Friday, July 31, 2015


The first five months of 2015 were busier than I might have liked.

The last couple of months have been preternaturally quiet and I have reveled in them. Speaking requests have slowed to a crawl. After five years, I have less blog readers than anytime since I started. Nobody is much buying my books.

"He must increase; I must decrease."

The less I'm noticed by the world, the more I'm able to tend the garden of my small circle of family and friends. My personal relationships are clearer and stronger than ever, and I'm also more able than ever to wear them like a loose garment.

Reader Tom DeFreitas' description of a homily by Fr. Jack of St. Agnes Church in Arlington, Massachusetts:

The gospel was that of the mustard seed and the yeast, and Fr Jack chose to contrast the "signs and wonders" of the Old Testament (floods, parting of the Red Sea, Moses pulverizing the golden calf, burning bushes) with the quieter, subtler, smaller ways of God in the New Testament: the mustard seed, tiny, unobtrusive, growing in secret ... Fr Jack said that we can offer God our smallness, our "inadequate" efforts, and if God choose, he can do wonders with it!


From an interview in the February 3, 1939 issue of Commonweal with Jacques Maritain:

I remember that the Pope has said, "Let us then accept the outstretched hand, but in order to draw them to the divine doctrine of Christ. And how shall we draw them to this doctrine? By expounding it? No. By living it, in all its beneficence. The preaching of truth did not produce many conquests for Our Lord; it led Him to the Cross. It is by charity that He won souls and caused them to follow Him. There is no other way for us to win them"...Such ideas are very inopportune, are they not?


Wednesday, July 29, 2015


For those of you who don't yet know him, I urge you to check out the writings and youtubes of journalist Chris Hedges.

A good place to start is War Is A Force that Gives Us Meaning.

Some excerpts:

"Patriotism, often a thinly veiled form of collective self-worship, celebrates our goodness, our ideals, our mercy and bemoans the perfidiousness of those who hate us. Never mind the murder and repression done in our name by bloody surrogates from the Shah of Iran to the Congolese dictator Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, who received from Washington well over a billion dollars in civilian and military aid during the three decades of his rule. And European states—especially France—gave Mobutu even more as he bled dry one of the richest countries in Africa. We define ourselves. All other definitions do not count."

"War makes the world understandable, a black and white tableau of them and us. It suspends thought, especially self-critical thought. All bow before the supreme effort. We are one. Most of us willingly accept war as long as we can fold it into a belief system that paints the ensuing suffering as necessary for a higher good, for human beings seek not only happiness but also meaning. And tragically war is sometimes the most powerful way in human society to achieve meaning."

"Look just at the 1990s: 2 million dead in Afghanistan; 1.5 million dead in the Sudan; some 800,000 butchered in ninety days in Rwanda; a half-million dead in Angola; a quarter of a million dead in Bosnia; 200,000 dead in Guatemala; 150,000 dead in Liberia; a quarter of a million dead in Burundi; 75,000 dead in Algeria; and untold tens of thousands lost in the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the fighting in Columbia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Chechnya, Sri Lanka, southeastern Turkey, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf War (where perhaps as many as 35,000 Iraqi citizens were killed). In the wars of the twentieth century not less than 62 million civilians have perished, nearly 20 million more than the 43 million military personnel killed."

"While we venerate and mourn our own dead we are curiously indifferent about those we kill. Thus killing is done in our name, killing that concerns us little, while those who kill our own are seen as having crawled out of the deepest recesses of the earth, lacking our own humanity and goodness. Our dead. Their dead. They are not the same. Our dead matter, theirs do not."

“ 'The nationalist is by definition an ignoramus,' ” wrote Danilo Kiš, the Yugoslav writer. “Nationalism is the line of least resistance, the easy way. The nationalist is untroubled, he knows or thinks he knows what his values are, his, that’s to say national, that’s to say the values of the nations he belongs to, ethical and political; he is not interested in others, they are of no concern of his, hell—it’s other people (other nations, another tribe). They don’t even need investigating. The nationalist sees other people in his own image—as nationalists."

"Those who do defy the nationalist agenda in war are usually reviled during the conflict and shunned afterward. They are, at least by the labels placed upon them by the world, often rather humble, sometimes simple, and not always well educated. The acts defy the collective psychosis...

Many of those who defy the collective psychosis of the nation are solitary figures once the wars end. Yet these acts of compassion were usually the best antidotes to the myths peddled by nationalists Those who reached across lines to assist the “enemy” freed themselves from nationalist abstractions that dehumanized others. They were vaccinated against the cult of death that dominates societies in wartime. They reduced their moral universe to caring for another human being. And in this they were able to reject the messianic pretensions that come with the nationalist agenda. By accepting that they could only affect a few lives they also accepted their small place in the universe. This daily lesson in humility protected them. They were saved not by what they could accomplish but by faith. Such people are, however, very rare."


Sunday, July 26, 2015



The so-called apparitions at Medjugorje are not now, have never, and will never be my thing.

If they're your thing, fine.

But they're not my thing. And until further notice, they're not the Church's thing.

In fact, as of October 23, 2013, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith directed that bishops be advised that “clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”

In other words, whatever our stance on the "apparitions," until further notice we're not to participate in public conferences sponsored by those who assume they're true.

Enter a woman from Scottsdale, Arizona, who a year or so ago invited me to speak at a "Marian Conference" that's to take place August 21-23, 2015.

"We'd love to hear your conversion story," she said. And I love to tell it. So I said I could come Friday evening, speak as early as possible Saturday, and leave after my book signing.

So far so good. I have tons to say about Mary: fierce, tender, courageous, long-suffering, noble.

As the time drew near, however, I wanted to make sure the info I'd put down on my Events page was accurate. So last month I googled "marian conference scottsdale" and what came up, to my horror, were two main sites: and

The website for the Arizona Peace Center, the organization claiming to back the "Marian Conference," has a whole tab for Medjugorje. Here's a representative paragraph:

"Gospa has appeared every day since June 24, 1981. The visionaries say she appears to be 18 to 19 years old, is beautiful beyond description; she has dark hair, blue eyes and rosy cheeks. She always comes with twelve stars around her head and hovers above the ground. Sometimes she is accompanied by angels."

In other words, however the conference is styled, the apparitions at Medjugorje will be 1) prominently featured and 2) taken as true.

I told my contact I was troubled that the conference had been represented as a Marian conference when there is no Marian conference site, but rather direct links to sites with the word Medugorje in the address sites that are aimed at and focused exclusively upon those who subscribe to the truth of the apparitions at Medjugorje.

She assured me that the conference was in full compliance with the Church and that the local bishop was giving the introduction. She was professional, courteous and responsive.

Nonetheless, I returned my 50% deposit. I removed the conference from my Events page. I told her, "I do not want my name associated with the conference in any way" and asked her to remove my name from all promotional materials.

Unfortunately, in some instances it was too late to do so.

Either way, the whole incident makes me uneasy. I'd hate to think even one person was encouraged to go to the conference with the expectation of hearing me speak. I'd hate to think someone was encouraged to disobedience, and to listen to a talks based on apparitions that may or may not eventually be accepted as authentic by the Vatican on the strength of my name.

So just for the record, I am not connected with, nor will I speak at, nor do I support the "Marian Conference" to take place August 21-23rd in Scottsdale, Arizona.

There are millions of useful, interesting, thought-provoking things to reflect upon vis-a-vis Mary. Why, out of all those, would we focus upon a facet on which the jury of the Church is still out?

Why, bathed in the light of truth, would we ever have to disguise, hide, double-speak, dissemble, masquerade?

More to the point, why would I go halfway across the world to see an "apparition" when, right outside my door, are a mockingbird, a palm tree, a cloud?


Friday, July 24, 2015


The essay “Funeral Cookbooks” by Alan Davidson, in The Penguin Book of Food and Drink, begins like this:

"There is a custom which I have met only in Thailand, whereby a person composes a small cookbook before her or his death, so that it can be distributed as a keepsake to the mourners attending the funeral.

The recipes, typically no more than a score, are likely to be those which the deceased especially enjoyed. They need not have been composed or used by the deceased, but often are. Sometimes they incorporate little anecdotes and attributions. . . .

The idea is attractive. With what better keepsake could one depart from a funeral? What other would equally well keep one's memory green among friends? If one is to issue some sort of posthumous message, avoiding anything egotistical or hortatory, is not a simple message about enjoyable food the best that could be devised? It is true that one could equally well compose a list of 'books I have enjoyed,' but that might seem didactic, even patronising; whereas a little bouquet of recipes arrives on a more relaxed note."

In case I croak today, here's a recipe you can put in my cookbook. It's fast, easy, and if you live in Southern Cal., you can usually simply walk up and down the block and find a stray rosemray bush.
And the cookies--shortbread-type bars, really--are delicious.

Tuscan Rosemary and Pine Nut Bars

¼ cup pine nuts
½ cup (1 stick) utter, cut in 10 pieces
½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary or1 teaspoon dried
1 cup flour

Spread pine nuts on baking sheet and toast, stirring once or twice, at 350 degrees until a shade darker and fragrant, about 5 minutes. (Watch carefully; pine nuts burn easily.)

Melt butter in microwave or in medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar, rosemary and pine nuts. Stir in flour to make dough; it will be stiff.

Pat dough evenly into ungreased 8-inch square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees until golden and firm at edges, about 20 minutes. Cool pan on rack about 2 minutes, then use sharp knife to cut bars into 16 squares. Let cool in pan at least 10 minutes before removing with small spatula. (Store, tightly covered, up to 5 days or freeze up to 1 month.)

16 cookies. Each cookie 105 calories….

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


"We [Japanese] find it hard to be really at home with things that shine and glitter. The Westerner uses silver and steel and nickel hardware, and polishes it to a high brilliance, but we object to the practice. While we do sometimes indeed use silver for teakettles, decanters or sake cups, we prefer not to polish it On the contrary we begin to enjoy it only when the lustre has worn off, when it has begun to take on a dark, smoky patina."

--Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows (1933)

all photos, canyon drive, hollywood, ca
5:00 to 5:15 pm, thursday, july 16, 2015

Friday, July 17, 2015


This week's arts and culture piece is entitled  "Randyland: A Folk Art Shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe."

Here's how it begins:

I don’t know about you, but I personally love a folk art installation, looming 40 feet above the street, made of glass bottles filled with colored water that form a giant light-refracting image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Thus I found myself in Echo Park recently, visiting Randlett King Lawrence, creator of what he calls the Phantasma Gloria and proprietor of “Randyland.”

“Come just before dusk,” Randy had said. “That’s when the light is best.”

Randy greets me in a blue pajama-like outfit he’s hand-stenciled with a Virgin of Guadalupe motif. “At this time of day, refraction is in action,” he announces gleefully.

The installation is up on a hill and takes up the whole 50 linear feet of Randy’s front yard.



Thursday, July 16, 2015



This week's arts and culture column is about the trip I took to Honduras last February with the Catholic relief organization Unbound.

It begins:

Unbound is a nonprofit, headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, founded by Catholic laypeople who desired to serve the poor. The organization pairs sponsors with children, young adults and the elderly all over the world.

Last February, I spent a week on a Unbound media awareness trip to the Honduran town of Ocotepeque.

The suffering and poverty of the Hondurans we met was profound. So was the hospitality, generosity of spirit, and courtesy.

The morning after we arrived, we visited Casa Hogar, an Unbound-sponsored home for kids ages 5 to 18, who’ve been abused, neglected or abandoned.

We drove up in a van. The adobe building was painted welcoming colors of bright rose and gold. The doorway gave onto an arched passageway lined on both sides with children who had clearly been awaiting our arrival with such excitement they could barely contain themselves.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015


It is perhaps when our lives are most problematic that we are likely to be most receptive to beautiful things. Our downhearted moments provide architecture and art with their best openings, for it is at such times that our hunger for their ideal qualities will be at its height. It is not those creatures with well-organised, uncluttered minds who will be most moved by the sight of a clean and empty room in which sunlight washes over a generous expanse of concrete and wood nor will it be the man with every confidence that his affairs are in order who will crave to live under--and perhaps even shed a tear over--the ceilings of a Robert Adam townhouse. p. 150

In 1900 the Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki travelled to England and there noted, with some surprise, how few of the things he found beautiful stirred the locals: 'I was once laughed at because I invited someone for a snow-viewing. At another time I described how deeply the feelings of Japanese are affected by the moon, and my listeners were only puzzled...I was invited to Scotland to stay at a palatial house. One day, when the master and I took a walk in the garden, I noted that the paths between the rows of trees were all thickly covered with moss. I offered a compliment, saying that these paths had magnificently acquired a look of age. Whereupon my host replied that he soon intended to get a gardener to scrape all this moss away." pp. 261-262.

--Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness


Friday, July 10, 2015


Laney at 5th, Federal Building, 2011. Image on Endura transparency, unique photograph 33 1/2 x 28 1/4 inches.

I've had this blog for almost five years.  Out in Palm Springs, I spent some time going back over what now amounts to almost a thousand posts.

The experience was interesting. All the long, rambling posts in which I thought at the time I was taking a unique, important stand made me cringe.  I've reduced several of them to a few sentences, often consisting of a quote from someone else.

There were long strings of superfluous paragraphs; thoughts that didn't fit; points, often egregiously badly-written, that I hammered on again and again  At times, I squeezed what should have been two or three different posts into one.

While my intent was to include my friends, family, and people I've met along the way, at times I sounded like an insecure teenager shrilling, See how popular I am! While my underlying thought was I can hardly believe that after years on a barstool, I've been able to produce anything of value at all, I often came across as cloyingly self-promoting.

My friend Fr. Terry Richey, former drug and alcohol liaison for the Archdiocese of L.A., is known far and wide for his kindness, wisdom and wit.

I once asked him if he had any tips for giving a good retreat.

“I have only one rule,” he replied. “I’m not allowed to bore myself.”

Thursday, July 9, 2015


For decades a priest friend of mine has been leading spiritual retreats: at home and abroad; weekends, vacations, and sometimes holidays. He brings a vast knowledge of Church history, funny, poignant anecdotes, and hard-won spiritual experience.

Not long ago, a man approached at the conclusion of a retreat and asked, "How long have you been in this line of work anyway?"

"Coming up on 20 years," Father replied proudly. .

“Really now,” the guy replied, hen fixed him with a hard stare, leaned in, and very slowly asked: "Why don’t you give it a break?"


Tuesday, July 7, 2015


photo credit:

Jon Spayde of St. Paul MN calls our attention to: Writers No-One Reads: Daniel Spoerri.

From wikipedia: "Daniel Spoerri (born 27 March 1930 in Galați) is a Swiss artist and writer born in Romania.[1] Spoerri is best known for his "snare-pictures," a type of assemblage or object art, in which he captures a group of objects, such as the remains of meals eaten by individuals, including the plates, silverware and glasses, all of which are fixed to the table or board, which is then displayed on a wall."

Spoerri is also known for his book An Anecdoted Topography of Chance.

Courtesy of this site from UC Santa Barbara:

"Daniel Spoerri: An Anecdoted Topography of Chance

In 1962 after a conversation with the poet Robert Filliou, Fluxus artist Daniel Spoerri mapped the objects lying at random on the table in his room, adding a rigorously scientific description of each. These objects subsequently evoked associations, memories, anecdotes; not only from the original author, but from his friends as well: a beguiling creation was born. Many of the principal participants of FLUXUS make an appearance (and texts by Higgins, Jouffroy, Kaprow, Restany, and Tinguely are included, among others). It is a novel of digressions in the manner of Tristram Shandy or Robbe-Grillet; it's a game, a poem, an encyclopaedia, a cabinet of wonders: a celebration of friendship and creativity."

The book is somewhat hard to find and generally quite expensive. Jon, however, unearthed a copy from Midway Books and sent it as a gift.

Shell debris, crumbs, a green Swingline stapler. Tangents about road trips, drunken parties, insults that may or may not have been forgiven, and a throughline of eggs.

A sample:

"Entry No. 2:

Pale-green egg cup of very light plastic standing on three tiny legs, bought with three others of different color last Saturday at the Uniprix five-and-ten on Avenue GÉNÉRAL LECLERC. I was in that quarter to cash a check for 706 francs, payable at a bank at No. 5 on that avenue, which ARTURO SCHWARZ (see No. 38, note ++) had sent me. Just opposite the bank is the Uniprix where I went to look for a lot of trinkets to give KICHKA'S sister, who was coming to celebrate her birthday with us in my room that afternoon. I gave her three of the egg cups, and the fourth one stayed in my room, and KICHKA, used it at noon today to eat her eggs (No. 1, 1a). Still in the egg cup is the shell of the egg that I bought this morning, along with three others for 35 centimes apiece, at the dairy store on the Place de la Contrescarpe, whose proprietor, at the end of the day, feeds his perishable leftovers to the neighborhood bums, who heap coarse insults on him when they don't find the leftovers to their liking. Tr. Note 1. Two of these eggs were eaten by BREMER this morning and the other by RENATE (No. 1). (Tr. Note 2)."

A book of marvels and surprises I will treasure.

Thank you, Jon.  

Sunday, July 5, 2015


Kevin ("Oh no, darling, that's a bathing ensemble") Jones is Curator of the FIDM/Fashiong Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum and Galleries.

Here's how this week's arts and culture piece begins:

FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) is a private college in Downtown L.A. offering majors in fashion design, interior design, merchandising and marketing and many others.

FIDM also features a museum and galleries that are open to the public.

Kevin Jones, curator, has been at his post for 15 years. Recently, accompanied by the very stylish Susan Aronson, long-time executive director of admissions, he gave me a tour.

“The FIDM collection is one of the most important in the country, with more than 15,000 pieces of historic dress, men’s and women’s, from 1800 to the present, as well as accessories, jewelry, fragrance packaging and ephemera.”


Thursday, July 2, 2015


"I believe that language and imagination, far from alienating us from nature, are our most powerful and natural tools for re-engaging with it... Culture isn't the opposite or contrary of nature. It's the interface between us and the non-human world, our species' semi-permeable membrane."*

--Richard MabeyNature Cure