I will have to get used to. I'm used to calling it a day at 3:00 PM with a bit of worry about the next day's activities coming around at 8:30 PM. I still have evals to work on, thankfully, to ease me out of my old ways...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Today at Veritas Preparatory Academy our students are taking their first wave of final exams. Even though I am still required to be in class giving tests, yesterday felt like the last day of school. The real work of teaching is being in the classroom and taking responsibility for moving students' minds forward. Writing tests, proctoring exams, writing up evals: that's easy in comparison.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Too Busy for Blogging

I have not been blogging because I have been busy. There are major changes at the Hanson house that require my attention.

Our sunroom is becoming an official part of the house. We hired a contractor to pour concrete, replace the windows and the cheap sliding door, and to make the room in general a nice place to be. On Wednesday night I was at Lowe's buying doors. How many times in your life have you been out past 9:00 PM purchasing doors? I've done it twice now.

The other major house project is the formation of what I call our "terrace." I called up my mason (yes, I have a mason) and had him build a curved wall in our front yard. My father in law made a gate so Stella and the dogs can't bolt into the street. We now have an enclosed area where I can sit with a beer and watch what my neighbors are doing.

In order for Alishia's sunroom project to move forward, I had to move all of the books from that room into my office. That occasioned a rearranging of shelves and the thought, "Why not just go wall to wall with IKEA products." Thank God I have a minivan to haul boxes of unassembled shelving. This office project is distracting me from finishing the terrace. I need to bust up some concrete in order to make way for shade trees.

In the midst of this labor, I am reading Brothers Karamazov, studying William James's Principles of Psychology, preparing for my LSAT, and considering an MBA. Blogging, unfortunately, has fallen to the wayside.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Faith Salutes

I have added a new blog, Faith Salutes, to my list of Friends' Blogs.

Who is Faith? Faith is a friend of my wife. Does this imply that Faith is not my friend. It is true that we have never been out, either solo or in a group, for lunch, coffee, or to visit a bookstore (things which normally constitute friendship with me). What should I say, then? That Faith is not my friend? False. When you're married, your wife's friend is your friend, too. Such is the logic of marriage.

Faith is funny; her blog makes me laugh. Faith is carefree; I must always remind myself that she is actually older than I am. Faith is married; I was at the wedding but was outside with Stella and didn't witness the marriage. Faith is political; she has ambition and ambition is impressive. Faith is all of these things and much more.

Visit Faith Salutes today.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


My students and I were reading an excerpt from Marx on alienated labor. It led to a conversation about capitalism and American life. This picture of me captures much of the goodness in American life.

Behind me is my home, mortgaged by Wells Fargo. Those double-paned windows you see were financed by Midwest Savings. That shirt was purchased in 2003 at REI. The glass of wine is from a box in my Sears-bought refigerator. The chair I'm resting in was purchased from the Frys just a few streets from my house. The stones making up the planter are from the Home Depot not too far in the opposite direction. In my lap there is a book from the local library - a publicly funded institution open to middle-class me as well as the sweaty poor of Phoenix.

This is my life. I like my life. I want to keep it.

Marx looks at the division between worker and owner and sees problems. For him, the ideas inherent in capitalism make it a bad system. For me, it is bad - but not bad in the way that Marx thinks it is. He think it is totally bad; I think it's partially bad.

With capitalism we have sweaty poor - that's not good. With capitalism I have an air-conditioner and cheap, chilled wine - that is good. I am not alone in this; many people have these good things and much more. In my mind the bad does not negate the good. The bad does not necessitate a revolution, a totally new way of doing things. Perhaps my mind is limited by capitalism; perhaps it isn't.

Of this I am certain: I abhor any attempt to remove all problems. Life is problematic. No idea, plan, or goal is so good that it does not involve difficulties in the doing. Any ideal requires good solutions as it is lived. If the ideas of worker and owner are problematic, that doesn't mean they are impractical. It means we must be careful.

Let me sip my wine, read about Reagan, and keep living this way of life. Thank you, capitalism.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Picture of Stella and Me

My wife requested that I keep my posts balanced. Controversy should not exclude the cute. I agree.This photo shows Stella engaged in one of her favorite activities: reading. "Reading" is not the correct word, though. It's more of a thumbing through the book while talking to the pages. Whatever you call it, it's cute.

The man in the doorway is me. I am proud of the shirt I am wearing. I found it that day at the Goodwill. It was half-priced. A denim shirt for 2.50? That price was right!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

One of the Perks of Teaching

This is an image of a thinker I have neglected and whom I am beginning to appreciate more and more: Hegel.

I undervalued him because my grasp of his Philosophy of History in college was tenuous and my understanding of The Phenomenology of Spirit obscure. I was left with the impression that he oversimplified world history and used abstractions only to confuse me. I now have the growing sense, though, that Hegel actually makes "world history" thinkable and is in fact one of the most concrete thinkers I have encountered.

I owe the increase in my estimation of Hegel to my work at Veritas Preparatory Academy. I am currently teaching the introduction to the Philosophy of History to my seniors. I was worried that the book would fail to generate discussion. Hegel, though, has given us some of the liveliest discussions of the year. I count him as a genuinely profound thinker because his thought clarifies thoughts we (and 12th graders) actually have but, left to ourselves, tend to leave unclarified.

Teaching: the salary may be low, but I can't complain. Do you have a job that helps you appreciate Hegel?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan...

It was an opium-induced nap that allowed Coleridge his fleeting vision of Kubla Khan's pleasure dome in Xanadu. We of North Phoenix have something more substantial: the Desert Ridge.

The Desert Ridge is a shopping center at Tatum Boulevard and the 101. To call it a shopping center, though, and to leave it at that would be misleading. At the entrance are stone columns topped with bowls of burning fire. The very air of the parking lot resounds with Sheryl Crow and more recent pop artists. Within are leaping jets of water for children to play in. The pavement curves around buildings, gently concealing from the expectant shopper the stores just up ahead. The elements have been mastered to produce a unique consumer experience.

For me this kind of place normally causes total sensory overload and induces mild depression. But I've been there twice this weekend. Allow me to explain.

Friday afternoon found us at the Yardhouse. I had heard of this restaurant from my both my mother and the son-in-law of my father-in-law's new wife (who happened to go to high school with me — the son-in-law, that is, and not the new wife). Incredible things were being reported: 130 beers on tap and a happy hour with half-priced appetizers that might serve as a meal in themselves. For a family of three without dinner plans this sounded like Shangri-La.

I was not disappointed. Two stouts priced at $3.50 apiece equals one happy Hanson. Stella dined like a princess if a princess eats nothing but french fries and tartar sauce. Even the redoubtable wife seemed pleased with her Moo-Shu something.

After dinner Stella visited the fountains. Though her little limbs were like ice, she played in the water and had a grand time. She was impressed and encouraged by the older girl who could continue to read a book in the middle of the water jets. O sublime obliviousness! she thought. It came to an end when the security guard told us that diapers alone aren't sufficient coverage at the Ridge. Here kid's nether parts need at least a thin layer of cotton or nylon. Liability, rather than prudery, I think.

The next day, Saturday, we took Stella to see Meet the Robinsons at the Desert Ridge's AMC megaplex. Two incidents indicate the quality of the movie.

After the film, when I told her that I would blog about the movie, my wife said, "Make sure they know we didn't pay for it." We were both glad we had used a gift certificate rather than spent good US currency.

During the film, the most exciting event was not on the screen. Stella, being restless, looked on the floor and found gum. Only a few chews and nothing that Listerine couldn't fix. But I'll leave you with a more general reflection.

Human nature: picking up harmful crap from the ground even in the midst of an earthly Paradise.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Acts 10:34 - Non Est Personarum Acceptor Deus

In the introduction to his Philosophy of History (which I've been reading with my seniors), Hegel points out that the universal law is not made for individuals, as such. The claim would remain true even if the universal were removed as a qualifier. A law is a command to an entire community or a rule for a particular group within the larger whole - but always for individuals collected.

I had all of this in mind as I read a post from a new blog that I've been reading. I am struck by the importance of our own personal story as we each struggle to come to conclusions about these issues. The author is Chuck Blanchard and the issues he refers to have to do with same-sex relationships.

I am struck by the opposite. Personal stories, either our own or others', often hinder us from coming to conclusions in controversies. Moral judgments, which are the kind of conclusions we're talking about, are very tricky judgments to make. They become even trickier the more particular they get. The New Testament, in no uncertain terms, forbids us from passing judgment on that peculiar bundle of particularities: our neighbor.

In his post Blanchard judges the people he encounters in apparently healthy committed same-sex relationships to be very good people. Now if the New Testament does not allow Blanchard to judge his neighbors in order to condemn, why is he allowed to judge them in order to approve? If God alone can look into a person's soul condemn evil, how can one man look at another and confidently declare that there is no wrong in him or what he does?

The desire to base moral argument on personal experience is disturbing. Why? Because it seems unlawful. Refusing to condemn a practice because it is done by someone we care for is unjust and unfair. It is not love when a judge dismisses the case of a man he knows and likes - it is illegal. There is a Biblical injunction against this in Deuteronomy 1:17: Ye shall not respect persons in judgment.

People are wonderful and their stories are moving. In moral controversy, though, appeals to personal stories obfuscate more than clarify because the universal law is not made for individuals, as such.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Finishing Our Blogs

A composition of moderate length on any particular subject, or branch of a subject; originally implying want of finish, ‘an irregular undigested piece’ (Dr. Johnson), but now said of a composition more or less elaborate in style, though limited in range.

This definition of "essay" is taken from the Oxford English Dictionary. Beneath it the OED says: The use in this sense is apparently taken from Montaigne, whose Essais were first published in 1580.

A commentator on yesterday's post mentioned the name of Montaigne. That is what sent me to the definition above in order to verify my hunch: our English word "essay" does come from the French literary form developed by Montaigne. But Montaigne did not just invent the essay; he is The Essayist par excellence.

"Blog" is also in the OED: A frequently updated web site consisting of personal observations, excerpts from other sources, etc., typically run by a single person, and usually with hyperlinks to other sites; an online journal or diary. A fine definition, but more should be said.

The blog is a miniature essay. Too many blogs fit Dr. Johnson's definition: pieces of writing not reduced to order or harmony; not properly arranged or regulated; chaotic; confused.

In blogging we should aspire to the order and harmony of Montaigne's essays. He has shown us a way of writing that will help remove any blog's want of finish. Montaigne is a master of seeming spontaneous; he appears natural because of his immense art.

In whatever we post, let us learn from the master.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The GNP of Nonsense

Yesterday I announced my return to the blogosphere. That meager post has already received four comments. It seems that Hansoniana has not been entirely forgotten. From that I take heart and I need it. My will to blog wavers.

It wavers because the blogosphere is full of pitiful attempts at self-expression and sorry excuses for thoughtfulness. I don't want to be part of the slovenly mob.

It wavers because blogging encourages bad habits of intellect. I don't want to produce cutesy blog entries rushed out in bad prose. I want deep thoughts and witty observations delivered in well-composed sentences.

It wavers because most of the blogs that I visit belong to notables. For Arizona news I like Espresso Pundit, produced by a former state representative. I enjoy On the Square over at First Things. Sometimes I stop by Victor Davis Hanson's site or Richard Pipes's.
Who am I, though?

Yet I blog. Why? Because blogging is writing and writing matters. Good writing is the result of good thinking; bad writing comes from bad thinking or no thinking at all. Jacques Barzun has said that sloppy writing contributes to the Gross National Product of Nonsense. I want that index to come down.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hansonius Redivivus

I am returning to the blogosphere.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas Day

Christmas morning saw two of Somalia's airports destroyed by Ethiopian forces. Somalia is in the control of Islamist courts; Ethiopia is a traditionally Christian nation. The bishops of the Roman and the Anglican churches call for peace in the Holy Land.

We are reminded that Christmas is more than presents and glittering lights, that "Jesus is the reason for the season." It is also good to remember that Christmas had, and still has, implications for the history of the world.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sapere Aude

I picked up a copy of David Ferry's translation of Horace's Epistles at Bookmans earlier this week. I am quite charmed by Horace's down-to-earthiness and his straight-forward moralizing.

I was also surprised to find Kant's call to Reason, sapere aude, in the Roman poet. I suppose it isn't really Kant's, then.

Dare to be wise; get started. The man who puts off
The time to start living right is like the hayseed
Who wants to cross the river and so he sits there
Waiting for the river to run out of water...

How could you not like that simile?

Friday, December 15, 2006


The question was posed in a comment: What is neoplatonism? I now take it upon myself to provide an answer.

It should first be noted that "neoplatonism" is a label. Labels are for curators of museums, not for actual thinking. Living thought needn't fuss with labels. Who cares what "-ism" a thought reflects? The thought is either a fool's or a wise man's.

I do not deny that some labels can be useful; I only point out that all labels tend to mislead. I refer my readers to the Wikipedia article on Neoplatonism for a discussion of the label's various applications.

I'd prefer to tout my own favorite Neoplatonists:

1. Boethius - The Consolation of Philosophy heads my list. C.S. Lewis observed that there was a time no one could be considered educated were they ignorant of this book. When I'm locked up in prison I hope that the book I write is at least half as influential.

2. Augustine - In the Confessions Augustine says the certain "libri platonisti" gave him a sneak preview of John's claim that "in principio erat verbum." What better reason could there be to dive into the whacky world of...

3. Plotinus - The Enneads nourished W.B. Yeats as well as Augustine. Penguin publishes the McKenna edition Yeats was familiar with.

4. Marsilio Ficino - Borders sells the beautiful four volume set of Ficino's Platonic Theology. I own three. I needn't remind my more learned readers that Ficino's work is modelled on Aquinas's Summa Contra Gentiles.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Iranian History

And yet--the near-destruction of the European Jews, in a very brief span of time, by a sophisticated European nation using the best technology available was, it seems, an event that requires constant reexplanation, not least because it really did shape subsequent European and world history in untold ways.

This is from Anne Applebaum's article "Tehran's Holocaust Lesson". The Iranian government just concluded a conference devoted to discussing the "myth" of the holocaust.

Our perceptions of the past have a real bearing on how we see our present. In some sense, I'd say, President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and I don't live in the same world. How could we communicate?

I would qualify Applebaum's claim that the Holocaust "requires constant reexplanation." It's not so much an ever expanding explanation that is needed. We in the West need an ever more profound meditation on the nature of what happened. We need to feel how evil it was.

Monday, December 11, 2006

From the Writer's Almanac

I would rather give full vent to all human loves and disappointments, and take a chance on being corny, than die a smartass.

My wife heard this on today's Writer's Almanac. I think the sentiment is salutary.

American Gracelessness

Britain, and by extension Europe, had its charms, but it was clear that the United States, in all its gracelessness, was where the future of the West would be determined.

The above is from this fellow, Irving Kristol, former editor (and founder) of the journal The Public Interest. He is discussing his stay in London during the 1950's and I was caught by the word "gracelessness."

American life does have what could be called "gracelessness." We have WalMart, SUVs, cable television, Applebees, and bass boats. Do we have grace, though?

If I'm right and we do lack grace then I think I know the reason: we overvalue sincerity. We like "to tell it like it is" too much. Candor, rather than charm, is our goal. My grandmother will say what's on her mind and then announce, "I have to be honest." But she doesn't have to be honest: she wants to be "honest." She's American.

Tough Idealism and the Relevance of History

I recently read two articles from Victor Davis Hanson's website: Tough Idealism and Holy Wisdom. The first is a response to those who would call the war in Iraq a mistake (even after having supported it three years ago). The second is a reflection on the pope's visit to Turkey.

What both have in common is a helpful removal from the immediate.

Establishing democracy in Iraq is not an easy task. It is an ideal that will be realized only with much time, effort, and blood...if at all. The "if at all" should not be a discouragement. If the possibility of failure deters us from acting then we have become the opposite of "tough idealists": cynical realists.

The article on the pope's visit draws attention to the history of Istanbul/Constantinople and attitudes to that history. Many in the West refuse to see in history any significance or relevance and live in a present of tolerance and respect. Tolerance and respect are not bad things unless, as the author alleges, they are masks for fear and blindness.

Both articles have the same diagnosis: there's a lack of vision in the West. We find it difficult to believe in our own ideals and have trouble finding the will to implement them.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

America's Funniest Home Videos

My wife and I take our daughter up to my mother's on Sundays. It's an opportunity to convene the whole family and to dump our daughter into grandmother's lap for an hour or two (or four).

We stay for dinner and try to leave after 6:30 so that Stella will fall asleep on the way home. The time between dinner and departure has filled itself with America's Funniest Home Videos.

It is true: they are America's funniest home videos. Our country has a never-ending supply of men falling awkwardly on their crotches, deer attacking children on bicycles, women being frightened by jackasses with cameras, and all sorts of other painful things that make me laugh out loud. God blessed America when he gave us the camcorder and ABC.

Is it wrong of me, though, to laugh when a small child runs into a post on his bike? Not if his parents tape it and have it shown on national TV. Then it's funny.

Perhaps it's low of me to laugh at the recorded misfortunes of my fellow men. I concede it. I remind you, though, that they would laugh at me. We're in this wackiness we call bodily life together and it's good to remember it's pitfalls. And when others fall into the pit who can restrain one's corresponding mirth? It's nature.

Seeing the lazy girl get hit with the soccer ball is a helpful admonition for me, the viewer. Her being whacked is suddenly no longer in vain. It's all very ennobling, perhaps.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Other Hanson: Victor Davis

While I wait for the coffee to brew I will alert my readers to a website worthy of their consideration: Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers.

VDH is a historian of Ancient Greece as well as a contemporary political commentator. His comments on Walmart, from an article called "Losing the Enlightenment", made me take the store a bit more seriously.

Instead of appreciating that millions get up at 5 a.m., work at rote jobs, and live proverbial lives of quiet desperation, we tend to laugh at the schlock of Wal-Mart, not admire its amazing ability to bring the veneer of real material prosperity to the poor.

"Veneer," I've noticed, is a word that crops up frequently in VDH's analysis of human nature and civilization. He said during an interview I watched on Book TV (I was bored at a party and chased a kid from the set in order to watch it) that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina showed how humans behave when the "thin veneer of civilization" is stripped off.

Thank God for police - but WalMart?

Ideas Have Consequences: Richard Weaver

Practically, no one can stand aside from a sweep as deep and broad as the decline of our civilization. The adverb "practically" makes the claim indisputable. One could dispute that our civilization is actually in decline or that the claim is even intelligible. Or (as I do) one could dispute particular aspects of the decline's diagnosis.

I don't balk at Weaver's claim that nominalism is the real culprit and that the Renaissance is somehow complicit. I don't quite understand, though, his blaming Aristotle, Thomas, and the Catholic Church for emphasizing that virtue (in a way) is not concerned with the extreme. Ideas are extreme and virtue reaches toward ideals. The idea of moderation or compromise is extremely repugnant to Weaver.

He likes Thomas's teaching on language but not on virtue. One could conclude either that he's eclectic or that he's thinking for himself. My judgement is that Weaver thinks for himself but that his thoughts lack a certain unity. They are beautiful and attractive, yes. But do they cohere? Could they make a real world?

For me, the virtue of Weaver is that he reminds us of ideals. He alerts us to the deadening effects of materialism and "realistic" approaches. I owned this book for many years but never read it until recently, when it was mentioned in a history of conservatism in American. It is good to know that conservatism and idealism are partners.

The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent

"The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent" is an essay by a professor, John Erskine, at Columbia University. Erskine was active in the first half of the twentieth century. For some, the half-century that has intervened would make his thought obsolete.

I will admit a certain suspicion of "timeless truths." Actually, it's those who speak of timeless truths that I'm suspicious of, not the timelessness of certain truths. What is it that I suspect them of? Naiveté or, to be more precise, a belligerent naiveté that willfully ignores the exciting world of changing circumstance.

I am not so much interested in the content of Erskine's essay as I am in his title. I think there is a moral obligation to be intelligent - not smart or bright, but intelligent.

Intelligence is the ability to see things in the light of truer things. By "truer things" I mean first principles. "First principles," though, sounds a bit too scholastic and philosophical. Let's be content, then, with saying that intelligence is the act of looking beyond the present and the immediate.

If my blog makes any contribution to the intelligence of others (or even just my own), I will be satisfied.

Apologia: LOST in the LSAT, an LSAT on LOST

It would be a gross oversimplification to attribute my failure to blog to merely two causes, but, since most people live there lives in simple-minded bliss, I fear no man's judgement. I blame LOST and the LSAT.

LOST is the popular ABC serial. I was sucked into the vortex of cliff-hangers and flashbacks becasue of my wife. I was innocently reading next to her one evening and was curious about the crashing of trees and her gasps (Augustine tells a similar story about a friend of his and gladitorial shows). The next thing I knew I was watching three DVDs from Season Two while my wife was out of town. Things got bad: I began seeing life in terms of survival, "the Others," and pushing the metaphorical button. If you don't know what I'm talking about then consider yourself fortunate.

LSAT is the test that determines whether law schools want you or not. It has a diabolical section referred to as the "games" portion. It's the same kind of game that man-hunting is: a bewildered fool is thrown disoriented into the wild and has 35 minutes to escape his fate. The jungle got the best of me the first time; I returned, though, wiser and eager to slay it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Back in the Saddle

My wife mentioned that some of her friends enjoyed reading my blog. The unexcusable pastness of the verb "enjoyed" made me feel suddenly guilty. Strange that depriving individuals that I've never met should make me feel guilty. I narrowly missed colliding with the car in front of me.

Don't use your cell phone while you're driving. Especially if the car is a stick shift.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Sound of God Thinking

I recently came across a quote claiming that listening to Bach is like listening to God think.Who dares to doubt it?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Critique of the Prairie Home Companion Movie

My wife said it well: it's like listening to the show except you have to watch it.

There is something attractive in the movie (and in the radio program): Americana. Things that are ours are always attractive. How could it be otherwise? They would not be ours if we weren't attracted.

Gospel music is prominent in the film. The gospel music is moving and powerful because it is American. The religion or doctrine that produced those songs, however, is not prominent. In fact, the dead woman who acts as "angel" is a comfortable/comforting distortion of the Christian doctrine that brought those songs into being.

"Comfortable" is a key word. The messy questions about where America came from and where those hymns came from is glossed over. Here we are, listening to familiar things, joking in a diner.

Comfortable. Not strong. Not compelling. Attractive.

Great (?) Expectations

My wife and I are going to watch Garrison Keillor's movie tonight.I'm not sure what to expect. I'm ambivalent towards Garrison: he makes me laugh and is one of the few human beings who has tempted me to become a liberal. Who wouldn't want to be part of his simple, down-to-earth world? Who doesn't want to share in his homespun wisdom? Who wouldn't want the big movie contract and the profits from the Prairie Home Companion merchandise?

I promise to let you know what I think of the film.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

On the Necessity of Taking a Break from Blogging

My good friend Whiskey Mike has a diatribe against blogs and automobiles. He seems to think that blogs allow one to say things one would not say in person. He calls for the abolition of blogs. I propose an alternate solution. Let us abolish "the natural respect people have for one another when face to face." Of course, I take "respect" to mean the hesitancy to offend by questioning someone's overly-cherished opinion.

Whiskey is right, of course (how could Whiskey be wrong?): blogging is not the same as life. Witness the gap in my blogs - life intervened. What exactly? I'm not telling you, O Reader. That's private and you're not privy. Get used to it.

Whiskey is wrong, though (I'm not sure how it happens, but I know that it does): abolishing techne (I refuse to replace the thing with the study of the thing) will not solve the fundamental problem. People can lack personality even without cars or computers as an excuse. Some people are just duds by nature.

What's the solution? They need something to enter into them from the outside: education, the Holy Ghost, or (you guessed it) whiskey!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

My Emo

There was no emo music that I knew about in high school. That didn't stop me, though, from seeking out sad songs. Like this one, Don't Dream it's Over.My first conscious encounter with this song came when I watched Stephen Kings The Stand on TV. The powers of the Internet tell me that it came out in 1994. I remember my dad played it for me on LP. I bought the CD at ZIA, I think.

A song that had a much more profound influence on my imaginative life was Drive by The Cars.Hearing this song makes me think of Friday nights, driving to football games on the west side of town, and the complications of the high schooler's heart. In general, The Cars did much to form my imagination during high school.

A song that was more amusing to me than influential was Steve Winwood's Higher Love.I wouldn't call this emo. It does reflect, however, my fascination with quasi-philosophical conceptions of love. "Think about it," Winwood says, "there must be higher love." My trajectory of my spiritual life can be traced in that lyric.

It's odd to me how certain songs caught me at certain moments of my life. Touch of Grey got me my junior year of college.I now associate it with orange blossoms, the cheesecake factory, my father's heart attack, and the excitement of love going haywire. "It's all right."

My senior year in college was dominated by country music. I discovered Waylon Jennings that year.That was also the year Waylon died. You want to know how I learned that? My philosophy teacher announced it to the class. I was the only one to respond. Who would have known that would be my role? We continued our discussion of Aristotle's Metaphysics. Such are God's blessings.

The next song that sticks out prominently in my imagination is New Slang.This was introduced to me by my colleague and Nemesis. It reminds me of driving to ASU in the afternoon for grad school, figuring out how to make beer, and being called narrow-minded and hegemonic.

Music is wonderful.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Sam and Max Hit the Road

I stood up from looking at some friendly blogs and had a sudden memory of this game:Who can say where these images come from? Memory: she runs one whacky playground.

Sam and Max, you ask. Sam and Max, I say, was one fun game. I remember one joke in particular. The little bunny creature (Max, I believe) explains the name of his cat: "His name is Mittens; I think he'd make a nice pair." Why do I remember that?

I remember another game by the same company: Monkey Island. The first sentence from the following excerpt has haunted me since at least the 5th grade.

Excerpted from "The Memoirs of Guybrush Threepwood: The Monkey Island Years"

"I cursed my luck again as I slid down the monkey's throat. Have my dreams of guzzling grog and plundering galleons been reduced to this. "Three small trials and you're a pirate like us." Fair enough. If only I could stomach the foul brew these scurvy seadogs swilled, the rest would be easy. How could I have known I'd meet a powerful and beautiful woman with a jealous suitor too stupid to realize he'd been dead for years? And how can I crawl through this great stone monkey to find a man who walks three inches above the ground and sets fire to his beard every morning?"

Therein lies much of what I've since become.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Distant Barking

The title of my blog was a title proposed by my father. He, along with my mother, urged me to write my college thesis on the afterlife of animals. In hindsight, it could not have gone any worse than my attempt to prove that mercy is the greatest of the human virtues.

Do dogs go to heaven? This was the question that the unwritten thesis was intended to answer. I think that much of the dispute comes from the vagueness of "go to heaven." I don't think that the expression is necessarily vague in itself; I think that people have vague notions of heaven, life, and death.

If only people understood matter, form, and the agent intellect. Most people, though, are as unaware of these things as Stella and Tiny are ignorant of the nature of a camera.

Tiny will never understand the nature of a camera or the nature of anything for that matter. Stella, though, will come to know the difference between cameras, pencils, and crayons. Tiny would nibble them indiscriminately.

Many live indiscriminately. Worse, many live with false distinctions. To sunder things that have their own integrity is a brutal act. Many men are no better than the brutes. What place do brutes have in heaven?

The human form can become brutish and therefore monstrous. I hold, though, that the form of brutes, Tiny's nature, has a place in the new heaven and new earth. So does Stella, though in a different way and for different reasons. Such is my faith and understanding.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

What the French Have Given Me

I don't have a serious problem with the French. I don't, for instance, insist on calling them Freedom Fries. I do, however, enjoy poking fun at their 20th century philosophers (i.e. Foucault, Deleuze, et al.).

I must be fair, though. The French have given me something that makes my life complete: good coffee.If you don't know about the french press then you need to.

It has nothing to do with journalism or wrestling moves. We're talking coffee - good coffee. The secret of the french press is that the coffee grounds are in direct contact with the water, no filter soaking up the delicious oils. The grounds are kept at the bottom by the ingenious wire meshing. Lavoisier and Pascal would be proud.

C'est magnifique!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Beatific Hang Over

I posted yesterday on the abundance of hope in the young and the drunk (which sounds like a poorly scripted soap opera). I would like to round out that thought with some further musings.

I remember reading a sentence of Aquinas's to the effect that the blessed in heaven would be like the drunk upon earth. Why? Ecstasy, i.e. living outside oneself. A google search of Aquinas drunk heaven turned up this sentence: in the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, in heaven "the saved will literally be drunk on God." The Bacchic urgings of the ancient world find a consummation in the Christian heaven?

I also stumbled upon a wikiquote that puts my original point this way: The most hopeful people in the world are the young and the drunk. The first because they have little experience of failure, and the second because they have succeeded in drowning theirs. Admittedly funnier.

This musing on drunkeness has nothing to do with my purchase of the classic cocktail shaker. Lest the lowly minded be inclined to misinterpret my teachings (or purchase) I will provide another wikiquote: Man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures.

My father taught me two things. One, don't put a thief in your mouth to rob your brain. If his doctrines on fast food hamburgers and saturated fats in general had been as strict as his teaching on the fruit of the vine, perhaps he would be among us still today.

Two, if you're depressed then order something in the mail. That is advice I live by: human life is nothing without a solid hope. It's advice that's helped me out of as many difficulties as Aquinas's sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.