Category: Culture



If you haven’t spent a lot of time with Zmirak’s Bad Catholic series, you’re missing out. The material is flat-out brilliant. Content, prose, humor: it’s all there. I expect to draw a lot of BYCU material from Zmirak, including this nugget: Zmirak got drunk trying different bourbons at the Waterfront Ale House. After sampling many bourbons, he informs his reader that Basil Hayden bourbon is his favorite drink “in the world.” I have very little taste for bourbon, but on the authority of Zmirak, I will try it the next chance I get.

His book on drinking, incidentally, is blowing me away. He packs more Catholic lore onto one page than most people experience in a year. If you like Christian history and booze, the book is required to be on your bookshelf.

Happy birthday to my father. He would have been 80 today. … Read the rest

Everyday Drinking

I haven’t devoted nearly enough attention to drinking literature, but from the books I’ve read, Kingly Amis’ collection of essays, Everyday Drinking, is some of the best. Sure, he’s a limey, but I think the English have a special knack for creating drinking literature. The P.G. Wodehouse “Jeeves” and “Wooster” stories, for instance, are some of the best drunken fictional books out there. In addition to great writing, there’s something ennobling about reading drinking prose from an Englishman, but there’s also a risk: an endeavor, once if feels ennobling, becomes more enticing. While reading Amis or Wodehouse, I almost always feel like a gin and tonic.

Anyway, here are a few passages from Amis’ tome (if you want some Wodehouse samples, go to this righteous piece at Modern Drunkard Magazine). Expect more in the future:

“Reading must be combined with as much drinking experience as pocket and liver will allow.”

“‘It is the unbroken testimony of all history that alcoholic liquors have been used by the strongest, wisest, handomest, and in every way best races of all times.’ George Saintsbury.”

“Serving good drinks, like producing anything worth while, from a poem to a motor-car, is troublesome and expensive. (If you are interested, a worthwhile poem is expensive to the poet in the sense that he could almost always earn more money by spending the time on some other activity.)”

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Ranking the Cities

We took a day trip to Chicago on Saturday. We went to the Shedd Aquarium, ate at Uno’s (over-rated), walked/shopped the Miracle Mile, then decided the heat was too much and drove home early, pulling into our driveway before 8:00 p.m.

On the way there, I re-visted a train of thought I’d been considering off-and-on for a few months: Where does Chicago rank, culturally, among important U.S. cities? Where do other cities like Miami and Boston rank?

And what do I mean by “culturally”? Heck if I know, but I guess I could frame the issue this way: if I could get a digital read out of the Jungian collective unconscious of all Americans, where would the various cities rank in intuitive importance? How much does each city have in the area of cultural references, theaters, film production, history, tradition, sports, music, food, politics, etc. and etc. Put everything together, and where do the cities fall in importance?

I came up with this list. Now make no doubt about it: The list is highly subjective, but it’s not arbitrary. I have reasons for the ranking (see parenthetical comment for the things that came to my mind first), but I can’t defend the ranking. Again, it’s subjective. Feel free to differ in the comments box. If everyone looked at this list and said, “Oh, yeah, he’s 100% right,” I’d be shocked . . . and a little disappointed.

I divide the list into different classes. In Class 1, I put NYC. I think it’s in a class by itself. Everyone else is head and shoulders and maybe even torso below NYC. Also, a lot of cities don’t make the list at all (e.g., Jacksonville, Columbus, Wichita, Topeka, etc.), so if one of your favorite cities is toward the … Read the rest


Letters to Children

Living in the Present I

The nineteenth-century Scottish fantasy writer, George MacDonald, lived in intense poverty. He wrote fairy tales in order to eke out a living for his family. Yet he had a peaceful mind. Said C.S. Lewis about him: “His peace of mind came not from building on the future but from resting in what he called ‘the Holy Present’.”

The Holy Present is a mode of living in which you don’t about the past or the future. You think about the job at hand, or the priest’s words, or an old tree that you see in a park. You think about the game you’re playing with your children, or the conversation you’re having with your friend, or the consultation you’re having with your customer or client. Or you might just think about God. You don’t think about the time that such activities are taking and how you may not have enough time later to get other things done. You also should not think about things that have happened in the past that have no bearing on the present moment.

You should strive to live in the Holy Present because, quite simply, it’s how we’re meant to live. We have no power over the past and precious little control over the future. Here’s how C.S. Lewis described it in The Screwtape Letters: God wants men to attend chiefly to two things: “to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience which (God) has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.”

If you learn to live in the Holy Present, … Read the rest


On Sleep

I ran across one of the most interesting and helpful articles of the year this weekend: “Cuckoo: Our body clocks have social jet lag. And it’s making most of us a little crazy.” It’s one of those articles that confirmed a lot of what I already understood, but gave my understanding more sustenance and clarity. The gist of the book review is, We’re all wired by nature differently, and social obligations throw our hard-wiring out of whack. The result is “social jet lag”: your body is out of whack with your natural cycle, resulting in sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation “makes us sick, sad, and dumb.”

But in my experience, that’s what our culture encourages. I can’t tell you how many times men in my social circle refer to a guy (okay, me) as “a wuss” because he needs to go to bed early, or because he needs a nap. There’s something machismo about getting by with little sleep. It has never made sense to me. You might as well say there’s something machismo about striking yourself repeatedly in the scrotum, because that’s kinda how I feel after succumbing to social pressures to deprive myself of sleep. I remember one guy telling me that he’d never do another golf weekend with his friends because (rough quote), “We played 27 holes, drank until midnight, then got up at 6:00 a.m. to start all over. Three days in a row. It felt more like an endurance test than a relaxing weekend of golf. I’ll never do it again.”

Amen. Unfortunately, that kind of “manliness” seems engrained in our culture. And it’s not just contemporary middle-aged men who never matured past college. I remember reading a monk (probably of the Greek Orthodox tradition) who believed that two hours of … Read the rest


Best Vocalist

While drinking and enjoying some old tunes late yesterday afternoon, I pondered this question: Who’s the greatest pop/rock male vocalist of the 20th century? Jim Reeves? Marty Robbins? Johnny Mathis? Sam Cooke? Roy Orbison?

I’m talking about pure singing talent, not most popular, the kind of voice that even an opera fan would appreciate as beautiful. The lists that I located online that include Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, or Bob Dylan are prima facie not relevant to my query.


Are you going to The Hunger Games? I am. My family is really into the series. Marie thinks the books are libertarian to the core: it’s what happens when the central government gets too strong and the principle of subsidiarity is smashed. That’s good enough for me and, although I won’t read the books, I’ll get a secondhand appreciation for them through the films.

The books, of course, are part of the dystopian genre, which I enjoy: 1984 (which The Hunger Games might replace as the most popular dystopian story of all time), Brave New World, Idiocracy. I always meant to read the novels of Philip Dick, but I never got around to it.

Catholic novelists should have an edge in this area: as our government and culture turn increasingly against our Catholic heritage, the world will fall apart. If you don’t believe that, you’re not Catholic. If you do believe that, it gives you an edge on what that world will look like, since you know why it fell apart. Any Catholic dystopian writers out there?

If so, now is the time to get that book to an agent. From a newsletter service I subscribe to:

Turns out that in 2012, dystopia is back… at least in the estimation of the bookworms who populate

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The Beat Enigma

When he saw a statue of the Virgin Mary turn its head in his hometown church’s basement in the early 1950s, Jack Kerouac said it dawned on him that the word “Beat” is a religious word with a relation to the beatific vision.

Yet it’s probably a safe bet that Kerouac was a Buddhist: He saturated many of his books with Buddhist themes. He practiced Buddhist meditation. He at times took vows to lead a Buddhist life. In one vow, he promised to limit his sexual activity to masturbation (his idea of austerity), another time he vowed to eat only one meal per day and to write about nothing but Buddhism. He at times exclaimed, “I am Buddha” and once asked D. T. Suzuki if he could spend the rest of his life with him.

But scholars have never been able to write-off his Catholicism. He never wholly deserted it, and he embraced it more toward the end of his life. New materials from the Timothy Leary archive will only perpetuate the mystery of Kerouac’s religion proclivities. Although all of the archives haven’t been released yet, New York magazine has acquired some excerpts, which it has reproduced here in the form of an imaginary conversation among the drug testing participants. Two of the Kerouac pieces of dialogue further cement his Catholico-Buddhist ways (with maybe a little Hindu and shamanism thrown in for good measure):

“I saw you, Leary, as a Jesuit Father … I saw Allen [Ginsberg] as Sariputra (the Indian saint). My old idea of St. Peter (about Peter Orlov­sky) was strengthened … Pearl became a Lotus of indescribably [sic] beauty sitting there in the form of a Buddha woman Bhikkushini … Mainly I felt like a floating Khan on a magic carpet with my interesting

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JohnWaynePictureWhat is Manliness?

Lew Rockwell frequently links to “The Art of Manliness.” It’s a decent site, but I think it’s more like Gentleman’s Quarterly than a man’s site. When I think of men, I basically have two stereotypes: John Wayne and Basil the Great. If you’re of the secularist bent, John. If you’re of the religious, Basil. The Art of Manliness isn’t either. Could you, for instance, imagine John Wayne or Basil writing, editing, publishing, or even reading a 1,300-word essay about holiday clothing? There’s nothing wrong with the article in its specifics, and it even has a few decent suggestions, but to dwell on clothes for more than, say, 30 seconds? That’s not manly. That occupies the gray area of maleness between metro-sexuality and dapperism. It ain’t queer, but it sure ain’t masculine. * * * * * * * Handkerchiefs. I did, however, appreciate this tip: “A gentleman should always be ready to help a lady, child, or fellow man in need. Carrying a simple white cotton handkerchief in your back pocket is a habit that’s inexpensive, easy to pick-up, and allows you to come to the rescue in a potentially embarrassing moment. Oh, and the proper response when they thank you is to say ‘You’re welcome, and please keep it.'” I’ve never owned, handled, or even touched a handkerchief. I’ve seen people use them and stick them back in their pocket, and it has always kinda freaked me out. But after reading that, I might pick up a few handkerchiefs, just so I can be useful to someone, sometime. Then again, the price of cotton is probably pushing them out of a reasonable price range. * * * * * * * Time Lines. I found a neat feature at Wikipedia yesterday: Century … Read the rest