Monday, September 29, 2008

There's No Room for Anything Else

From today's Metropolitan Diary in the New York Times Metro section:

Dear Diary:

I was on the express bus one recent morning going to work, and a young boy sat in front of me with his mom. She was obviously taking him to work with her.

The mom asked her son if he had remembered his Sidekick smartphone and his wallet and his iPod and if he remembered where he had put his papers and pens, and he began rummaging through his backpack to produce the items. He had obviously forgotten something, because his mom asked him: “What is in your head? What are you thinking about?”

He looked at her a moment and said: “Summer reading. I have poems in my head. There’s no room for anything else, just poems.

Amy Soricelli

Angel Alert

Today is the feast of Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, the archangels. Or as God likes to call them, "My homies."

My mom has this great friend; whenever someone needs prayers, Mom or others will call her, and this person she will send out an "angel alert" to get things moving. I have, in fact, heard messages on my parents' answering machine from the lady declaring an alert and asking everyone to get praying.

What do angels do -- they intercede, right? Whether it's feeding Jesus in the desert, informing Mary that God has a surprise coming her way, or battling evil spirits, angels roll up their sleeves and get involved. At various times they are God's soldiers, his emissaries, his voice, his royal court -- but always an embodiment of his spirit. To talk about angels is really to talk about God's love, God's kingship, God's active justice.

There's also that image of the angelic choir. Sometimes we hear that that's what we have to look forward to -- we'll all be part of the angelic choir, praising God. I love to sing, so sign me up. Although -- if we're talking harps and clouds, and everyone laughing energetically at everyone's jokes, I may have a previous commitment. (As a sometime joke teller myself I have to say, sometimes the funniest moments are the ones where you fail abysmally. Don't get me started.)

Anyway, the angelic choir: it reminds me of a creation story I read in The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien's prequel to the Hobbit & the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien imagines God and his angels (Iluvatar and the Ainur) out there before the existence of everything, and each angel has a song that God has given them to sing. They sing alone or in small groups, and it's nice, but maybe a bit fragmented.

Until, that is, God draws them all together and conducts them. Their melodies brought together are an astonishing, wondrous creation -- in fact, it is the creation. Their song is the story of everything brought to life. It rolls on and on, magnificent, until one angel -- there's always got to be one -- begins to resist the group's melody and put forwards his own, creating dissonance and conflict. Some of the Ainur stop singing as he and others take on this alternate melody with strong voices.

But God works with the dissonance, as well, drawing it in and allowing it to become a part of the song. Melkor and his mates resist, getting louder, more opposed, but God works with it once again. The music that emerges "was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came."

This might be an interesting image for us. Like the angels, God gives us individually and together songs to sing. And that act of singing (which means not necessarily singing but whatever it is we do, using our medicine, as the Lakota say, or our mojo... letting your freak flag fly)... that activity is very important. It's not just a hobby or a sideline or silly nonsense, but the means by which we create and heal and help redeem the world and one another.

So stay out there, pay attention to the conductor and keep on singing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

An Important Announcement

Good morning. People have been asking about my return to America Magazine. My start day has been scheduled to be this coming Monday, September 28th.

However, I have decided to delay my restart for the time being on account of the great economic crisis facing our nation.

This is not a decision I make hastily. I look forward to a time when I can start my job again. However, in light of the difficult financial situation before us I feel that at this time it would constitute an act of reckless irresponsibility for me to return to work.

Until this situation is resolved, I will be spending my time imagining solutions for the problems our country faces at a nearby Starbucks and abroad.

The coming days will undoubtedly be difficult ones, and I hope you will join me in some small way to shoulder our share of the burden.

God bless you all, and God bless America.

Jim McDermott

Footy, Pt. 3 -- Results

The Grand Final -- fantastic. Hawthorn v. Geelong, with Geelong last year's champion and the clear favorites. A very, very close game for much of the go. In my limited experience this is quite unusual. Usually one team surges ahead 15, 20 points, and then the other rushes back. It's a game of wild and unexpected shots of momentum (another reason I like it).

But in the 4th quarter, Hawthorn pushed ahead, winning in the end by a margin of about 30 points. A great game.

And watching it, at the Australian Hotel, I noticed a couple other great and wild things about AFL. Like guys unapologetically wearing striped socks that go all the way to their knees. You have to love that.

Or the clock -- in AFL, each quarter is 25 minutes, and the on-field clock runs constantly. However, every time a team scores, the officials keep track of the time required to get the ball to the center of the field, where they have a sort of reverse jump ball (the ref throws the ball down very hard, it flies into the sky and the teams try to get it). That "lost" time is added back by extending play beyond the 25 minutes. But how long can vary widely, depending on how much scoring or other things have occurred. So, as a bystander, it adds great anticipation. You just don't know when time is going to be called. I love that.

The bar was filled with Australians, and we were there until about 4am, eating and drinking. It brought back many good memories.

A last little observation: Players on the winning team are called up individually; the championship medals are placed around their necks by small children (I'd say ages 5 or 6). They receive their medals, then shake the children's hand and give them championship hats. It's a wonderful little tradition. I'm sure it means heaps to the kids.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Footy, Pt. 2 -- The Game

THE MCG -- a glimpse of Heaven? It just might be. Click to get the big picture.

So -- here's the game (and check the post below first if you wondering what the heck we're talking about):

Imagine an enormous oval. HUGE -- much bigger than a baseball stadium, for example, or a football field. (Football field: 100 yards -- 300 feet long. The MCG oval: 172 m x 118 m -- 565 ft. by 387 ft. HUGE.)

And at either of the long ends of the oval is a set of double goal posts -- the middle pair looking just like football goal posts, but without a middle bar, and a smaller pole on either side of the middle. (The middle poles are called goal posts; the end ones are called behind poles.) If a ball is kicked or bounces through the middle pair, six points are scored. This is called a goal. If the ball is punched into the goal poles or kicked/punched between a goal pole and a behind, or hits a pole, one point is awarded. This is called a behind.

When a team scores, the fans behind their goals raise and drop these enormous colored pom-poms. Much fun.

The ball, like the field, is an oval -- in fact, it looks a lot like our own football, but a little squatter on each end, and a bit thicker. You can kick the ball to your teammates or to try and score a goal. You can punch the ball to pass it to a teammate. Or you can dribble the ball if you want to run with it. (The ball must be dribbled for every 15 m you run.)

But you can't pass it. Actually, same is true in rugby. You can kick, you can do an underhand toss backwards -- but no passing. Far as I have seen, that's unique to our gridiron.

The game proceeds a lot like soccer, but with a team of punters who played basketball in their spare time: -- guys running up and down the field, hard as they can, dribbling the ball occasionally, passing the ball to one another either by punching it or kicking it, trying to get close enough to the goal posts to score a goal or a behind. If you pass the ball or run with it, you can be tackled -- and there ain't no pads. (Same in rugby. These guys are tough, I tell you.)

On the other hand, if you kick the ball and it is caught, everyone has to back off. He can choose to run, in which case opponents can bring him down; but if he kicks it himself to another teammate, the opponents cannot obstruct him. So, you'll see some teams do a lot of kicking.

You can just see the goal posts here. Click for a better view.

If a ball is caught within 50 meters of the goal posts, the guy catching it will usually step back and then try to score a goal. Again, because he caught the ball, that shot is not obstructed. He just gets to take it. SO -- a big moment of excitement in the game often happens when a guy catches the ball in that zone. (Which is really weird when you don't understand the rules. The first time I went, all of a sudden there would be these enormous ROARS from the crowd, and I had NO IDEA why. No goal had been scored, no great move had been made. Just a catch -- and everyone's going crazy. Seriously -- it was worth it to go just for that experience of being so out of touch.)

The game moves very, very fast and has astonishing shifts of momentum. I can't tell you how many games I've listened to or watched where one team is up by 28, 32 points, and it all turns around. And then turns around again. Unlike soccer, scoring can occur quite frequently, such that the end score looks like that of a basketball game or even much higher.

(For instance this game, the end score was 128 to 80. Scoring, by the way, is done in terms of goals and behinds -- so, looking at the score total again, Essendon had 19 goals and 14 behinds for a total of 128 points.)

A last thing -- and probably I put it last because I understand it least -- tackles. If you're moving with the ball, or you've been punch-passed the ball, the opponents want not so much to tackle you -- this isn't football, there are no downs. They want you to either lose the ball (of course) or to hold onto it. If you hold onto the ball when you could have passed it and you're tackled, you lose possession. (Actually, everyone in the crowd screams HOLD! Then you lose possession.)

So them's the rules. I could go on and on with more -- it really is a most extraordinary, exciting, explosive game.

But I'll tell you just one more thing, and that is, when I knew I loved it. My first game -- lots of screams I didn't understand, all by myself; so at halftime (there are four quarters, by the way, as in football), I'm wondering, do I stay for the whole thing or at some point have I seen enough? For some reason I stuck around.

So the game ends, Carlton wins, their supporters (teams in Australia have supporters or barrackers) go crazy -- apparently Carlton and Collingwood have some really diehard fans. Think Yankee fans.

And then, music begins to play, and the crowd begins to sing the Carlton Blues song. Which, to my mind, sounded a little bit like the old Budweiser beer song -- bum bum bum bum, here comes the king, here comes the big number one, bum bum bum bum, Budweiser beer, the king, is second to none -- seriously, it has that sort of an easy, upbeat charm to it.

And they sang it over and over and over again.

I got to say, it charmed the socks off me. Really. By the time I left the MCG I had a Carlton scarf, a shirt and a new love.

Won't you join me?

Footy, Pt. 1 -- GRAND FINAL!

In Australia, the big fall/winter sports are rugby league, rugby union and Australian Rules Football. Each -- depending on which your state you're in-- is called "footy". Yeah, I know -- in conversation, it can be a little confusing. But only, I suspect, for someone not from there. Because in New South Wales (where Sydney is) and Queensland (to the North), footy is definitely rugby, and probably rugby league. (Rugby Union is a variation with I think a smaller set of teams and popularity. Rugby League is the international game that you've probably heard about.) In South Australia, Western Australia and above all in Victoria, where most of the teams started off (and many remain) in the neighborhoods of Melbourne -- footy means the AFL.

I love this sport. Love it. In my two stints in Melbourne I saw five games, all at the footy mecca, the MCG. (Short for Melbourne Cricket Grounds. I was calling it the McG until I got tired of the blank stares I received from Melbournians.) And tomorrow -- well, Saturday, Aussie time -- is the AFL Grand Final. I'm not exactly sure whether we're talking the Australian version of the Super Bowl, but I will be finding out, because... I'm flying back for the game!

Ok, second best. Starting at 1am Saturday I will be posted up at the Australian Hotel, a bar on 38th Street, with who knows how many others, tuned into the finals match, Geelong (ja-LONG) v. Hawthorn. There are actually at least 5 places in Manhattan showing the game live -- you have to love Manhattan -- and I've checked out three. All assure me they will have Australian beer and meat pies and the game live, but only the Australian is the real deal, an Aussie hangout with real Aussie beers all the time, some nice photographs of the country, and one station with Australian sport on all the time.

(A quick note: "Hotel" -- in Australia, a hotel is basically a bar that has a couple rooms above the shop. Think "pub" with a guest room.)

So as you sleep soundly Saturday morning, have a little think of me. And pray I can stay awake. 1-4am -- not my best hours. But it's my belief that a regular supply of James Boag beer and meat pies will sustain me. We shall see...

Les Misbarack

Check this out.

Thanks to Giovanna Slon. Michael Gilson, this is for you.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Australian Cartoons Comment on the Economy

And a few from the New Yorker, too...

In the New York Times of September 22nd, columnist Paul Krugman says some are calling the Paulson bailout plan "The Authorization for Use of Economic Force," after the disastrous "Authorization for use of Military Force" that gave the Bush administration permission to invade Iraq.

Yikes. Uh...let's not do that.

Rainbows and Vowels

So, before my Mexican adventure (see last Thursday), I spent a relaxing, remarkable week in Honolulu. I saw a lot of rainbows. I mean, like, all the time.

Rainbow over Diamondhead.

Another rainbow, later. Not only is it a full rainbow -- if you click for a bigger view, you'll see it's a double.

This one actually seems to come all the way to the ground.

There were also a lot of vowels. Apparently, it’s against the law in Hawaii for words to have more consonants than vowels. Seriously. And you have to pronounce every vowel separately. Forget about all your fancy dipthongs. Akamai: it's not Ah-kah-my, it's ah-kah-mah-ee.

Some fantastic Hawaiian street names (and my pronunciation guesses):
Kakaako -- Kah-ka-ah-ko.
Mokauea Street -- Moh-kah-oo-ay-ah.
Puunui -- Poo-oo-noo-ee. 6 letters, 4 syllables.
Piikea Street -- Pee-ee-kay-uh. I found that double 'i' almost impossible for my brain to register.
Kamehameha Park-- I couldn't get this. I was always saying Kamayhamayhamayha.
Uaiena Street -- Oo-ah-ee-ay-nah. 6 letters, 5 vowels, 5 syllables.

My beach experiences were limited to Ala Moana, a little beach not too far from Waikiki. It was quiet and beautiful and spectacular.


Giving the Kid a Break

I took down my Palindrome post. Just seemed too easy. (But congratulations to my friend Regina, who has decided to move to Houston and become an astronaut for NASA. She can see the moon, after all. What more does one need?)

But seriously, doesn't it just seem wrong on some level to go after Gov. Palin too much? She's just a kid in the political system. How dare anyone judge her by the standards we would anyone else. Shame on all of us!

According to the New York Times, the Governor will be meeting with Henry Kissinger this week.

This is me holding back.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

You Know You Haven't Finished Transitioning From 9 Months Abroad When...

...every time you plan to make a call, you stop to wonder what the time difference is. can't believe that Barnes & Noble doesn't have Peter Costello's Memoirs. (Let alone that no one seems to know who Peter Costello is.) keep thinking of American coins as "cute".

Funny Story

About ten days after I left Australia on August 23rd, I arrived at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Community in Los Gatos, California. It’s the retirement community of the California Province, with a total population of about 80 guys living in a four-story building built decades ago as a novitiate and a winery (a combination which I think should take place at every Jesuit house of formation, or even just every Jesuit house. We likeses our wineses.).

Now, you might ask, what happened in the ten days before you arrived at Los Gatos. Well, a lot, but ask me later.

Here's Sacred Heart at Christmas time.

For now, the funny story. I’m staying at Los Gatos, visiting my buddy John Privett, who is the superior of the community there. And as soon as I get there he’s talking about this great little Mexican place we’ve got to go to that night. Sounds great to me. Every Jesuit has his own gifts, and one of John’s is the under the radar restaurant. No matter where he goes, he finds those hole in the wall restaurants that you and I walk by without even noticing, and he makes them his own.

So before dinner we have drinks with some of the guys from the community. And one of them asks, Where’s he taking you? Oh God, not to that godforsaken Mexican place, I hope? He just likes that place because it’s cheap! What’s a meal cost, $3.50? Suddenly the whole crew is laughing and chiming in about John’s frugality. Left the poor man speechless, in fact, which if you know John, is darn near impossible to do.

Now personally, while I’m not a fan of diners (other than for breakfast), I do like hole in the wall restaurants, and I loveses me Mexican foodes. If 7-11 sold Strawberry Margarita slurpees, I’d be in real trouble. So, I told the guys, I’ll go check it out and report back.

A couple weeks later, I’ve gotten my photos together, and I’m happy to dismiss John’s community’s concerns is completely unwarranted.

The Mexican restaurant actually allowed us to choose our own piece of meat:

The white rice came with a protein boost:

And there were fantastic raffle prizes. I won this free pet!

He seemed quite content when I left him at Sacred Heart.

Actually, who am I kidding, the restaurant was great. We had fantastic food and service, and I must say I had great company.

Muchas Gracias, Juan! And there you go, Sacred Hearters. Let the superior take you out so you can see for yourself!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

But Wait, There's More!

Ok, so, there's not exactly more. There will be -- at least for a little while. I've been traveling the last three weeks, and I haven't had the chance to post anything, but I'm going to soon, hopefully sometime this week. I arrived in New York yesterday; Barack Obama was supposedly just across the street from our building, at a party hosted by Queen Latifah. Toto, we're not in Cobar anymore.

Check back later this week to hear about Macau, presidents, rats in Mexican restaurants, vowels, rainbows and floods. (And some good photos, too.)

For the moment, if you didn't see it already, here is SNL's opening-of-the-season sketch from last night, with Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. Fantastic.