Thursday, October 31, 2019


I haven't much checked in as of late. This is in large part because I have many PROJECTS.

One: I am making a will! That's right: getting "my affairs" in order, a task upon which I've been procrastinating for probably five years. So the ball is rolling. That feels good. It's a lot of work.

Like just imagine someone having to come into your home or apartment once you croak and start having to try to figure things out. How do you get into her laptop? Where's her checking account? What about cell phone, wifi, electricity, title to car, pandora, Medicare? WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL HER TCOTCHKES? I mean that's just one small facet. And I don't even own a piece of real estate!

Two: I'm updating my website/blog. Oh my God. Don't get me started. Wordpress. Even though I've hired someone, this has required hours and untold hours and the thing is not even remotely near to up and running. However, as my friend Geoff said, "We'll do this in stages." Geoff is a person of few words, which is perfect for someone like me, who will prattle endlessly and mindlessly on unless checked. Anyway, so there's that.

Three: The Garden. October and November are planting time in Southern California. I've been to the annual Theodore Payne sale, the annual fall Hahamongna Nursery sale, Lincoln Avenue Nursery for soil, and today I'm headed to Nuccio's, camellia capital of practically the world.

Four, I jaunted up to Hearst Castle last week or maybe it was the week before. And next week, I'm flying to NYC! There, I hope to visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum, the Noguchi Museum, and the Hewitt Cooper Design Museum, plus see a bunch of friends, plus go to Mass every chance I get at the gorgeous St. Vincent Ferrer, around the corner from which I'll be staying.

In the midst of all this, I have been following avidly and sorrowfully along, and praying in deep solidarity with the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, a collective voice crying in the wilderness against the hideous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction possessed and poised to be used by our government. They have coined the term "omnicide"--the killing of every person on earth, which these weapons have the power to do.

The seven were convicted on October 24 on all four counts with which they were charged, which were basically trespassing on and destroying government property. They broke into (which should itself should give us pause; these were unarmed people in their 50s and 60s with no inside info or contacts) and nonviolently and symbolically disarmed the Trident nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, GA. Not one of the jury pool had a bias against nuclear weapons and the deliberations took a mere two hours.

Sentencing will be in 30-90 days. Fr. Steve Kelly, SJ, having refused bail, remains in jail where he has been for the last year and a half. 

You can read more about the insanity of nuclear weapons, the defendants and the case HERE. 

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!
--Matthew 23:37

Saturday, October 26, 2019



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

Midge Costin’s documentary, “Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound,” is a fascinating and instructive peek into a world hitherto unknown to most of us.

The film traces the history of sound in film, examines the ways directors and sound designers work together, and features the latest discoveries and advances in sound technology, all while managing to remain warm, lively, and human.

Director-producer Costin is a graduate of USC Film School, a veteran, award-winning feature film sound editor in Hollywood, and the holder of the Kay Rose Endowed Chair in the Art of Sound Editing at the USC School of Cinematic Arts given by George Lucas in 2005. Producers-writers Bobette Buster and Karen Johnson round out the team.



Tuesday, October 22, 2019



I'm no unalloyed fan of Camille Paglia. Her embrace of the New Age and desire to be a man leave me cold.

On the other hand, I'm totally on board with her disdain for political-correctness-gone-awry and her recognition that without religion civilization is doomed.

I just came across a wonderful piece by Emily Esfahani Smith--"The Provocations of Camille Paglia"--in City Journal,  Summer, 2019.

Of Paglia's time at Yale in the 80s, when the thought of French "deconstructionists" Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault held sway:

"But to Paglia, nothing was more important than saving the universities from the “soulless, beady-eyed careerists” who “cynically deny the possibility of meaning” in the great works of the past and have ruined the humanities with their “shallow, juvenile attitude toward culture.” During our conversation, Paglia called them “absolutely the most corrupt and evil individuals on the landscape.”


To Paglia, the antidote to this [despiritualized cynicism] is the kind of education she received at Harpur College, which counterbalances the sensory immediacy of pop with the philosophical depth of complex high art. But unless they deliberately seek them out, today’s students are rarely exposed to the greatest and most influential works of Western civilization. What they often encounter instead is a watered-down Marxism that sees the world in terms of society, politics, and economics—a materialistic philosophy that has no sense of the spiritual or sublime.

“That’s why they’re in a terrible fever and so emotional,” Paglia said. “There is a total vacuum in their view of life. They don’t have religion any longer. Religion teaches you metaphysics. It shows you how to examine yourself and ask questions about your relationship with the universe.” The Bible, she said, is “one of the greatest books ever written.”

Instead of finding meaning in religion or culture, today’s new generation has turned to politics. This, Paglia said, is “absolute idolatry.” Her students believe that “human happiness is possible through social reform—that utopia is possible.” A much better understanding of human nature is found in the great works of art and literature, which reveal “the tragic view of life.” The fact that Break, Blow, Burn became a national bestseller reveals that there is a craving for the kind of education Paglia is advocating.

The route to a renaissance in education and the arts, she argues, lies in the study of religion. “All art began as religion,” Paglia said in a debate at the Yale Political Union in 2017. Its metaphysics “frees the mind from parochial entrapment in the immediate social environment.” Its “stress on personal responsibility for the condition of the soul,” she added, “releases the individual from irrational blame of others.”


Saturday, October 19, 2019


"Flávio da Silva," Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1961, by Gordon Parks.
(© The Gordon Parks Foundation/J. Paul Getty Museum)

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

Through Nov. 10 at the Getty is a compelling exhibit based on the work of Gordon Parks, a Renaissance-man film director, writer, and photojournalist perhaps best known for his work for LIFE magazine.

President John F. Kennedy’s “Alliance for Progress,” launched in 1961, was an initiative designed to promote democracy and economic cooperation across Latin America and to forestall the spread of communism.

In March of that year, LIFE sent Parks to Rio de Janeiro with the assignment to document the country’s poverty.

At the time, the city’s more than 200 garbage-strewn favelas — hillside slum towns — were home to an estimated 700,000 people. The average per capita income was $289. Parks, a Kentucky native, had grown up poor himself, but had never seen destitution of such a degree and kind.


Thursday, October 17, 2019



Hi. I’m in Cambria on the California Central Coast, on terrible circadian rhythm where I get max five or six hours a night of sleep. No matter. Those are the things of this world. Had fugue state pleasant drive up yesterday on about four hours of sleep, wheeled into town, sprang into action, explored both the West and East villages, walked up hill to cemetery, bought a Virgin Mary mirrored vitrine at one of the approximately trillion and a half tcotchke shops, found my way to Airbnb for which I was and am insanely crazily grateful.

Up before dawn this morning to pray—realize I can in fact make the 9 o’clock Mass downtown and still make it to Hearst Castle for art tour by 10:20.

Nothing matters except Christ, the Sacraments, prayer. Without them, I can do nothing. Started to sink again into anger, self-pity, conflict, doubt re my apt. The workmen have now had ladder against my kitchen window, peering in and talking 8 hours a day while they scrape and paint, taking up driveway so forced to park in street. Really you have to laugh. The weeks before that they were against my bedroom window, and for the 8 months before that they were basically outside my living room window. Just for today let’s not worry about it esp as I’m NOT THERE.

Ok already, accept the things you cannot change. Ignatius of Antioch was thrown to the lions and pled with his friends not to try to tempt him with the world and its passing pleasures and proclaimed himself ready, willing and glad to be ground to wheat by the animals.

I’m finding I have more energy/strength than I allow, esp when not consumed by resentment which is why all that stuff is a temptation and so dangerous. Work around. Join the club of the human race.

Why should I have it easy? as Dorothy Day asked. I sincerely think Christ may have engineered the whole thing this way to get me to daily Mass—and the Blessed Sacrament.

Anyway, the view esp on Route 1 yesterday was lovely and I look forward to Hearst Castle and the art tour today—(have been sent by Angelus News to write column about). I mean how lucky can you be? But this is basically a work trip—I was going to spend another night and drive home Sat aiming to time it with Benedictine Oblate meeting (early reconnoitering) in the Valley but I think will leave tomorrow around 11 and just drive home, then go to Oblates Sat from there.

Meanwhile I'm right up the street from the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve and have not yet explored. Maybe I will let myself just take the one walk or maybe another tomorrow morning along the ocean. I always feel duty-bound to EMBRACE as much as I possibly can of whatever place I find myself in–which is a good rule of thumb, within reason.

Found book in airbnb by Marion Davies entitled The Times We Had: Life with William Randolph Hearst. Whole chapters on hilarity, extravagance, party-giving, celebrities at San Simeon/Hearst Castle. Apropos of the 120,000 Japanese-Americans rounded up, torn from their homes, displaced and interned during WWII, Davies observed:

"I didn't know what they were complaining about, because they had lovely menus in their camps; I had a copy of the menu. They had the most wonderful breakfasts, and chicken for luncheon, and anything they wanted at night. But still they were dissatisfied. They created a furor all the time, and it was a constant strain all during the war."

Saturday, October 12, 2019


photo: Craig Schwartz

This week's arts and culture column begins:

Here’s how Pasadena’s A Noise Within Theater pitches its latest production:

Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson unfolds the African American legacy in the first chronological episode of his celebrated “American Century Cycle,” a soaring, mystical tale of a man desperate for redemption in 1904 Pittsburgh.

Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old “soul cleanser,” sends him on a spiritual journey that dissects the nature of freedom amid oppression and spurs him to take up the mantle of justice.

“Two hundred and eighty-five?” was my first thought upon reading the description of “Gem of the Ocean.” “This could go either way.”

But as director Gregg T. Daniel observes, “Memory insists that we go back and claim the past.” And in fact, Veralyn Jones pulls off the part beautifully. With long, white braids, a floor-length patchwork style skirt and a neat weskit, she manages to be both the timeless repository of ancient wisdom and thoroughly of her place and era.

Her feet ache, as they would, but she’s put-together, practical, and while not suffering fools gladly, compassionate. She’s not woo-woo, she doesn’t have a schtick, she doesn’t make lame jokes and stage-wink about her age and her heaping powers. She’s not a stereotype, in other words.

Consequently, you believe her character, the linchpin of the play, and you believe her.


Sunday, October 6, 2019


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

I spent mid-August to mid-September at a writer’s residency offered by the good sisters at the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho, population 923.

It was good to get away. But it also felt really, really good to be heading back to Southern California in my trusty Fiat 500.

En route, down through Boise, then 250 miles of breathtaking desert vistas to Winnemucca, Nevada, then hundreds of more miles the next morning, I made my way to a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years: the Ancient Bristlecone Forest in the Eastern Sierras.

Navigating there required several deserted back roads, the loss of all cell reception, and a 23-mile drive through the eastern portion of CA-168 W to White Mountain Road in what is technically Bishop, at which point there’s still 10-miles more of Inyo National Forest road to go, up, up, and up some more.

I’d already driven close to six hours that day, so I was especially grateful to wheel into the parking lot of the Schulman Grove Visitor’s Center. (Edmund Schulman, Ph.D., 1908-1958, was a University of Arizona dendrochronologist with a background in astronomy who, entirely sensibly to my mind, related cosmic events to the science of tree-ring dating).

At 10,000 feet the warmth of the sun was overlain with the faint chill of early fall and the fresh, dreamy scent of pine.


Friday, October 4, 2019


"But most vivid of all in my memory was the encounter with Dad's friend, the Polish father from the Catholic mission at Old Mkushi. He caught me by the shoulders just as I was making my way into the garden for the photographs, as if he had an urgent message to impart. 'The first year is hard, and after that it gets worse,' he said, his mouth so close to my ear that I could smell the red-dust-infused scent of his river-washed, sun-dried clothes. I laughed at him, excusing his sentiment as the meaningless words of a celibate East European was has lived too long in the Zambian bush. 'No really, it's true,' he insisted. 'I should know. I've been married to God for fifty years.' "

--Alexandra Fuller, from Leaving Before the Rains Come

I've just discovered Fuller, started with Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and have read straight on through three more of her memoirs, with Travel Light, Move Fast on hold at the library. A beautiful and train-wreck compelling writer.