November 30, 2011

Back home

I 've just returned from a fine vacation in Rome where I refrained from blogging, from news and from the internet to immerse myself in the beauty of Rome.   

Only the day after I returned to  Boston, did I learn that the Air France plane, an airbus A340, was grounded  when the ground crew noticed that 30 screws were missing from one of its wings.  The plane had undergone routine maintenance in China five days earlier

An Air France technical operations spokesman said: 'The plane flew for several days before it was grounded because one third of the screws holding down a piece of bodywork were missing.
'It was part of the outer covering of the wing and at no point was flight safety compromised.
An Air France union spokesman described the oversight as 'deplorable'.
He added: 'Pieces of an aircraft should never simply go missing during maintenance. It is not the first time this has happened either.

Once I get through all my mail and laundry and must-dos , I'll start blogging again.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:18 AM | Permalink

November 11, 2011

Cardinal Chaput out and about

The new Archbishop of Philadelphia is certainly getting out and about

In The Public Discourse, Archbishop Chaput speaks about human dignity.

Being Human in an Age of Unbelief,

We remember Bonhoeffer, Solzhenitsyn, and other men and women like them because of their moral witness. But the whole idea of “moral witness” comes from the assumption that good and evil are real, and that certain basic truths about humanity don’t change. These truths are knowable and worth defending. One of these truths is the notion of man’s special dignity as a creature of reason and will. Man is part of nature, but also distinct from it.
Something elevated and sacred in men and women demands our special respect. When we violate that human dignity, we do evil. When we serve it, we do good. And therein lies one of many ironies. We live in a society that speaks persuasively about protecting the environment and rescuing species on the brink of extinction. But then it tolerates the killing of unborn children and the abuse of human fetal tissue as lab material.

In First Things, Chaput writes about Catholics and the American Future  an essay based on a talk he gave at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, yesterday.

Without the restraints of a common moral consensus animated and defended by a living religious community, the freedom of the individual easily becomes a license for selfishness. The meaning of right and wrong becomes privatized. And ultimately, society ends up as a collection of disconnected individuals whose appetites and needs are regulated by the only project they share in common: the state.
The genius of Catholic higher education is the schooling it gives in the mutual dependency of faith and reason. At its best, it refuses to separate intellectual and moral formation because they are inextricably linked. It gives primacy to the disciplines that guide the formation of a holistic view of reality—philosophy and theology. It aids in the creation of a Christian culture and explains what this means for human thriving. It offers a coherent anthropology that treats the human being as a whole, and actually gives meaning to the words "human dignity" instead of turning them into a catch-phrase for the latest version of individualism. It offers an immersion in the virtues, and an appreciation of humanity’s material and spiritual realities—the visible and invisible world—all of which get their life from belief in Jesus Christ.

To put it another way, Catholic higher education is heir to the greatest intellectual, moral and cultural patrimony in human history. It has a deeply satisfying answer to who and why man is. It’s beautiful because it’s true. It has nothing to be embarrassed about and every reason to be on fire with confidence and apostolic zeal. We only defeat ourselves—and we certainly don’t serve God—if we allow ourselves to ever think otherwise.
The vocation of a Catholic college is to feed the soul as well as the mind; to offer a vision of men and women made whole by the love of God, the knowledge of creation and the reality of things unseen; to see the beauty of the world in the light of eternity; to recapture the nobility of the human story and the dignity of the human person.

This is the work that sets fire to a young person’s heart. It starts the only kind of revolution that really changes anything: a revolution of love. Jesus said, I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled.

Our task is to start that blaze and then help it grow.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:30 PM | Permalink

Losing his house changed the way this financial advisor deals with his clients

How a financial professional lost his house and brought his family to the brink of disaster.

this is the story of how I lost my home, the profound ethical questions that arose along the way, and what my wife and I learned from the mistakes that led us to that point. It made me better at what I do, but it wasn’t much fun getting there.
The experience has changed just about everything about how I do financial planning and the advice I give in public. For one thing, I am less quick to judge other people’s financial behavior. I’m also more inclined to take into account personal factors that determine how people behave around money.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:12 PM | Permalink

November 9, 2011

Don't get stuck on stupid

Are you smart enough to know you are stupid?

David Dunning, for whom the “Dunning-Kruger effect” is known, claims that we are simply not very good at knowing that we don’t know things.
What makes people “stupid” is often a matter of what we don’t know and of what we assume to actually know. 

There is willful stupidity, crowd stupidity and media-induced stupidity.

Laurence Gonzales, a journalist and student of clinical psychology, notes the difference between those who survive and those who die in a time of crisis: "Survivors are often those who think deliberately under pressure, while deliberation is what helps people avoid stupid mistakes."

We often follow a mental script when facing harrowing or unfamiliar situations. How have others acted in the past? What do our instincts tell us? People say to follow your gut, so instincts should be the way to go, right? Probably not.
Realistically considering and addressing the situation is the real life-saver here; although routines and scripts are useful for everyday tasks like getting dressed and negotiating public transportation, more complicated situations call for more serious thinking. Deliberation, paying attention, and using common sense can make all the difference between a stupid person and a smart one—and between a dead person and a live one.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:24 PM | Permalink

Vigilante Gardner

Too much depressing news, let's look at vigilantes and renegades I like.

Via Orwell's Picnic

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:19 PM | Permalink

Why are atheist feminists attracted to Mormon mommy blogs?

Emily Matchar says she can't stop reading Mormon housewife blogs

Their lives are nothing like mine — I’m your standard-issue late-20-something childless overeducated atheist feminist — yet I’m completely obsessed with their blogs. On an average day, I’ll skim through a half-dozen Mormon blogs, looking at Polaroids of dogs in raincoats or kids in bow ties, reading gratitude lists, admiring sewing projects.

I’m not alone, either. Two of my closest friends — both chronically overworked Ph.D. candidates — procrastinate for hours poring over Nat the Fat Rat or C. Jane Enjoy It. A recent discussion of Mormonism on the blog Jezebel unleashed a waterfall of confessions in the comments section from other young non-religious women similarly riveted by the shiny, happy domestic lives of their Latter-day Saint sisters.
Well, to use a word that makes me cringe, these blogs are weirdly “uplifting.” -- I do think women of my generation are looking to the past in an effort to create fulfilling, happy domestic lives, since the modern world doesn’t offer much of a road map.


... the basic messages expressed in these blogs — family is wonderful, life is meant to be enjoyed, celebrate the small things — are still lovely. And if they help women like me envision a life in which marriage and motherhood could potentially be something other than a miserable, soul-destroying trap, I say, “Right on. I won’t be inviting the missionaries inside for hot cocoa now or ever, but I don’t plan on stopping my blog habit any time soon.

Jennifer Fulweiler, a former atheist who became a Catholic, mother of 5 and prolific blogger herself writes about the Secret that Makes Housewife Blogs So Irresistible.

One of the great surprises of the human life is that complete autonomy makes you miserable, and it’s only when you give yourself fully in the service of others that you’ll find lasting happiness. It is a counter-intuitive truth that taps directly into our spiritual selves, which is why people of faith typically understand it best.
Back in my career days, I thought that living life to the fullest meant racking up impressive credentials and being as self-sufficient as possible. But the universal truth that I stumbled across in my own life, that bursts from the pages of countless mommy blogs by women of faith, is that the meaning of life is to give, to share, and to open yourself to the point that your life becomes inextricably entwined with the lives of others.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:11 PM | Permalink

“America is seizing up before our eyes”

American Optimism by Elizabeth Scalia

Last week Mark Steyn wrote, “America is seizing up before our eyes,” and that is a spot-on image. She is like a brilliantly conceived machine that, poorly maintained for more years than any of us cares to admit, has gone too long untuned; the oil of her invention has thinned out and broken down and now bit-by-bit, gear-by-gear—economically, socially, spiritually—she is making an ungodly noise and grinding to a halt.

There are probably ten thousand articles to be found on the Internet all fleshing out their theories of what is behind America’s swift collapse. Curiously, most of them will touch—all without realizing it—on the seven deadly sins; Capitalist Greed; Spiritual Sloth; Physical Lust; Nationalist/Military Pride; Consumer Gluttony; Partisan Wrath; Class Envy. Good arguments can be made blaming some are all of these sins for our current dire straits and for the sense that we are standing upon a precipice.

The classical seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues are relevant in all ages, even ours, because human nature doesn't change.

Here is the article Elizabeth referenced: Mark Steyn, Occupiers part of grand alliance against the productive

At first glance, an alliance of anarchists and government might appear to be somewhat paradoxical. But the formal convergence in Oakland makes explicit the movement's aims: They're anarchists for statism, wild free-spirited youth demanding more and more total government control of every aspect of life – just so long as it respects the fundamental human right to sloth. What's happening in Oakland is a logical exercise in class solidarity: the government class enthusiastically backing the breakdown of civil order is making common cause with the leisured varsity class, the thuggish union class and the criminal class in order to stick it to what's left of the beleaguered productive class. It's a grand alliance of all those societal interests that wish to enjoy in perpetuity a lifestyle they are not willing to earn. Only the criminal class is reasonably upfront about this. The rest – the lifetime legislators, the unions defending lavish and unsustainable benefits, the "scholars" whiling away a somnolent half-decade at Complacency U – are obliged to dress it up a little with some hooey about "social justice" and whatnot.
America is seizing up before our eyes: The decrepit airports, the underwater property market, the education racket, the hyper-regulated business environment. Yet, curiously, the best example of this sclerosis is the alleged "revolutionary" movement itself. It's the voice of youth, yet everything about it is cobwebbed
Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:06 PM | Permalink

November 7, 2011

"It is perilously easy for young men to lose their way and our society does very little to help"

The wise man Walter Russell Mead writes  The Crisis of Young Men is a Crisis For Us All

Joblessness is only one aspect of a growing social crisis.  America is increasingly failing at the most basic task of socializing any group of people faces: helping its young males make the difficult transition from boyhood and adolescent to mature manhood.  Raised right and appropriately mentored, young men channel their energy and idealism into building families and making a better world.  Hard work, ambition, the desire to serve and protect: young men at their best make indispensable contributions to social health and well being.

It is perilously easy for young men to lose their way and our society does very little to help.  Between widespread divorce and illegitimacy, many young men are growing up with only tenuous connections with suitable adult role models.  Movies, television and popular music offer the most distorted and destructive images of men: either superhuman macho killing and loving machines or ineffectual workadaddy wimps and figures of fun.

If our boys don’t negotiate that complex transition and become men, American society will fail.  It is really that simple.  In some urban communities the transmission of the values and behaviors that help boys become men has broken down altogether; that crisis is spreading out of the inner cities and into the mainstream.  Churches, community groups and individual men need to think hard about how to reach and help this vulnerable and vital demographic.  Without new generations of upright, God fearing, disciplined, hard working and community minded men, American society will be a poor and violent place.  We are already well on the way.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:32 PM | Permalink

"I am very detail-oreinted"

via Bookworm, comes this hilarious list of things never to put on your resume

1. I am very detail-oreinted.

2. My intensity and focus are at inordinately high levels, and my ability to complete projects on time is unspeakable.

3. Thank you for your consideration. Hope to hear from you shorty!

4. Enclosed is a ruff draft of my resume.

5. It’s best for employers that I not work with people.

6. Here are my qualifications for you to overlook.

7. I am a quick leaner, dependable, and motivated.

8. If this resume doesn’t blow your hat off, then please return it in the enclosed envelope.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:56 PM | Permalink

November 2, 2011

A Sermon You Can't Sleep Through

Blatty Describes 'The Exorcist' as a Sermon

That I am regularly hauled out of my burrow every Halloween like some furless and demonic “Punxsatawney Phil” always brings a rueful smile of bemusement to my lips as I lower my gaze and shake my head, for the humiliating God’s-honest truth of the matter is that while I was working on "The Exorcist," what I thought I was writing was a novel of faith in the popular dress of a thrilling and suspenseful detective story – in other words, a sermon that no one could possibly sleep through -- and to this day I haven’t the faintest recollection of any intention to frighten the reader, which many will take, I suppose, as an admission of failure on an almost stupefying, scale. 
When I first heard, in 1949, of an actual case of demonic possession and an exorcism going on nearby while I was a junior at Georgetown University, I remember thinking, “Someday, somebody’s got to write about this, because if an investigation were to prove that possession is real, what a help it would be to the struggling faith of possibly millions, for if there were demons, I reasoned, then why not angels? Why not God?"

...I in fact did not base my novel on the 1949 case, but rather what my research made clear; namely, that in every period of recorded history, and in every culture and part of the world, there have been consistent accounts of possession and its symptoms going all the way back to ancient Egyptian chronicles, and where there is that much smoke, my reason told me, there is probably fire – and a lot of it, if you get my meaning. Do you? My faith is strong.

Polished and rewritten for its 40th anniversary is
The Exorcist.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:58 AM | Permalink

Reducing inequality, but which one?

David Brooks on The Wrong Inequality

The zooming wealth of the top 1 percent is a problem, but it’s not nearly as big a problem as the tens of millions of Americans who have dropped out of high school or college. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the 40 percent of children who are born out of wedlock. It’s not nearly as big a problem as the nation’s stagnant human capital, its stagnant social mobility and the disorganized social fabric for the bottom 50 percent.

If your ultimate goal is to reduce inequality, then you should be furious at the doctors, bankers and C.E.O.’s. If your goal is to expand opportunity, then you have a much bigger and different agenda.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:52 AM | Permalink

Who Knew the Germans owe the Greeks at least 60 billion for a WWII loan never repaid?

Shocking everyone, especially the EU overseers in Brussels,  is the Greek plan to put the negotiated bailout up to a vote of the Greeks.

David Pryce Jones asks Will the Greeks Save Democracy?

Prime Minister George Papandreou may look moth-eaten, but the announcement of this referendum is pretty brilliant politics. He ducks the blame for giving in to the Brussels mob, and he heads off the threat of a general election that he and his Socialist Party are certain to lose. Better still, he can be sure that the voters are going to say no and reject the bail-out by a large margin. Ouf! Greece will then be able officially to default, scrap the doom-laden euro, return to the drachma that it should never have abandoned, and devalue. That way, they can become competitive again, and the society will hold together.

The panic of the Brussels mob is wonderful to behold. ....Everyone with a head on their shoulders has been forecasting for years that the euro was certain to come to a crisis like this. The sovereignty of nations is stronger than the Brussels mob. Union was a historic mistake. The Greeks invented democracy, and it will be poetic justice if they save it now and free us all.

There may not be time for a referendum before the whole deal melts down,  But what if the Greeks pressed the Germans for the £60 billion in reparations the Germans owe them.?

Hitler’s men even raided the Greeks’ central bank, forcing them to give Germany a massive ‘war loan’ — one that has never been paid back, more of which later. Economists estimate that if it were repaid today, it could cost the German government £60billion. The memory of that travesty has been reignited this week by Greeks angry at the austerity measures being imposed on them — primarily by Germany as it seeks to stop the euro crisis spinning out of control.

On March 14, 1942, a team of German and Italian lawyers, in the absence of any Greeks, signed an agreement obliging the Bank of Greece to provide Germany with a ‘war loan’ of 476million Reichsmarks (a currency which preceded the Deutschmark). And 70 years later not one penny of it, let alone any interest, has been repaid.

Economists (German ones, as it happens) have calculated that, allowing purely for inflation, Greece’s 1942 loan to Germany would today be worth £9bn. But if one adds even a modest rate of interest of 3 per cent, then that debt increases to a staggering £60bn.

That would be enough to cover Greece’s fiscal deficit for the next five years, giving the country time to restructure its economy and put government finances on a more sustainable footing.
Every other country in Europe had reparations apart from Greece. It’s not fair to say Greeks should die for free.’
Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:26 AM | Permalink

November 1, 2011

More criminality and crony capitalism on Wall St

The moral vacuum in the ruling class was never more on display.

Jon Corzine, former co-head of Goldman Sachs, former U.S. Senator from New Jersey (D), former governor of New Jersey (D) until defeated in his re-election by Governor Chris Christie (R), after which he returned to Wall St as CEO of MF Global, a firm of 2800 employees.

With bad bets on European bonds, Corzine has bankrupted MF Global and will still get a $12 million severance.   It is the eighth largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

Even worse, some $700 million of customers' money is missing.  The suspicion is that the firm co-mingled customer money with the firm's money to meet collateral calls and in the hopes that the firm could be sold.

Zero Hedge 

...someone has to go to jail. That someone, if indeed this criminal act is proven to have taken place, should be none other than Jon Corzine himself.

.. thousands of MF clients are about to realize that money they thought they had, even if completely unencumbered with other assets, read pure cash, read money not at risk, is now gone forever, and they will have to wait years until the bankruptcy process determines if the claim deserves priority status to the unsecured bondholders. Best case: assume a 70% haircut on the money, if it is every to be seen again at all.
What happens next? Why customers at all other brokerages, all other exchanges, afraid that their money will suffer the same fate as MF, even if they transact with perfect solvent clearers and agents, will proceed to pull their money, as they know they have nobody to trust but their own prudent and forward looking actions. Which in turn will start the kind of liquidity drain that killed not only Lehman, but froze money markets, and with that brought the complete capital markets to a standstill, only to be thawed after the Fed pledged multiples of the US GDP to rescue Wall Street in October of 2008.

And that, dear reader, is called unintended consequences, and how the bankruptcy of a small exchange can avalanche into a crippling Ice Nine of what is left of capital markets all over again, courtesy of crony capitalism, rampant criminality and a regulator and enforcement body that is more fascinated with midget porn than any regulating or enforcing of the very firms it hopes to get an assistant general counsel job from in a few short years.

The New York Times's Joe Nocera writes

The idea that Corzine, who single-handedly destroyed MF Global Holdings, was in a position to command so much as a penny in severance is horrifying. It suggests two things. The first is the extent to which “heads-I-win-tails-you-lose” remains the operative concept for Wall Street compensation. The second is that one’s politics doesn’t much matter when it comes to lining one’s pockets. Corzine is an avowed liberal who has decried income inequality and Wall Street pay — but right up until the end, he had his hand out for millions he didn’t deserve.

What If Bankers Prayed More asks Fr. Dwight Longnecker

I quoted correspondence I had received from an Englishman who had worked for many years in the City of London--the financial center. He said, “When I began in banking almost 40 years ago, the head of our Investment Banking division each morning gathered his staff together and began the day with a prayer! This division was responsible for investing the bank's money. The prayer was not that they would make a 'killing' or rack up great profits for the bank. Rather it was that they would properly care for the bank's assets and discharge their duties to their savers and shareholders responsibly and for the common good.

Can you imagine that happening on Wall St?  I can't.  And that's part of the problem.  They are answerable to no one.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:13 PM | Permalink

The Lights of All the Saints

Father Barron remarks on the extraordinary diversity of personalities that are the saints with a striking metaphor:  when the bright white light of God passes through a prism, a million shades of color can be seen.    Saints are lit up from inside with the fire of Christ and they become a source of illumination to others.  They light up the world around them.

Today we celebrate all the saints, known and unknown.  He quotes the French spiritual writer Leon Bleau who said, "The only one real sadness in life is not to become a saint."  To be a saint, Barron says, is to become a friend of Christ and to find your deepest self.

In reflecting on the light of the  saints, I remembered the following story about Malcolm  Muggeridge  and Mother Theresa.   

In 1967, he conducted a half-hour interview with Mother Theresa that he thought was unexceptional except for the extraordinary response by people who had listened in on the BBC.

Although no appeal for funds had been made, letters containing cash, cheques, money orders, even securities, altogether some twenty-five thousand pounds, poured into the BBC.  The accompanying letters said pretty much the same thing: "This woman spoke to me as no one ever has, and I want to help."

A year later, Muggeridge  took a BBC documentary crew to India to film Mother Theresa and her work with the dying.  When the BBC cameraman went inside the Home for the Dying Destitute, he didn't see how it could be filmed since the light from the small window high on the walls was totally inadequate.  Still he was persuaded to give it a go.

By any natural explanation this part of the film should have been a failure; instead, as anyone who has seen it can attest, it is bathed in an unearthly lambent illumination, less light than a glow. Muggeridge was convinced that this was the first - perhaps the only - miracle recorded by television.
The interior of the hall was very dark with only one small window and the film crew was not equipped with lights. The very experienced BBC cameraman was quite adamant that nothing would come out, but because of Mother Teresa's insistence went through the motions of filming. When processed it was found that: “The film was suffused with a particularly beautiful soft light.” Muggeridge wrote that The House of the Dying is overflowing with love, and this love is luminous, like the haloes that artist paint on saints. The luminosity that is registered on the film, everyone agreed, is quite extraordinarily lovely. The same batch of film was subsequently tested under similar circumstances elsewhere and produced images that were dark and completely useless. Furthermore, back-up footage that was shot for the Mother Teresa documentary outside the Home of the Dying, turned out to be blurred and unusable.

The film Something Beautiful for God, and the ensuing book, had an incalculable impact as it introduced Mother Theresa of Calcutta to the world.

The broadcaster, Malcolm Muggeridge, said that he had never met such delightful, happy, women - nor experienced such an atmosphere of joy that they create.
In the presence of Mother Teresa people may burst into tears, and in a fleeting moment she could create an ineffable impression of great deep and abiding love. Malcolm Muggeridge described the faces of people gathered for a talk. He wrote: “I was watching the faces of people - ordinary people listening to her. Every face, young and old, simple and sophisticated, was rapt with attention, hanging on her words - not because of the words themselves which were quite ordinary, because of her. Some quality came across over and above the words. A luminosity seemed to fill the hall, penetrating every heart and mind.”

An agnostic most of his life, disillusioned with communism after seeing purges and famine in the USSR,  Muggeridge became a iconoclastic broadcaster and satirist of great fame.  He became a Christian in 1969, writing Jesus Rediscovered.  In 1982, he entered the Catholic Church, largely as result of Mother Theresa, and wrote about that as well Conversion: The Spiritual Journey of a Twentieth Century Pilgrim. 

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:40 PM | Permalink