Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Dec 15, 2013

Madness and Courage: Writing Short Fiction

            So thinking about these (writers), batshit-crazy and full of hope and dread, (who)
             trust our readers to judge their work, and for us to print their work, I used the
             word sacred. It still seems right in some way . . .  Art is made by anarchists and
             then sorted by bureaucrats.
                                                                                              Dave Eggers on
                                                                                                     The Best of McSweeney's

        This week, I have found myself reading about, talking about (to a few people), and desiring to write about what it's like to focus -- as a writer and creator -- on the short story in the American lit tradition.

       Need a definition of what makes a 'short story?' It encompasses more sophisticated criteria than just a story's word count. For example, 'flash fiction' (or a flash story) might be 1000 words or less. A traditional short story might be considered 1000 to 10,000 -- or perhaps a max of 15,000 words. Longer stories of approximately 15,000 words up to 50-60,000 should be characterized as novellas -- i.e., brief novels. Ask someone else how they might define such matters though and you might get some different estimates.

       Want more ideas on this subject? Though some points in this article are not well-made nor properly nuanced, try this for starters:


      Want to read a commentary that has more texture and depth? Try the book: The Short Story by Sean O'Faolain.

      My university degree studies long ago introduced me, in depth, to the English, Irish, and U.S. traditions of the short story. To this day, literature majors continue to learn how this type of fiction evolved while the 20th century unfolded then gave way to the 21st. 

      Some contemporary critiques of short story writing have focused wordcounts of course, but more crucially they have centered on the key fiction elements such as plot-development, character development, story structure, and literary techniques that are employed.

    The Irish short story has been subjected for decades to a serious, evolving corpus of theory. The great James Joyce's stories are confessional pieces and often predicated on epiphanies -- moments of heightened perception among protagonists. Sean O'Faolain and others have advocated a realist approach in short stories that leads characters in short stories to focus on a moment of life crisis or change. A great American author, Flannery O'Connor (in the U.S.), saw Irish stories as expressions of human loneliness.

     Still, some scholars who study modern literature think that holding stubbornly to overly-defined and stringent rules re: the development of short fiction is stifling. Like me, they seem to imply that you have to break a few eggs, as it were, to cookup (on a PC or a legal pad, etc.) a tasty, innovative, and relevant omelet today.

     But in all cases, the fiction writer should strive in a focused manner to draw upon the ancient art of oral storytelling. Critical guidelines for doing this are:

               Have a main theme or point
               Limit yourself to just the precise words you need
               Use symbols and metaphors 
               Use these creatively and judiciously
               Remember, plot really is character.
               It's okay t0 write about what you know

       As Mr. Eggers (see epigraph above) asserts, short story writing comes from a dynamic mixture of personal courage and flat-out madness in the author. It's always a difficult mission to fulfill. The guidelines I just mentioned should convince you. So, keep it simple then. Tell your tale deftly and succinctly so that it discloses (reveals) something new about real life to your unwitting but expectant readers -- and perhaps to you too.

     Finally, write like you are communicating about (i.e., seeing) something in/about the world for the very first time. Invite readers to experience this 'what's new' factor while you act as their navigator. 

     Why?, Eggers asks. (Because) Art is made by anarchists and sorted by bureaucrats."  That's right, creation is anarchic and essential to finding the meaning of life.

--  Butch Ekstrom  (12-20-13)



Dave Eggers is the founder and editor of -- a journal that publishes short fiction.

Original Web Source  (see below): http://www.salon.com/2013/12/13/dave_eggers_it_takes_a_particular_mix_of_madness_and_courage_to_write_short_stories/

Madness and Courage: Discovering New Writers

by Dave Eggers

Publishing other people’s work is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than publishing your own. Publishing your own work is fraught with complicated, even tortured, feelings. Invariably you believe that you’ve failed. That you could have done better. That if you were given another month or another year, you would have achieved what you set out to do.

Actually, it’s not always that bad. But usually it is.

Publishing someone else’s work, though, is uncomplicated. You can be an unabashed champion of that work. You can finish reading it, or finish editing it, and know that it’s done, that people will love it, and that you can’t wait to print it. That feeling is strong, and it’s simple, and it’s pure.

That’s what’s driven McSweeney’s for fifteen years now—far beyond the four or eight issues we originally thought this journal would run. We thought the fun of it would end after a year or so, but that feeling, of finding a new voice, or a new piece by an established voice, and setting it into type and printing it and sending it into the world, is still just as good as it was back when we started in 1998.

Back then, it was me opening submission envelopes in my kitchen, and being astonished that anyone would trust this new quarterly with their work. When I was the only one reading the submissions, I was an easy audience. I was so overwhelmed with the whole thing that I pretty much accepted every other story. And then I couldn’t wait to get them into print.
 would usually accept a story and lay it out the same day. If I couldn’t get a digital version of it soon enough, I would just retype the whole story and lay it out that night. This is what I’m talking about: this simple and good feeling of knowing you’ll be able to introduce a new writer to new readers.

Early on, most of the writers in McSweeney’s were lesser known, or were starting out in their careers. After a few issues, we began getting work from some established authors—even without asking, which was startling—and since then, our goal has been to balance these known quantities with the newcomers, and balance both of them with an eye toward occasional experimentation -- some of these experiments improbably successful. Sometimes these commissions were simple acts of matching a great writer to unusual subject matter. Thus we sent Andrew Sean Greer to a weekend NASCAR rally in Michigan. Sometimes these commissions were based on iffy notions that yielded great results—for example, when we asked dozens of writers to each write a short story in 20 minutes. In one issue we asked our writers to write stories based on the notebook jottings of F. Scott Fitzgerald. In another we asked them to help resurrect dead forms like the pantoum and biji.


But most of what we’ve published over the years has simply come through the mail. We still open every submission envelope, and each time we do, we want to be surprised, we want to be reawakened. I’m rarely the person opening these envelopes anymore, but the other day, while talking to the volunteer readers about the responsibility entrusted to them, I found myself using the word sacred. It was hyperbole, I’m sure, but here’s what I meant: it takes a particular mix of madness and courage to write short stories—they do not pay the rent, they are not widely read—and it takes even greater courage to put them in the mail, submitting them for judgment by strangers. So thinking about these senders, batshit-crazy and full of hope and dread, and the fact that they would entrust our readers to judge their work, and for us to print their work, I used the word sacred. It still seems right in some way
Art is made by anarchists and sorted by bureaucrats.

Thus, over the years, there have been a few bureaucrats who, feeling the need to categorize and label, have posited that McSweeney’s has some house style. But this is not the case. Even the earliest issues, which even I assumed did lean toward the experimental, always balanced these formal forays with more traditional storytelling. Issue Three, for example, included a story by David Foster Wallace that we ran on the spine, but it also featured a 25,000-word essay about a writer’s correspondence with Ted Kascynski. This balance has held true ever since. We’ve sought to publish the best work we can, no matter its genre or approach or author. We’ve published everything from oral histories from Zimbabwe to experimental prose-poems from Norway. The only thing common to all in this collection, to the work in every one of our 45 issues so far, is that the work was good and told us something new.

Some years ago, I was in Galway, Ireland, and happened to meet a man named Timothy McSweeney. I got to know him and his wife, Maura, who also had the last name McSweeney. We talked about a writer she liked, and she said, “He writes like he’s seeing the world for the first time.” That’s what we look for—writers who make us feel like they’re seeing their world, whatever world that is, with fresh eyes, and who allow us to experience it through their words.

Excerpted from “The Best of McSweeney’s.” Published by McSweeney’s Books. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

Dave Eggers is the author of "You Shall Know Our Velocity" and "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius."
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Dec 13, 2013

Long-Term Unemployed -- Don't Bother About Them?

         I got to live first hand the frustrations, anxiety (close to desperation), and injustices involved in being unemployed but ready and willing to work. As some would say, it was an experience. It is one I do not wish to repeat.

         This down period went on for nine months, which now I can characterize as nine increasingly stressful and worry-ridden, long months -- though I admit there were certain things related to the relative but unwanted 'freedom' day by day, week by week, that I enjoyed.

         Believe me, it was not -- as some political wingnuts, libertarians, and sickly selfish 'I've got mine, you go find yours' cretins will maintain -- a case of cryptic, personal unwillingness to work that kept me unemployed. I would have gladly accepted almost any meaningful job at the time that I could manage to get. But major causes that had me tap dancing toward the ranks of those Americans long-term deprived of a gainful job, a salary, and benefits included:

     The Great Depression
     Red-Staters' Politics  (in Arizona in this case)
     Not Enough Jobs to Go Around  (in my field for sure)
     Corporate Downsizing
     Deceitful Accounting Machinations, and (last certainly not the least)
     Superiors and Co-Workers that Lie

        Now you say, thank goodness but I am not one of the long-term unemployed in America? It's their problem, so why should I or we care about America's long-term unemployed individuals and families? Let me count the ways, as a poet once said.

        Here is a good and insightful commentary (it names harsh realities quite honestly) from a blog that appeared today, on Friday the 13th. (Maybe that's not really a bad omen.) A confluence of sheer luck, compassion, need, coincidence, loyalty, advantageousness, and friendship brwed together ineffably during 2010 to get me -- I see it still as a kind of miracle -- back into the regular, workaday, 'I'm employed' game.

        Please keep reading. And many thanks to the author/blogger for putting a difficult subject into a clear and easily understood perspective.

On Forgetting the Long-Term Unemployed
       Last night, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the budget deal negotiated by Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray. They also passed a defense bill and a one month extension of the farm bill. Not a word or a vote about extending unemployment benefits for those who have been without work for an extended period of time.

     In this morning’s Washington Post, there is a long article about the budget deal, especially the growing rift between House Speaker John Boehner and outside conservative groups that sought to sabotage the budget deal. There is an article on the execution of a senior leader in North Korea. There is an article about the Hubble telescope discovering evidence of geysers on one of Jupiter’s moons. There are dozens of article in the A section, but not one on Congress’ unwillingness or inability to provide for the long-term unemployed, whose benefits expire on December 28. Nor is there any indication that Boehner et al., will be getting a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past anytime soon.
     This is profoundly depressing, not only because more than a million fellow Americans will soon be destitute, but because no one seems to care. At the last minute, an amendment was inserted into the budget deal providing a “doc fix” so that doctors will not see cuts in their reimbursement rates from Medicare. The “doc fix” is a good idea under current circumstances and it will not only help doctors, it will help seniors by guaranteeing more doctors are willing to see Medicare clients. Of course, every doctor’s office I know has one or more staffers who only work on billing, and if our nation was to adopt a single payer system, the billing would be so simple it could be done by the receptionist in his off-time. But, the disturbing thing about the “doc fix” is that it was so easily accomplished. It mattered to members of Congress. The unemployed, not so much.

     Last weekend, Senator Rand Paul displayed a strange variety of noblesse oblige by suggesting the long-term unemployment benefits were not really helping the long-term unemployed because they create a disincentive to work. Here is the libertarian hero at his most Darwinian: Those who are unemployed will adapt only if they have to, and if only the fittest survive, so be it. Of course, it is not the unemployed who need to adapt. It is the economy, and Sen. Paul’s austerity agenda is a large part of the reason why the economy has not recovered more quickly. I invite the senator to visit a newly constructed hotel or large retail outlet in the weeks before opening. He will see the lines of people waiting to apply for work. The long-term unemployed are not lazy, there just aren’t enough jobs.

     Sen. Paul and his libertarian allies like to complain about the slowness of the economic recovery. They blame President Obama’s policies, especially the Affordable Care Act, for that slowness. I am not an economist, but I read enough of them to recognize that the 2008 recession was not like previous recessions. It was deeper and more dangerous, so we should not be surprised that it is taking the country longer to rebound.

     We should also recognize that the “rules of the market” have allowed the stock market to rebound just fine. AIG, which received a huge bailout from the feds, is now running ads touting its recovery. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac delivered large checks into the federal Treasury this year because of the rebounding housing market. The short-term unemployed are not having a great deal of trouble finding work. But, the long-term unemployed, for a variety of reasons and assumptions, are still suffering. Even if a few of them really enjoyed not working and living off the benefits, which I am not willing to stipulate, surely most of them would take a job if they could find one. Unlucky for them, they are not too big to fail, they have no effective lobby on K Street, the Republicans view them as beyond their concern and the Democrats are unwilling to go to the mat for them.

     As Congress heads home for the holidays, I hope they get an earful from those who will lose their benefits, and from their friends, their neighbors and, especially, their pastors. In some states the unemployment rate is stubbornly high, and that rate does not recognize any red/blue partisan divisions. Maybe some Republicans, enough Republicans, will come back to DC in the new year determined to extend those benefits. It will be difficult, not least because the budget deal that passed last night gobbled up all the low hanging revenue fruit that could be used to off-set an extension of benefits.

     In his World Day of Peace message Pope Francis said:

     Globalization, as Benedict XVI pointed out, makes us neighbours, but does not make us brothers. The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity. New ideologies, characterized by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fuelling that “throw away” mentality which leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered “useless”. In this way human coexistence increasingly tends to resemble a mere do ut des which is both pragmatic and selfish.

     Pope Benedict XVI, in last year’s World Day of Peace message, said:
     It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.

     [ Butch's note: 'Well, shift my paradigm. Aren't those some subversive ideas?' ]

     Selfish? Individualistic? Materialistic consumerism? A profound lack of fraternity? I cannot think of a better description of today’s Republican Party. To the degree the Democrats, the newspapers and the rest of us our complicit in this attitude as it pertains to the long-term unemployed, shame on us too. We need to find our voice, and two popes in a row have pointed the way. It is the way to Bethlehem . . .

     In this affluent country, with the stock market hovering near 16,000 points, with so many people who are literally filthy rich, where is the sense of fraternity? 

$$$$$$  $$$$$$  $$$$$$

Dec 11, 2013

Francis, Schmancis -- Is This the Real Person of the Year?

A satirical viewpoint to start your day. View it please as a follow-up to my Monster Blog post from yesterday. 


---  Butch

'Fake' sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela memorial provokes real anger

Deaf people watching the Nelson Mandela memorial were bemused and shocked by a "fake" sign language interpreter on stage whose gestures were unintelligible, activists said Wednesday. The interpreter was watched by millions as he stood beside speakers at the event including President Barack Obama.

Hundreds of people took to social media to express their anger at the interpreter's gestures, and several deaf groups confirmed his signing did not reflect the comments being made to honor the anti-apartheid icon.

Paul Breckell, chief executive of the U.K.-based charity Action on Hearing Loss, told NBC News: "We are shocked by the quality of sign language interpretation at Nelson Mandela’s memorial -- if it could be called interpretation at all."

He added that "the limited number of signs, the amount of repetition, lack of facial expressions and huge gaps in translation meant that deaf or hard of hearing people across the world were completely excluded from one of the biggest events in recent history."

Among the first to express their dissatisfaction was Wilma Newhoudt-Druchen, the first deaf woman to be elected to the South African parliament, who tweeted that the signing was "rubbish," adding: "He cannot sign. Please get him off." She took to the social media site several times during the day.

David Buxton, chief executive of the British Deaf Association, said in an email that "the gentleman is a total fake."

"He has no real clue about sign language and has obviously upset the deaf community of South Africa as we have received hundreds of angry messages via Facebook and Twitter," said Buxton, who was watching the ceremony with his South African-born wife.

Buxton called on the South African authorities to "name and shame that gentleman." He said the same interpreter had provided sign language for South African President Jacob Zuma’s speech at a military event last year.

Dozens of world leaders from President Obama to UN chief Ban Ki-Moon lauded the late "giant of history" at a memorial service Tuesday, as tens of thousands cheered from the sidelines. Lester Holt reports.

Braam Jordaan, a deaf South African citizen and board member of the World Federation of the Deaf Youth Section, explained why it had been so clear to sign language users that the interpretation was not correct.
He told the Australian news website SBS: "The structure of his hand, facial expressions and the body movements did not follow what the speaker was saying."

South African sign language interpreter Francois Deysel tweeted during the ceremony that the interpreter was "making a mockery of our profession."

Bruno Druchen, the national director of the Deaf Federation of South Africa, told The Associated Press that the interpreter on stage was a "fake." The man "was moving his hands around but there was no meaning in what he used his hands for," Druchen added. South African sign language covers all of the country's 11 official languages, according to the federation. It wasn't immediately clear if the unidentified man was using a different method to communicate. Nicole Du Toit, an official sign language interpreter who also watched the broadcast, told The Associated Press that the man on stage purporting to sign was an embarrassment.

"It was horrible, an absolute circus, really bad," she said. "Only he can understand those gestures." 
Jackson Mthembu, a spokesman for the ruling African National Congress, said the interpreter was organized by the South African overnment spokeswoman was not able to immediately comment, but said a statement was being prepared for later in the day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Original Source:  http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/12/11/21860157-fake-sign-language-interpreter-at-nelson-mandela-memorial-provokes-anger?lite

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Dec 10, 2013

About Francis -- Critiquing His Road Less Traveled

Original Title:  Pope Francis I  --  A "Son of the Church"

Why do I keep thinking about John Paul I whenever I see or hear quotes by Francis? JP1 was the vaguely remembered, very short term "Smiling Pope" during the late 1970s (Albino Luciani was his real name). The poor guy met a most unfortunate end. And calls for an autopsy on John Paul I's remains were officially refused by the Vatican.

There are some powerful Archbishops in the United States who are sometimes referred to as the "Smiling Bishops." Think about Cardinal Dolan in New York for example.  Now it looks like we have a new smiling Holy Father too. But of course Francis' proclamations about hope and joy and his overall public demeanor -- he appears to be truly Ignatian and Jesuitical, friends -- are far, far more complicated than just his benevolent facial tics.

What should we make of this still-new pope and to what ends will he lead the global Church?  

Significantly, Francis called himself  'a son of the Church'  several months ago while traveling home, to the Vatican and Rome -- not Buenos Aires mind you, from a World Youth Day lollapalooza in Brazil. What does this admission mean? Given the charm offensive conducted by Francis the First through 2013, and his repeated calls to a spiritually renewed evangelization charged with compassion and charity toward the needy of the world, the self-identifying phrase (son of the Church) has seemed oddly jarring to some who observe, carefully, Catholic institutional dynamics and related matters. 

Here are the concluding sections of a recent commentary -- compelling reading -- about Francis, the modern papacy, geopolitics, certain U.S. bishops, and numerous speculations about the first-ever pope from South America. It was published by a blogger, Betty Clermont, on the morning of December 7, 2013.

The piece is way more interesting than I make it sound! You'll see.

Just keep reading . . . Clermont's assertions and implied questions really got me thinking -- and I'm still thinking about them days later.


From the Author:  Betty Clermont

 . . . Timely Opportunity

In strategizing their political and social defense against “kinder, gentler” populist-sounding Republicans, Democrats may find it useful to analyze (their) response to Pope Francis. Hope is a powerful emotion and words that appeal to our better angels are inspiring. How will we respond to the 2014 and 2016 messaging with the same subtexts?

Even though we knew that the leadership of the Catholic Church in the U.S. and internationally is an effective voice for . . . plutocracy and that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was selected by (such) leaders, why did we choose to ignore information about Bergoglio’s background and the choices he has made as pope? Why did we choose to believe slanted and carefully crafted news from the corporate media because the articles were telling us nice stuff?

Here’s what we remain so incurious about.

Cardinal Bergoglio was not popular in Argentina.

He has been criticized for his silence while he was provincial of the Argentine Jesuit province during the Dirty War and while other priests, nuns and bishops were being tortured and murdered for opposing military dictatorships not only in Argentina but in other Latin American countries as well. Not only helping the poor, but struggling with them to change the economic structures causing their poverty (i.e. Liberation Theology which Bergoglio has opposed to this day) was considered to be “leftist” activism and punished.

Much has already been written about whether Bergoglio could have done more to prevent his Jesuit subordinates, Orlando Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were working in the slums, from being arrested and tortured before their release. Very little has been written about Mónica María Candelaria Mignone and her friendswho also worked in shantytowns and were arrested along with the priests, tortured and murdered.

His official biography claims that Bergoglio “actually took major risks to save so-called subversives including giving his own Argentine identity papers to a wanted man so he could escape over the border to Brazil and sheltering many people inside church properties before they were safely delivered into exile,” but that this was unknown to the public.

When 18 officers of the dictatorship finally came to trial in 2010, Bergoglio was asked to testify about his own role including the kidnapping of the two priests. He took clerical privilege in order to not have to appear in court and the proceedings were held in his office. There has also been controversy about his testimony.

As Argentina pursues investigations aimed at exposing those responsible for the Dirty War, some activists are angry over the positions Bergoglio has taken in recent years. “Some say he’s beenmore concerned about preserving the Church’s imagethan providing evidence for Argentina’s many human rights trials.”

In July 2012, General Jorge Videla, dictator from 1976 to 1981 who recently died, was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment for orchestrating the theft of babies born in captivity to women subsequently murdered by their military captors. In a series of interviews conducted in 2010 but not published until after his sentencing, Videla explained in front of the video camera, "We had to remove a large set of people who could not be brought to justice nor shot…Each disappearance can be understood as masking, the concealment of a death.” Videla said this was necessary to install a market economy. Videla also confirmed what Argentina’s leading investigative journalist and human rights activist, Horacio Verbitsky, wrote in his book, El Silencio (The Silence), was absolutely accurate. The papal nuncio, Pio Laghi and the Argentine hierarchs were accomplices in the Dirty War against the leftists.

After Videla’s interview was broadcast, Church leaders had little choicebut to respond. Under Bergoglio’s leadership, the Argentine bishops’ conference issued an apology. The statement, Los Obispos de la República Argentina, 104º Asamblea Plenaria, 9 de noviembre de 2012, “acknowledged the Church’s failure to protect its flock during the 1970s.”

Argentines were angered when the bishops put the brutality of the military junta with a small and ineffective resistance on equal footing: “We know the suffering…because of state terrorism; as we know of the death and devastation caused by guerrilla violence.”

The episcopate tried to absolve the Church from any guilt: “We have the word and testimony of our elder brothers, the bishops who preceded us about whom we cannot know how much they personally knew of what was happening. They tried to do everything in their power for the good of all, according to their conscience and considered judgment….” As proof, the bishops offer statements by the bishops conference in 1972, 1977 and 1981 denouncing violence. The bishops refer to Videla’s charges that prelates were complicit as being “completely divorced from the truth of what the bishops were involved in at that time."

Some Argentines responded that not only did the bishops wait far too long to apologize for the Church’s human rights failures, but they also objected to their equating the junta’s opposition with the dictatorship and their self-righteous and inaccurate defense of the Church. “They also have yet to identify those responsible for the many human rights violations that the Church was aware of at the time.”

The following month, in December 2012, a provincial tribunal denounced not only the “complicity” of the Church with the dictatorship but regretted that there also “remains…a reluctant attitude of Church authorities and even members of the clergy to solve the crimes now being judged." In their ruling, the three judges stated: "Surely the members of God's people, and the generality of Argentina society, expect from an institution of such importance as the Catholic Church more crisp and clear repudiations and who, in one way or another, allowed and consented to the commission of serious events such as those now judged.”

Former judge Baltasar Garzon, advisor to the Human Rights Commission of the Chamber of Deputies of Argentina, said that if Pope Francis wants to cooperate with the victims of the Dirty War, he can open the Vatican archives on Argentina during that period.

In April, Estela de Carlotto, the president of a group known as the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who are searching for grandchildren who they think were born while their “disappeared” children were in military custody, delivered a letter to the pope in which she asked him to take “the necessary measures to help us in the search of almost 400 grandchildren who today still have not recovered their true identity.” Her letter has gone unanswered.

Latin Americans Warned Us

The day after the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope, Horatio Verbitsky wrote: “His biography is that of a conservative populist...adamant on doctrinal issues but with an openness to the world, especially toward the dispossessed masses….But at the same time he attempted to unify the opposition against the first government in many years which adopted a policy favorable to those groups.”

Ernesto Semán, a historian at New York University and former reporter for two Argentine newspapers, told us that the majority of Latin American nations are now governed by left-leaning parties but that the election of this “very conservative cardinal from the region might help bolster forces that are opposed to continuing this enormous change that’s occurring in Latin America.” Bergoglio was a strong opponent of the liberal progressive administrations of Néstor and Cristina Kirchner during “a decade in which Argentina lived the largest and fastest reduction of poverty and inequality.”

Theologian and defrocked priest because he supported same-sex marriage in Argentina, Nicolás Alessio said the election of Bergoglio as “is a masterstroke of Vatican diplomacy. The Catholic Church, about to sink between the financial and sexual scandals, urgently needed another ‘image’ in the face of public opinion in the world and more so in Latin America. The profile of Benedict XVI, a German, hard, rigid, an Inquisitor, failed to float the ‘barque of Peter,’” explained Alessio. “In Argentina and on the continent, the right-wing sectors, both political and religious, will be strengthened.” the theologian stated.

Andrea D’Atri, founder of Bread and Roses, an Argentine human rights group, agrees that, “In Argentina, his naming as pope has been received with the warmest enthusiasm by the rightist opposition.” Brazilian theologian, Ivone Gebara, wrote that what Bergoglio intends “for the poor” is “paternalistic handouts.”
To go out into the streets and give food to the poor and pray with prisoners is somewhat humanitarian, but it does not solve the problem of social exclusion that afflicts many of the world’s countries.

Nor does it solve the problem of governments which create poverty and injustice. In this light it becomes clear that his election was, beyond doubt, part of a geopolitical offensive involving competing interests and a balance of forces within the Catholic world.
The See of Peter and the Vatican State are positioning their pieces in the world game of chess in order to empower political projects championed by the North and its allies in the South. In a certain sense, the South is being co-opted by the North. A Church leader who comes from the South will help balance the forces in the world chess game, which have been displaced a good deal in recent years by left-leaning governments in Latin America and by the struggles of many movements -- among them Latin America's feminist movements, whose demands annoy the Vatican
.Even a Vatican reporter warned against “the pseudo-Franciscan and pauperist mythology that in these days so many are applying to the new pope [where] imagination runs to a Church that would renounce power, structures, and wealth and make itself purely spiritual.”

American Prelates Successfully Campaigned for Their Candidate

Fully aware of Bergoglio’s background, the American cardinals and their media experts focused the pre-conclave topics and discussions in exactly the manner favoring the Argentine’s election. More than any other national episcopate, they have the funding, know-how and experience to launch a subtle yet persuasive campaign.

Cardinal Dolan said it helps to have a popular pope “’because the reputation and the credibility of the Church are much higher now…. I've said before that we bishops lack a lot of credibility in many areas, and it's clear that the goodwill Francis enjoys right now makes things easier for bishops’to move the ball on many fronts.”

Pope Francis Appoints Plutocrats

As already mentioned, Cardinal Rodriquez Maradiaga is Opus Dei and three other cardinals that we know of on the pope’s “group of eight” advisers also are close to the “The Work”: Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Australian Cardinal George Pell and German Cardinal Reinhard Marx.
Francis put a Spanish Opus Dei bishop as head of a commission given special authority to collect confidential information about the Vatican Bank. Included on this commission is Mary Ann Glendon, token female on the board of a dozen or more neocon think tanks, publications and foundations. The pope named a Spanish Opus Dei monsignor as coordinator of another financial oversight commission and a Legion of Christ bishop has head of the government of the Vatican City State. The status of Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of Columbus, grows in proportion to the massive funding received from his group.

The pope has brought in outside consultants McKinsey & Co., the Promontory Group and Ernst and Young – and not Interpol forensic accountants – to help “manage” financial affairs. Most importantly, he set up Banco Santander, an international financial giant with ties to Opus Dei as a “shadow” bank while he “cleans up” the image of the rest.

Francis as a World Leader

German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a special trip to the Vatican to receive a blessing from the man Forbes named the “4th Most Powerful Person in the World” before her re-election in September. Although Pres. Assad has been committing atrocities against the Syrian people since the beginning of his papacy, Francis decided to hold a “prayer vigil for peace” in St. Peter’s Square only after Pres. Obama proposed a limited airstrike against military targets. And then Bergoglio met with Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu to position himself as an alternative world power in the Middle East.

Sex Abuse

The Vatican announced the formation of another commission, this one on clerical sex abuse, immediately after the pope refused to give a United Nations panel the information it requested on the subject. As the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests responded:
These crimes and cover ups have gone on for centuries quietly and decades publicly. Only decisive action can help, not more studies and committees and promises. No institution can police itself, especially not an ancient, secretive, rigid, all-male monarchy….Like his predecessors, the pope knows precisely what must be done to protect kids and expose the truth. Like his predecessors, he lacks the strength of character to do it. Clergy sex crimes should be dealt with by secular authorities. And more could be done if the pope punished bishops who conceal these crimes and ordered bishops to publicly disclose their child molesting clerics.
In fact, I inferred that the lack interest . . . in the mainstream media re: reporting (about this) new commission that even they had a difficult time treating Pope Francis’ latest headline as something other than another PR gesture. And unless Democrats can come up with a way to cut through and expose empty rhetoric and the best public relations we’ve even seen, we can start now wondering how this country or our world can survive another Bush-like administration.


Figuring out what the U.S. bishops actually contribute to charity is an inexact process since no total figures are available. So I looked at the Boston archdiocese financial statement since Cardinal O’Malley is the only American on Pope Francis’ “G8” group of cardinal/advisers. (Keep in mind, however, that auditors can only report on the information given to them. Only forensic auditors look for what’s not been revealed by the principal.) I will give all the figures, unless otherwise noted, in millions because you will see the results are so conclusive that lack of detail isn’t going to matter.

According to the 2012 Archdiocese of Boston financial report, Catholic Charities spent $31m on program services. Close to $20m, or 62.3% (I didn’t round off in figuring percentages), came from government grants. Cardinal O’Malley contributed approx. $820,000 or 2.6 %. I did not even try to find financial reports for 195 (arch)dioceses in the U.S., but rather extrapolated based on the number of Boston Catholics as a percentage of the total. The only source I could find by diocesan population lists 2,077,487 Boston Catholics as of 2004. The total number of Catholics in the U.S. according to the Official Catholic Directory  was 64.8m in 2005, so Boston has 3% of the total. Using this admittedly very rough figure, we’ll assume that if Boston spent $31m on charity, then the national total for all dioceses would be $1030m of which $605m came from the government and $2.72m from the bishops.

The U.S. bishops also have a national umbrella organization, Catholic Charities USA. In 2012, it spent $3.892m in program services of which $2.993m came from the government. So $2.72m plus $89.9M ($3.892m minus $2.993) is the total annual charitable giving of the U.S. episcopate - $92.6m.
The National Center for Charitable Statistics researchers tallied up expenditures by nonprofits in the broad category of "human services," which includes nutrition, employment assistance, legal aid, housing, disaster relief and youth development. In 2010, the most recent year available, they came up with total expenditures of $168 billion in that category. So the Catholic bishops contribute about .06% to total nonprofit expenditures in the U.S.

(Unlike the above cited source, I omitted such charities as Boys Town and Covenant House because they are not funded or controlled by the bishops nor are charities at the parish level. In other words, if the Vatican and bishops ceased to exist, all of these charities would continue as they are.)

Every time I have brought up this subject in previous diaries I have had to make assurances that yes, Catholics are generous; yes, Catholics do numerous good works. I am, however, trying to make the point that the next time a Catholic prelate threatens to close his charities if this nation doesn’t agree to limit women and gay rights, we can with confidence tell him to stick it.

Source:  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/12/07/1260848/-Pope-Francis-Son-of-the-Church#


         Originally posted to Betty Clermont on Sat Dec 07, 2013 at 09:47 AM PST.

As also a son of the church in my own way, I ask about this whole business --


Dec 8, 2013

Dutch-Elm Disease for Creative Minds

This is part one of a good piece that appeared on the New York Times web
        page -- Sunday, December 8, 2013. Italics and highlights are mine.

                      --  Butch Ekstrom

                                                                                                                                        Illustration by Tom Gauld


     Not long ago, I attended something called the Web Summit, a massive tech-industry conference held in Dublin. The event had a two-tier structure: on one level, it was a vast, teeming trade show at which early-stage start-ups were given the opportunity to set out their stalls and sell themselves — to venture capitalists, angel investors, media people — and to network with one another; but on a more elevated plane, it was a grand conclave of the tech industry’s high priests, who came from all over the world (though mostly Northern California) to deliver talks and public interviews to audiences of several thousand. 

     For most of the conference, I wandered among the crowds and jotted things down in my conspicuously antediluvian notebook, indulging myself in an essayist-at-large routine, partly encouraged by an editor at Wired who expressed an interest in my writing something about the Irish technology-start-up ecosystem. After sufficient exposure to this stuff —– to 20-minute multimedia presentations, “fireside chats” with victorious founders, public pitches to panels of venture capitalists — my perception of these entrepreneurial people began to blur to the point where they converged, all of them, into one breezily self-assured dude with a cordless head mike and an overinvestment in the concept of disruption.       
     I also noticed that this composite dude (late 30s, suit jacket, jeans) had a common tendency to place himself, personally, at the center of his business’s narrative, and that this narrative tended to involve some triumph over the skepticism of others, of those who said that it (whatever it was: a smartphone app for ordering taxis, say, or a new kind of online payment model) couldn’t be done. The engine that seemed to drive all this ambition and achievement, all this ceaseless and remorseless disruption of everything not nailed to the floor, was a hot and incorruptible core of self-belief.
And as I was noticing this, I was also increasingly preoccupied by the extent to which I myself lacked this internal combustion of self-confidence.
     Even as I filled page after page of my notebook with observations and snatches of overheard
dialogue, I found that I was essentially unconvinced by my own performance as the literary interloper, as the man of letters at large in the assembly of numbers. In my tepid blood, in my timid little heart, I did not feel it with any persuasive force.
     I knew almost nothing about the topic I was supposed to be writing on and would have little of interest to say about it no matter what I learned. Nothing, I felt sure, was likely to come of my efforts. Less than nothing; I was wasting my time, whatever that might be worth on the open market. I saw a keen absurdity in these barons of techno-capital, with their passionately held clichés and their cheerful belief in their personal capacity to change the world, but I found myself wishing forlornly that some of that confidence, that profitable self-delusion, might rub off on me.
     Because if I had to identify a single element that characterizes my life as a writer, a dominant affective note, it would be


     It is a more-or-less constant presence in everything I do. It is there even as I type these words, in my realization that almost all writers struggle in this way; that the notion of a self-doubting writer is as close to tautology as to make no difference, and that to refer to such a thing as a “struggle” is to concede the game immediately to cliché, to lose on a technicality before you’ve even begun.
     The concept of “the inner critic” is one the self-improvement industry is fond of invoking, generally with reference to the various methods by which it might be silenced or banished. But the problem with my inner critic is that it’s inseparable from my outer critic, which is the means by which I earn a fair proportion of what for rhetorical purposes I will call “my living.”
     I’ve spent so much of my adult life writing criticism — as an academic and then as a former academic writing about books and culture — that I have begun to detect a sort of hypertrophic enlargement of the part of my brain that looks at what the other parts are doing or planning to do and says, “Sorry, chief, but that’s not going to cut it.” My concern here is that I have inadvertently allowed my inner critic to become the writer in residence of my very soul.
And I’m ambivalent about this, as I am in matters of significance.

I often wonder, in my more self-indulgent moments, by which, I suppose, I mean all the time, what I might have achieved if I had not so often and so easily fallen prey to self-doubt: all the things I might have written, all the books and essays and so on, and how good they might have been.       

      I feel certain, in these moments, that I would be a great deal more successful and productive if my inner critic had not been afforded this tenured position from which to shoot down anything not measuring up to its supposedly exacting standards . . .
     To put it in the sort of simplistic terms that I’ll no doubt come to regret using:

self-doubt is the best friend and the worst enemy of the writer

     Because being a writer isn’t like being a tennis player or a boxer, where you presumably have to hunt down and ruthlessly eliminate the source of any flickering shadow of suspicion that you might not be destined for victory. As a writer, you have to take your own misgivings seriously; you have to attend, now and then, to the little voice in your head or the booming baritone in your gut that wishes you to know that what you are writing is entirely without value.
     The trick, of course, is to know when to listen to it and when to tell it to shut it . . . I say this as someone who has never quite learned that particular trick.

     And so because I seem congenitally predisposed to doubt myself, I tend to err on the side of caution with these things; I tend to listen to what the inner critic is saying, on the assumption that it probably knows what it’s talking about . . . .


      Dec 5, 2013

      The Power of Introverts

                    In my previous blog post, I focused on a 'habit of highly effective people' as defined by Stephen Covey, the great writer and professional development consultant. The habit?


                    If only I would do so consistently. If only more citizens of this world practiced this value time after time in all circumstances.

                   Now, along comes a short December and "Advent season" reflection that dovetails well with the Covey Habit -- the text can be found in the new issue of America magazine. I will paraphrase its words as written by Maurice Timothy Reidy, the executive editor of America.

          "There are big differences between words and actions. Words are important. They serve to lift our spirits, to confront and name the truth, to acknowledge our feelings, and to tell it like it is (or was). Words constitute an essential component of prayer, for those who actually pray, but human words are not enough. We are called to worship in word and deeds. Do the right thing, choose wisely, the moral and ethical thing in all cases, even when no one is looking and no one will find out -- that is an immensely important emphasis on 'doing' in human life.

          "On a related note, in her bestselling book, Quiet, author Susan Cain asserts that that introverts are not properly valued in our talk-saturated culture. We praise people who give good speeches but we sometimes fail to recognize those who spare the words and mainly get things done. Introverts are often highly productive members of society. But because they don’t call attention to themselves, they don’t receive a lot of attention. Christians and members of other faiths, and even non-believers, who get things done are laboring to prepare a better, more human and loving future for all of humanity. This is precisely what a period of time, and "advent" in religious terms, is all about. It is for dedication to the work of quiet preparation."