Monday, July 30, 2018



I have at this late stage of the game discovered Charles Dickens.

"Martin [Chuzzlewit] knew nothing about America, or he would have known perfectly well that if its individual citizens, to a man, are to be believed, it always IS depressed, and always IS stagnated, and always IS at an alarming crisis, and never was otherwise; though as a body they are ready to make oath upon the Evangelists at any hour of the day or night, that it is the most thriving and prosperous of all countries on the habitable globe." (published 1843-44).

I was going to post that on FB but since "America" also lacks all sense of humor about itself I realized people would miss the satire and devolve into some vitriolic boring political argument. Instead of checking out Charles Dickens, if they haven't already, and losing themselves in one of his genius, complex, entertaining, instructive, tragicomic moral tales.

I am reading The Pain of Christ by Gerald Vann, O.P. Then Volume II of Martin Chuzzlewit. Then, if I have the strength, Bleak House.

I watched In the Heat of the Night this week. Wonderful Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier. Steiger despaired near the end of his life, thinking he had no talent. Rod Steiger! I thanked him this morning as I was watering my parched garden. (I save my water from the shower so that helps at least a bit). (And I think of the army of gardeners who care for LA's lawns and yards, the men and women who are out in this inferno eight, ten, twelve hours a day).

Southern California has been baking, shattering heat records right and left, for weeks on end. Apparently this is what we're to expect, and worse, from hereon in.

We have now, in our blindness, rapacity and greed wrecked the planet so badly that is is rearing up in protest and I don't blame it one bit.

God will not be mocked.

God is also beyond merciful, and the earth still showers one and all with blessings.

Sunday I read in the paper of a property that is for sale in Beverly Hills for a billion dollars. Not even a house, just a gigantic lot that is bigger than Disneyland and some other humongous place combined. It overlooks the city and maybe you can even see the ocean.

I thought, Whoever buys that place could not possibly enjoy the view more than I enjoy the view from my bedroom window.

When the rattan blind is down, there is maybe a foot-high sliver through which, while reclining on my cozy single bed,  I can see the orange tree beyond and in spring camellias and at different parts of the day, different qualities of light. I often lie there, simply pulsing with the mystery and weirdness and beauty and profound sorrow of life.

O God, you are my God, for you I long;
for you my soul is thirsting.
My body pines for you
like a dry, weary land without water.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life,
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul shall be filled as with a banquet,
my mouth shall praise you with joy.

On my bed I remember you.
On you I muse through the night
for you have been my help;
in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand holds me fast.

--Psalm 63


Friday, July 27, 2018



In case you haven't heard, LA has been boiling hot as of late. One day the thermometer in my car which, granted, had been baking in the full-on sun all day, read 140 degrees! 

I've also been traveling a lot and am drained on many levels and thus have been holed up in my monastic cell bedroom/office/music conservatory (the one room in my apt with A/C), napping, reading, looking out the window, watching movies, playing the piano and occasionally writing. Or thinking about what I want to write--soon! 

Hey, people retire at my age, I comfort myself. Also--up with the three-hour day! And relax. 

Chapter IV
New Songs to New Music
From The Right to be Lazy, by Paul Lafargue

We have seen that by diminishing the hours of labor new mechanical forces will be conquered for social production. Furthermore, by obliging the laborers to consume their products the army of workers will be immensely increased. The capitalist class once relieved from its function of universal consumer will hasten to dismiss its train of soldiers, magistrates, journalists, procurers, which it has withdrawn from useful labor to help it in consuming and wasting. Then the labor market will overflow. Then will be required an iron law to put a limit on work. It will be impossible to find employment for that swarm of former unproductives, more numerous than insect parasites, and after them must be considered all those who provide for their needs and their vain and expensive tastes. When there are no more lackeys and generals to decorate, no more free and married prostitutes to be covered with laces, no more cannons to bore, no more palaces to build, there will be need of severe laws to compel the working women and working men who have been employed on embroidered laces, iron workings, buildings, to take the hygienic and calisthenic exercises requisite to re-establish their health and improve their race. When once we begin to consume European products at home instead of sending them to the devil, it will be necessary that the sailors, dock handlers and the draymen sit down and learn to twirl their thumbs. The happy Polynesians may then love as they like without fearing the civilized Venus and the sermons of European moralists.

And that is not all: In order to find work for all the non-producers of our present society, in order to leave room for the industrial equipment to go on developing indefinitely, the working class will be compelled, like the capitalist class, to do violence to its taste for abstinence and to develop indefinitely its consuming capacities. Instead of eating an ounce or two of gristly meat once a day, when it eats any, it will eat juicy beefsteaks of a pound or two; instead of drinking moderately of bad wine, it will become more orthodox than the pope and will drink broad and deep bumpers of Bordeaux and Burgundy without commercial baptism and will leave water to the beasts.

The proletarians have taken into their heads to inflict upon the capitalists ten hours of forge and factory; that is their great mistake, because of social antagonisms and civil wars. Work ought to be forbidden and not imposed. The Rothschilds and other capitalists should be allowed to bring testimony to the fact that throughout their whole lives they have been perfect vagabonds, and if they swear they wish to continue to live as perfect vagabonds in spite of the general mania for work, they should be pensioned and should receive every morning at the city hall a five-dollar gold piece for their pocket money. Social discords will vanish. Bond holders and capitalists will be first to rally to the popular party, once convinced that far from wishing them harm, its purpose is rather to relieve them of the labor of over-consumption and waste, with which they have been overwhelmed since their birth. As for the capitalists who are incapable of proving their title to the name of vagabond, they will be allowed to follow their instincts. There are plenty of disgusting occupations in which to place them. Dufaure might be set at cleaning public closets, Gallifet [1] might perform surgical operations on diseased horses and hogs. The members of the amnesty commission might be sent to the stockyards to pick out the oxen and the sheep to be slaughtered. The senators might play the part of undertakers and lackeys in funeral processions. As for the others, occupations could be found for them on a level with their intelligence. Lorgeril and Eroglie could cork champagne bottles, only they would have to be muzzled as a precaution against intoxication. Ferry, Freycinet and Tirard might destroy the bugs and vermin in the departments of state and other public houses. It would, however, be necessary to put the public funds out of the reach of the capitalists out of due regard for their acquired habits.

But vengeance, harsh and prolonged, will be heaped upon the moralists who have perverted nature. The bigots, the canters, the hypocrites, "and other such sects of men who disguise themselves like maskers to deceive the world. For whilst they give the common people to understand that they are busied about nothing but contemplation and devotion in fastings and maceration of their sensuality,"”and that only to sustain and aliment the small fraility of their humanity,-- it is so far otherwise that on the contrary, God knows, what cheer they make; et Curies simulant, sed Bacchanalia vivunt. [2] You may read it in great letters, in the coloring of their red snouts, and gulching bellies as big as a tun, unless it be when they perfume themselves with sulphur." [3] On the days of great popular rejoicing, when instead of swallowing dust as on the 15th of August and 14th of July under capitalism, the communists and collectivists will eat, drink and dance to their hearts' content, the members of the Academy, of moral and political sciences, the priests with long robes and short, of the economic, catholic, protestant, jewish, positivist and free-thought church; the propagandists of Malthusianism, and of Christian, altruistic, independent or dependent ethics, clothed in yellow, shall be compelled to hold a candle until it bums their fingers, shall starve in sight of tables loaded with meats, fruits and flowers and shall agonize with thirst in sight of flowing hogsheads. Four times a year with the changing seasons they shall be shut up like the knife grinders' dogs in great wheels and condemned to grind wind for ten hours.

The lawyers and legislators shall suffer the same punishment. Under the regime of idleness, to kill the time, which kills us second by second, there will be shows and theatrical performances always and always. And here we have the very work for our bourgeois legislators. We shall organize them into traveling companies to go to the fairs and villages, giving legislative exhibitions. The generals in riding boots, their breasts brilliantly decorated with medals and crosses, shall go through the streets and courts levying recruits among the good people. Gambetta and his comrade Cassagnac shall tend door. Cassagnac, in full duelist costume, rolling his eyes and twisting his mustache, spitting out burning tow, shall threaten every one with his father's pistol [4] and sink into a hole as soon as they show him Lullier's portrait. Gambetta will discourse on foreign politics and on little Greece, who makes a doctor of him and would set Europe on fire to pilfer Turkey; on great Russia that stultifies him with the mincemeat she promises to make of Prussia and who would fain see mischief brewing in the west of Europe so as to feather her nest in the east and to strangle nihilism at home; on Mr. Bismark who was good enough to allow him to pronounce himself on the amnesty.....then uncovering his mountainous belly smeared over with red and white and blue, the three national colors, he will beat the tattoo on it, and enumerate the delicate little ortolans, the truffles and the glasses of Margaux and Y'quem that it has gulped down to encourage agriculture, and to keep his electors of Belleville in good spirits.

In the barracks the entertainment will open with the "Electoral Farce."

In the presence of the voters with wooden heads and asses' ears, the bourgeois candidates, dressed as clowns, will dance the dance of political liberties, wiping themselves fore and aft with their freely promising electoral programs, and talking with tears in their eyes of the miseries of the people and with copper in their voices of the glories of France. Then the heads of the voters will bray solidly in chorus, hi han! hi han!

Then will start the great play, "The Theft of the Nation's Goods."

Capitalist France [substitute U.S.], an enormous female, hairy-faced and bald-headed, fat, flabby, puffy and pale, with sunken eyes, sleepy and yawning, is stretching herself out on a velvet couch. At her feet Industrial Capitalism, a gigantic organism of iron, with an ape-like mask, is mechanically devouring men, women and children, whose thrilling and heart-rending cries fill the air; the bank with a marten's muzzle; a hyena's body and harpy-hands, is nimbly flipping coins out of his pocket. Hordes of miserable, emaciated proletarians in rags, escorted by gendarmes with drawn sabers, pursued by furies lashing them with whips of hunger, are bringing to the feet of capitalist France heaps of merchandise, casks of wine, sacks of gold and wheat. Langlois, his nether garment in one hand, the testament of Proudhon in the other and the book of the national budget between his teeth, is encamped at the head of the defenders of national property and is mounting guard. When the laborers, beaten with gun stocks and pricked with bayonets, have laid down their burdens, they are driven away and the door is opened to the manufacturers, merchants and bankers. They hurl themselves pell mell upon the heap, devouring cotton goods, sacks of wheat, ingots of gold, emptying casks of wine. When they have devoured all they can, they sink down, filthy and disgusting objects in their ordure and vomitings. Then the thunder bursts forth, the earth shakes and opens, Historic Destiny arises, with her iron foot she crushes the heads of the capitalists, hiccoughing, staggering, falling, unable to flee. With her broad hand she overthrows capitalist France, astounded and sweating with fear.

If, uprooting from its heart the vice which dominates it and degrades its nature, the working class were to arise in its terrible strength, not to demand the Rights of Man, which are but the rights of capitalist exploitation, not to demand the Right to Work which is but the right to misery, but to forge a brazen law forbidding any man to work more than three hours a day [emphasis mine], the earth, the old earth, trembling with joy would feel a new universe leaping within her. But how should we ask a proletariat corrupted by capitalist ethics, to take a manly resolution....

Like Christ, the doleful personification of ancient slavery, the men, the women and the children of the proletariat have been climbing painfully for a century up the hard Calvary of pain; for a century compulsory toil has broken their bones, bruised their flesh, tortured their nerves; for a century hunger has torn their entrails and their brains. 0 Laziness, have pity on our long misery! O Laziness, mother of the arts and noble virtues, be thou the balm of human anguish!


[1] Gallifet was the general who was directly responsible for the massacre of thousands or French workingmen at the closing days of the Paris Commune.
[2] They simulate Curius but live like Bacchanals. (Juvenal.)
[3] Rabelais "Pantagruel," Book II, Chapter XXXIV. Translation or Urquhart and Motteux.
[4] Paul de Cassagnac, like his rather, Orsnier, was prominent as a conservative politician, journalist and dualist.

Monday, July 23, 2018


This week's arts and culture column is about a nap I took in an LA public garden!

It begins like this:

Now we have an answer to all those out-of-towners who sniff, “How can you live in Los Angeles? Personally, I need trees. I need wildlife.”

In fact, Southern California happens to be the most biodiverse area in the entire United States.

I learned this at “Growing Habitat: LA’s Wildlife and Descanso,” an exhibit running through August 19 at La Cañada’s Descanso Gardens.

Created in partnership with the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy, the goal is to demonstrate that “a vibrant and resilient habitat is full of movement and connection and wildlife — both seen and unseen.”

But the context is broader than just conserving land. The hope is to create wildlife corridors through parts of the Verdugo and San Gabriel Mountains within which wildlife can flourish: east to the Arroyo Seco, north to the Angeles Forest, south to the LA River.

The exhibit is housed in the nicely air-conditioned Sturt Haaga Gallery. There’s plenty for kids: a stuffed bobcat, microscopes through which to examine minute holes in leaves, poppy seed packets to decorate.


Tuesday, July 17, 2018




I have been traveling and am feeling just a teensy bit drained as in I am going to Logan six hours early Friday to try to get on stand-by for the three flights back to LA before mine.

Yes! Eager to be back in my little sanctuary: my own bed, my own coffee-maker, my own birds.

Times like this I turn especially to the life force of trees and flowers.
Times like this I think especially of Gerard Manley Hopkins.


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

APPROX 7:30 am.

Monday, July 9, 2018


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

July 10 is Tesla Day.

That would be Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), Serbian-American inventor, electrical engineer and eccentric known principally as the developer of the modern alternating current electricity supply system.

Tesla claimed to have been born during a lightning storm, and as a child had vivid nightmares. His father, an Eastern Orthodox priest, wanted Nikola to follow in his footsteps, but eventually relented and allowed the boy to pursue engineering studies.

He emigrated to the U.S. in 1884 and found work for a time with Thomas Edison designing direct current generators.

The two, famously, were not entirely simpatico. Tesla wrote of their time together:

“We experimented day and night, holidays not excepted. … He had no hobby, cared for no sport or amusement of any kind and lived in utter disregard of the most elementary rules of hygiene. There can be no doubt that, if he had not married later a woman of exceptional intelligence, who made it the one object of her life to preserve him, he would have died many years ago from consequences of sheer neglect.”

He then quit to pursue his own project: the alternating current induction motor.

Tesla’s dream was to provide free wireless electricity to one and all.

He had grand ideas and cosmic thoughts: on man’s human destiny, the Rotary Magnetic Field, world peace, divine power and other inventors (he considered Einstein’s work on relativity shot through with “underlying errors”).

“Everything is the sun,” he observed.


Sunday, July 8, 2018


The lizard clan is diverse and fascinating--also, some members are very sentimental and love to be sung to. I found this out one day by chance when I was meandering about and singing to myself in a stand of tall Mentzelia laevicaulis, well bedecked with its big gistening water-lily-like blooms of soft ;primrose yellow. This Mentzalia grows only in gravelly places which catch the maximum of sun; lizards also like such places. As I sang, two very unlike specimens came out from under the stones. One (the more musical--or perhaps unmusical--of the two) was over a foot long and incredibly beautiful with a bold tan armadillo-like design worked on his mustard-yellow body. He resolutely advanced and together we sat on a rock. I stopped my noise and he made preparations to leave. I began it again and he stepped on to my knee. He showed an enormous capacity for large doses of song, closing his eyes in absurd abandon and opening them whenever I shut up, his eyelids sliding back to reveal pleading orbs. This went on for some time till I finally had to tell him that I must go about my business, and as I placed him, limp from emotion, on the boulder, I pointed out to him that the music the rock wren yonder was making was much better than anything I could do. But his reproachful eyes followed me on my way.

--Lester Rowntree, Hardy Californians

ROSES (which are not California natives, but generally like it here)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018



Whoa. Life is speeding by so quickly that I'm not able to quite catch up.

Last week at this time I was in NYC.

I was in town to accept an award from the Association of Catholic Publishers: Holy Desperation (Loyola Press) won first place in the "Inspiration" category and Best Book of the Year.

As I told them, the last time I won an award was in eighth grade. So the whole event was quite exciting.

Loyola put me up at a fancy hotel and I spent a good part of my time feeling like I was using up way too many "resources." Should I fast, for instance (even though I wasn't paying), in order to make up for the inordinate price of my hotel? I ordered room service the first afternoon, thinking to stretch my modest order over two meals, so ate half and set the rest aside, only to return a couple of hours later and find the whole whisked away, the curtains and blinds drawn, and laid out beneath my bed a pair of terrycloth slippers, embossed with the hotel logo.

I took two baths in the giant tub. Walked a ton as always when I'm in NY. Ducked into St. Patrick's the first early evening after walking to Rockefeller Center from the Bowery for  an interview on Fr. Dave Dwyer's radio show. Went to noon Mass at St. Francis of Assisi the second day.

Had a nice moment that afternoon in a little pocket park across from Muji (where I nabbed four small notebooks for a buck twenty-five apiece!). There I sat with a Starbucks venti iced Americano and eating from a plastic bag of Rainier cherries freshly purchased from the corner fruit man. A moment of respite from the frantic pace and noise of the city. Felt the sun on my face. Happy to simply sit with a random microcosm of humanity. One older lady who'd arrived on a bike read a book. The teenager next to me played her music too loud. A couple of middle-aged guys pored over a chessboard.  Did not look at my phone, did not check up on news, did not read even. Just sat. Said a few Hail Marys.

The other "moment" of my trip occurred at Newark Airport the next morning as I waited to board my 9 a.m. flight. Deafeningly loud. Banks of TV screens blaring bad news and hideous piped-in electronic robot "music." People swarming all five group lanes of the United gates. All of humanity (of which, again, I am a proud member) shoving, sprinting, jostling.

Suddenly I thought--Do I hear a bird? I checked my "personal device" as I have somehow managed (an ordeal of several hours) to install a bird ringtone on my iphone, but no. Still, the more closely I listened the more I became convinced that a songbird had found his or her way into this cacophonous madness. I looked around in all directions. I checked the faces of my fellows to see if anyone else had a look of surprised and delighted wonder--again, nothing. Finally, I looked way way up to the very top of the soaring glass and steel pod and sure enough, perched on a cross-bar several stories up, was a tiny bird--a sparrow perhaps--that had found its way inside Terminal C and was singing its heart out!

I hailed my little fellow creature from below, it acknowledged me with a return salute, and then, its job done in that particular part of the airport, it sailed away I'm convinced to greet the next passenger ready and open for a love letter from the universe.

Today is the feast day of Thomas the Apostle who, again like me, often, doubted. Christ invited him to put his hand inside the wound in his, Christ's side. "My Lord and my God!" Thomas said. To which Christ responded, "Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed."

But what does it mean to believe?

In today's Magnificat reflection, ex-Pope Benedict XVI observes:

"Our relationship with God is first of all and at the same time also a relationship with our fellow men and women: it rests on a communion of human beings, and indeed the communication of relationship with God mediates the deepest possibility of human communication that goes beyond utility to reach the ground of the person...

The knowledge of God demands inner watchfulness, interiorization, a heart that is open and that in silent composure becomes personally aware of its direct links with its Creator. But at the same time it is true that God does not reveal himself to the isolated ego and excludes individualistic isolation: being related to God is tied up with being related to our brothers and sisters, with communion with them."

I'm thinking this morning of the Statue of Liberty that guards New York Harbor, where my paternal grandparents arrived on a boat in the early 1900's. What has happened to: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore."

How any follower of Christ could want to exclude a single fellow human being is beyond me. Can anyone possibly imagine the Son of Man, who said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me" approving of the unconscionable ripping apart of families, and the general greed-based meanness, that is taking place on our borders and in our interior?

Thank you, Archbishop Jose Gomez, who has said again and again that it is the duty of all Catholics to speak out against this rank injustice.

This blot on our national conscience.