Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ebert Batting for Theological Conservatives

I'm still watching Sikel and Ebert. It's nice to see Ebert sticking up for traditional Catholics in this discussion of the movie Mass Appeal, from 16:00. One of Ebert's last blog posts before his death was entitled "Why I am a Catholic", although he seemed to mean it in a purely cultural sense-- he had no expectations of an afterlife, and he said he only stopped short of calling himself an atheist because he regarded such ultimate matters as unknowable.

But it's interesting that both gentlemen, neither of whom seem religious (Siskel was Jewish, but again it seemed cultural rather than religious) were able to take religious themes seriously, as they demonstrate in many episodes. Donald Clarke, film critic and pompous windbag with the Irish Times, likes to loudly proclaim that films with religious themes mean nothing to him.

Sorry, We're Irish

I hear a lot about the tendency of Canadians to apologize for everything. I don't think they can outdo the Irish in this.

Today, I dropped a carton of milk in the supermarket, and immediately apologized to the man at whose feet it fell. He apologized to me.

A few weeks ago, I was passing a bus-stop and saw a five euro note on the path. It was at the feet of a rather hipster-ish looking guy. I pointed it out to him, upon which he promptly apologized to me.

What a Charmer

Here's a comment I left on a recent post on Mark Shea's blog, responding to another commenter who said the whole Confederate statues controversy proves blacks and whites can't live together (Shea's post was celebrating the removal of such statues):

I don't agree with Joey but I understand why more people and more people are thinking like him. The left was supposed to be about colour-blindness, a new era, and transcending race. Instead, their obsession with it deepens and they cry for ever more drastic measures to bring about their desired state of affairs. Even when a black man is elected President of America, Amerika is still raaaaaaaacist. This kind of thing is what drives recruits to the Alt Right.

Oh, and by "the left" I also mean large swathes of the Republican party and of the Catholic Church and the other Christian churches-- sadly. 

Shea's response:

Your whinging excuses for racists are duly noted. It's everybody else's fault that racists like Joey are racists. The Alt Right are the real victims. What bullshit.

What an ass he's become. This is what you get when politics becomes a substitute for religion-- ironically, this is Shea's own constant charge against "conservative Christians", a demographic towards which he has developed an obsessive animosity recently.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Beauty of Respect

I'm still watching YouTube recordings of Siskel and Ebert, and doing so medicinally as my dip in spirits hasn't lifted. I've noticed that when the world seems dark or hostile, it seems that little things are the most comforting. Ridiculous as it sounds, I feel better because Siskel and Ebert look so cosy and relaxed sitting in their studio talking about the films of that particular week, twenty or thirty years ago. Even the fuzzy picture quality is comforting.

I'm also entranced by the interaction between them. Even when they spar, it's in a respectful way-- they obviously took each other very seriously. I saw the documentary Life Itself on Ebert's life, and I was amused that Siskel's wife quoted him as once saying (about Ebert): "He's an asshole, but he's my asshole". (Apologies for the profanity.) It's obvious from the documentary that there was a lot more affection involved than that joke would indicate. In a strange way, I think that's a touching tribute-- I wouldn't mind someone saying it about me, in a similar context.

There's lots of interesting stuff along the way. This discussion about "video nasties", from 1987, rather surprised me. They were both decided liberals, and yet they were both highly critical of "sick" movies in a way that seems less likely amongst liberals today. Perhaps I am being nostalgic, but I don't think so.

What a Capital Fellow!

As Feser remarks over email, some theologians “have turned the notion of development into a euphemism or lawyer’s trick whereby outright reversals of past teaching are magically made orthodox by slapping the label ‘development’ on them. You might as well say that denying Christ’s divinity or the doctrine of original sin can be reconciled with past teaching as long as we call them ‘developments’ and get enough people to go along with this sleight of hand.

Word! Taken from a Catholic Herald article about Edward Feser's new book (co-authored with Joseph Bessette) on the death penalty.

As I've said before, I'm personally opposed to the death penalty on grounds of squeamishness. The idea of taking somebody's life in cold blood seems horrible to me. The argument that miscarriages of justice, when it comes to capital punishment, are irreversible, also seems difficult to refute to me. Doubtless, Feser and Bessette address it in this book.

At the same time, I'm annoyed that the death penalty has become yet another of the prudential political causes, such as open borders and social welfare and anti-discrimination and feminism, that the Catholic left (and even the Catholic mainstream) is presenting as an article of faith. It seems that, when Catholic spokesmen speak in the public square, they are so reluctant to speak about anything supernatural that they always opt for political causes-- invariably left-wing political causes. So I say, hurrah for Feser and Bessette.

(Indeed, I should admit that, amongt the living, Feser is the interpreter of Catholic doctrine that I trust the most.) 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Last Day Before the Christmas Holidays, 2015

My diary is almost two years old. I like to read back on random days. This is a random day I read just now; actually, the last day of work in the library before the Christmas holidays 2015.  (I'm only including the workday, not the evening.) Of course, I've changed names. I had given up tea and coffee at this point, as a mortification-- it was a terrible failure, at this stage I was reduced to drinking hot water as a substitute. I allowed myself beverages on social occasions.
I headed into work on the bus, praying my Rosary pretty well on the way-- although it still takes me the entire bus journey, TWO bus trips. I so often hear people say it takes them ten or fifteen minutes to pray the Rosary. I would pray it sooner if I didn't keep losing concentration.

I made myself a cup of hot water and went up to my office where I had a nice conversation with Dagger. He was telling me about his burst ear-drum and his consequent lack of balance, and showing me a diagram the doctor drew him. He thanked me very kindly for his gift, although I think he was being polite.

I was on the desk from ten to eleven, then I went on break with Dagger, Monkey and Ermine, to the science café. The cleaner Crispy from Latvia was there too, at first. I never go on break but I thought I would make an exception for the last day before Christmas-- and also, out of a thirst for coffee, though I had hot chocolate instead in the end. We spoke about pranks and disc jockeys. It was pleasant. Ermine is pregnant and far gone. On the way back, we spoke about names, and the fact that Muhammed is the most popular boy's name in the UK right now.

There was absolutely nothing going on today. I watched Fairly Secret Army, without any shame. I gave Christmas cards to Muffin (left it on her desk), Echo (handed it to him), and Bronze (also handed it to him). Muffin because I haven't been all that nice to her recently. Echo because I like him. Bronze because I couldn't think of anyone better to get my last card, even though we've never really worked together. I enjoy our brief conversation. I could tell he was surprised.

I went to the Christmas party in the Associate Librarian's Office around ten past one (it had been going on since twelve). I wanted some wine, and I also felt the desire for a send-off to the term. I regretted not going in previous years. I had a glass of red wine and a glass of white wine, as well as lots of salmon canapés and other edibles. I spoke with Dagger and Echo and Polo and Azure, but mostly with the first three. We mostly spoke about Subbuteo and Hornby and other toys.

After that, I was on the desk, speaking to Dickens (and later Clay) about history. There was a small flurry when we announced we were closing, but not that much of one. Something somebody said gave me a sudden thirst for Yeats criticism, so I went upstairs and borrowed three books about him. There was a procession of people to the desk to say Happy Christmas to us, and a lot of the students said Happy Christmas. I love that kind of atmosphere; sad and sweet at once.

I went upstairs with Dukey to switch off some computers, and when I came down Dukey said me and Clay were good to go. (I'm impressed by Clay's knowledge of literature and history, and was both impressed and surprised when he said, in response to a question I posed to both him and Dickens, that he thought the 1916 Rising was justified. I don't agree with him, but at least he didn't parrot the expected answer.)

As I was scanning the book exchange shelves [outside the library], Dickens came out, and I walked out with him. I was heading to the church and he was heading to the Student Bar-- he offered to stand me a drink. We spoke a little bit about the decline of Catholicism, just before we parted ways, and then he said: "You're going to the house of God, I'm going to the house of man". There was something memorable about the way he said it-- like a scene in a novel. (After I prayed for a short while in the Church, and walked to the bus stop, I saw him ahead of me, so I guess the pub was shut.)

Ijamsville, Maryland

All today I've been typing up my footnotes for my book manuscript. In a way, this is the most tedious part of the job, but it has its compensations. I've been typing them while listening to Ebert and Siskel on YouTube, not to mention children playing in the avenue outside. I'm surprised at the pleasure I take in simply typing the cities and towns where the books were published, thinking how they originated from one place in the world rather than another. I had to double-check to make sure Ijamsville, Maryland was a real place, and it wasn't a typing error on my part. I've found myself wondering whether the people in Massachusetts say the whole name every time. There is a great poetry in place names.

I love the names of publishers as well; Clonmore and Reynolds, Burns and Oats, Benziger Brothers, Longmans, Greens and Company-- I can imagine the gold-leaf lettering on the office doors, back in the far-off days when most of the books I used were published. 

Twenty-Nine Members!

There are now twenty-nine members in the Irish Conservatives Forum!

I didn't really expect it to take off like this. And people are actually posting, as well. We've had some interesting discussions.

Become member thirty! Su nioj! (Apparently, that's something fans of the heavy metal band Slayer chant at concerts. Why spelling "join us" backwards should be sinister-- as I presume it's supposed to be-- I don't quite understand, but there you go.)

The Idea of Culture

I've been reading a biography of John Henry Newman. I'm enjoying it for the same reason that it makes me feel rather sad. I'm not sure when it was written, and I don't have it to hand to check, but it reflects an idea of culture which seems to be lacking in our own era. Yes, there's always the danger of nostalgia and lamenting the past. But I honestly don't think I'm doing that here. I think this idea of culture existed (though it was in decline) up until perhaps the mid-twentieth century, and would have existed for centuries before that.

This is my definition of culture, in this sense; a mental landscape, shared by writer and reader, of facts, associations, atmospheres, ideas, connections, attitudes, and so forth.

The writer of the book assumes that the reader is already familiar with Newman, the Oxford Movement, English religious controversies, the concept of an English gentleman, and many other aspects of his subject. Not that you couldn't understand the book without knowing all this, but the author seems to assume it anyway. He writes as though the reader already has some ideas on all these subjects, and he often addresses those ideas. Importantly, this is not in the sense that he's writing for a special interest group, as an academic in a particular field might write for other academics. He's obviously addressing the general reader.

The thing is, this isn't just "cultural capital"-- it isn't just a matter of being "in the know". I do believe that culture in this sense exists in order to make the experience of life more navigable, to heighten it, to bring out its contours and colours and atmospheres. Culture is not principally about books or paintings or music, but about the world and the experience of life.

Of course, different writers (fiction and non-fiction) would be writing with very different perspectives, but I believe there was a common culture to an extent that is almost entirely absent today.

It's not that we don't have our own equivalent. We do. As well as whatever remains of literary culture,. we have pop culture. And I by no means despise pop culture in this sense. It's a lot better than nothing. In fact, I'm fascinated by this aspect of pop culture, and I've spent untold hours reading the website TV Tropes, which (although it wouldn't describe itself this way) looks at pop culture from just this vantage point; as a way of mapping the topography of life and the soul. There's obviously a continuum between pop culture and high culture; not only does pop culture often draw on what went before it, but somebody who has seen a lot of movies is more likely to have read a lot of books, particularly old books.

With the rise of the avant-garde, high culture and pop culture bifurcated, and high culture became even more irrelevant to the idea of a shared cultural landscape than did pop culture. What passes for high culture now exists only for a professional class of academics, arts professionals, and the few ordinary members of the public who feel they should know about it. It's a dead end.

As I say, pop culture is better than nothing. If you use the term "Spielbergian", most people would know it's a reference to the films Stephen Spielberg and that you're trying to evoke an atmosphere of wide-eyed wonder, of childhood innocence, of Americana, of liberal humanism. This isn't (isn't isn't isn't) just a matter of name-dropping or (to repeat) of "cultural capital", and it's important to insist on that. The films of Stephen Spielberg really do help us to appreciate a whole side to life, a whole way of looking at the world, once which was latent within us but which would never have been "brought out" quite so vividly or specifically. Such things enrich our experience of the human condition-- not only vicariously, but even when it comes to our own experience, because (for example) some experience in our own life might be "Spielbergian" and his movies might help us to fully appreciate-- either as it is happening or in retrospect. If we lack culture, we are in danger of falling into the situation described by T.S. Eliot: "We had the experience, but we missed the meaning".

And yet pop culture, on the whole, is significantly cruder and more stylized than pre-pop culture. Superhero movies just aren't the same as the writings of John Henry Newman, for instance. The band of human experience with which they are dealing is so much narrower.

Nor do I want to give the impression that culture is all about works of art. It's not. It's as much about history, theology, folklore, social debates, philosophy, and so forth.

Another impression I want to avoid is that I somehow feel myself exempt from this. By no means! To be honest, I think I might be slightly more "cultured" in this sense than the guy sitting next to me in the bus (though who knows?). But this only applies in some areas, in my case-- poetry, for example. If a writer throws off the phrase, "never glad confident morning again", I know it's a reference to Browning's "Lost Leader", and I know exactly the atmosphere and attitude he's trying to evoke. But then, when it comes to a reference to classical music, I'm lost. I have no appreciation of it whatsoever. There is a whole aspect to the human condition that I am going to die without ever having known, as lamentable as dying without ever having seen sunlight. To take an example, the Newman biography mentions that Cardinal Manning (I think) was converted to Catholicism by hearing Don Giovanni. This means nothing to me, and that makes me feel (sometimes) quite desolate.

Another example is the classic world, our Graeco-Roman heritage. My ignorance of this is not as absolute as my ignorance of classical music, and I could rectify it-- some day, perhaps, I will. But it would be a massive task.

One of the entries in my purple notebook is the simple sentence fragment: "Radio interview. Everyone when they're students." This refers to an interview I heard on radio (back at a time when I thought I'd blown my own chance to go to college) conducted with a composer of some kind. He was recalling his musical enthusiasms in college and said, "Everybody 's a fan of such-and-such when they're in college". I liked this very much; I liked the idea of a cultural heritage that was not only shared and public, but which even had particular landmarks associated with particular stages in your life.

When I really think about it, the principal advantage of culture is this: it assuages the loneliness at the heart of the human condition. I love the line in the movie Shadowlands; "We read to know that we are not alone." I think that, lacking culture, the loneliness and alienation of the human condition becomes much more painful. There is a famous book about the philosophy of theatre called The Empty Space. I love that title. But I don't like the idea of life and the world as an empty space. I don't find that liberating at all.

Saturday, May 27, 2017


I've been watching more YouTube recordings of Siskel and Ebert At the Movies (while working very hard, I assure you). It appeals to me for all sorts of reasons, right down to the way they talk, move and even dress-- all those cosy sweaters.

There's one part that appeals to me especially; when one of them makes a joke, or a witty comment, and the other one laughs or smiles, almost involuntarily. Because they so often tend to be affectionate sparring partners, these little tributes of spontaneous amusement are particularly touching. It's nice seeing the respect they obviously had for each other.

I love, as well, how familiarly they assume each others' movie knowledge, how familiar they are with each others' views and pet theories, and so forth.

It makes me feel a bit sad, because I've yearned for this kind of camaraderie all my life, but never experienced it. At least, I don't think I've ever experienced. It's true that feeling left out it my natural state, just as Philip Larkin said deprivation was to him what daffodils were to Wordsworth. I remember once lamenting to my office mate, in work, that I'd never shared in the kind of folklore (in-jokes, nicknames, anecdotes, etc.) that I'd always assumed was present, in tropical abundance, in other peoples' lives. He reminded me of all the running jokes and anecdotes the two of us had exchanged. I'd forgotten about that, somehow. (We even have an oft-quoted line from The Office relevant to this subject: "I love inside jokes. I'd love to be a part one some day.")

Just listening to someone talking about something they understand and care about is a pleasure. I love the moment when you realize you've stumbled onto a subject that someone really cares about-- when they start talking passionately about it. It's like emerging from a tunnel into a huge, splendid hall.

(Except if the subject is their kids, of course, or something like that.)

Too Small A World: The Life Of Francesca Cabrini

This is a title that kept catching my eye when I was researching in the Central Catholic Library. It caught my eye partly because of its position on the shelf and the size of the typeface, but I also find it incredibly evocative.

St. Francesca Cabrini was the Italian founder of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who ministered to immigrants in America.

Book titles (and film titles, and other titles) are one of those things where I have to constantly restrain my enthusiasm, because I know other people are less enthusiastic about them than I am. I've written at least one blog post about my favourite titles, but I could write a whole series about them. A long series!

Somehow, an evocative title has a power over my imagination which it's impossible to exaggerate. It makes the world seem a better place, life seem more worth living. Seriously! It's an extraordinary thing.

Anything poetic title with "world" in it tends to excite me. The World is Not Enough, a James Bond film, is another.

Inter-Religious Dialogue

From today's reading:

When Apollos thought of crossing over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote asking the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived there he was able by God’s grace to help the believers considerably by the energetic way he refuted the Jews in public and demonstrated from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

Thank God we live in more enlightened times when such sectarianism is discouraged!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Shared Experience

I was watching (or rather, listening to) a YouTube recording of At The Movies by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. It was their "worst of the year" compilation, and at one point Gene Siskel asks Roger Ebert if he remembers the picture cutting out at the press screening of The Nutcracker Prince. Neither of them made any move to tell the projectionist, as they reckoned it was at least as good that way.

I felt a powerful frisson of pleasure at this anecdote-- I love any kind of shared experience, shared memory. Something that happened and is unrepeatable, that was shared by two or more people but can never be shared by anyone else. There's something delicious about it. But so hard to explain!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Request

I have an overactive mind, and when I'm working at a computer (either in work or at home) I like to listen to stuff on YouTube. It doesn't seem to affect my concentration.

However, I very often run out of stuff to listen to, so I'd love suggestions.

The stuff I'd like is fairly specific:

1) Talking heads, either straight to camera or at a lecture/conference.

2) LONG. I don't have the slightest interest in TED talks or anything under ten minutes.

3) Probably not Catholic. I'm tired of Catholic speakers trying to convince me of something I already believe. I don't want to hear the kazillionth refutation of Sola Scriptura or moral relativism or Richard Dawkins.

4) Preferably, something personal and subjective.

5) Nothing too dry, like economics or architecture or epistemology-- human interest stuff.

My ideal is a vlogger called Millennial Woes. Yes, he's Alt Right, and I disagree with him about a lot of stuff, especially about race. But he's extremely thoughtful and intellectually honest. He talks not only about concepts but memories, experiences, feelings, doubts, many ways, he's a (much more successful) example of what I've been trying to do with this blog. One of my favourite of his videos featured him going through his DVD collection for three hours, choosing what to keep and what to throw out, commenting on the various DVDs and whatever thoughts they inspired in him. So, you know...something opinionated but not too preachy, not too shrill.

You know, I'd be happy to listen to a five hour video by a Milwaukee housewife talking about the life lessons she's learned through the years, and her memories. But it's hard to find such videos.

So....I'm listening.

Right Now

Right now-- at this very moment-- people are sitting in cinemas all over Ireland, all over America, all over the world. They are sitting on the plush red seats, drinking in the scent of popcorn and hotdogs, and (for the most part) utterly losing themselves in the enormous images on the enormous screen.

Personally, I don't think like to think of the packed screenings so much. I like to think of the half-empty or three-quarters empty screenings. In fact, I like to think of those parts of the world where it's early afternoon, as I write this, and people are attending matinee screenings where the cinema itself seems like a little suspended reality of its own, as everybody else shops and drives and works outside. I like to think of matinee screenings in cinemas called the Lux and the Adelphi and the Majestic and other deliciously bombastic names. Thirty years from now, in many cases, they'll still remember the film they're watching now, where they saw it, who they were with.

Right now, at this very moment, people are sitting in pubs all over Ireland, all over the UK. They're sitting in bars in America. They are sitting on the cushioned seats, in the welcoming low light, the golden glow thrown from globe lamps and other fancy subdued lights. Everything around them says: "Welcome! Be comfortable! Take it easy! Don't worry, for now!". They might be talking about the Spanish Civil War, or the Narnia books, or fishing. The conversation seems richer, fuller, because of the tang of alcohol or the low fire in the fireplace or the mellowness of the pub's decorations.

All around Ireland, right now, there are hundreds of miles of country roads, leading from one small town to another small town-- many of them places that were never very famous for anything. Down some of them, a car passes every few moments. Down one of them, perhaps, a boy is walking, dreaming, looking at the horizon. Some of them-- and these are the ones I like to think about the most-- are completely deserted.

All around the world, right now, there are people lying in warm baths, steaming rising from the water, the door locked, cocooned from the world outside for a precious little while.

 I like to meditate on all this. It enriches me, even though it makes not the slightest material difference to my life. It adds to the excitement of that most exciting word, one of the most exciting words in the language-- "world". Because a world can be the world of a warm bath, or the world of a boy's consciousness as he walks along a deserted country road, or the object of discussion between two friends sitting in the White Swan or the Castle Tavern or the Admiral of the Humber.

A Gentle Traditionalist on Youtube

Roger Buck, the writer of the acclaimed books The Gentle Traditionalist and Cor Jesu Sacratissimum (both of which I can eagerly recommend) has launched a YouTube channel.

I think this is a great development. YouTube is where it's at. Sadly, many Catholic channels are either incredibly insipid (on one hand) or downright venomous (on the other). I know from Roger's books that his channel isn't going to be either one of those things. I know that, on the contrary, it will be thoughtful, imaginative, gracious and deep. Please do subscribe to it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Good Post from Edward Feser on Anger

As someone inclined to wrath, I've gone through phases of trying to eradicate anger from my personality entirely. Edward Feser explains how it would be sinful to entirely lack anger, and how the sin of wrath differs from anger.

One of his examples is quite amusing, if you've been following Feser's blog recently:

In light of these facts, opponents of capital punishment, war, and the like are bound to be tempted to conclude that enormous numbers of their fellow citizens are simply depraved. (It does not occur to them that what is in fact going on is that widespread continued support for the death penalty and for just war reflects a residual grasp of the demands of the natural law.) Frustrated by the persistence and popularity of attitudes they regard as immoral, those of what I am calling a “militant pacifist” mindset are bound to become even angrier at these perceived injustices – with a spiral into wrath and its daughters being the sequel.

Indeed, many people who pose as purveyors of peace and love give the consistent impression that they are Angry and Enjoying It!

"But my friend Maolsheachlann is not a parrot, I am glad to say."

An unlikely sentence from a blog post by my friend Roger Buck, which you can read here, where he promotes the Irish Conservatives Forum and describes a recent visit to Dublin:
Evening time in Dublin, I walk and walk the streets – shuddering. I shudder at the crassness, the commercialism I see all around me. And I shudder at the sight of Irish people now utterly submerged in the rhythms of global culture and capitalism (the two are not easily separated!) whereas even a few decades ago the rhythms would have been far, far more referent not to globalism, but to Ireland herself and to the Church.

I shudder at a Dublin that is now, in terms of culture, so little distinguishable from London or Liverpool or Los Angeles. Dublin that was once the outstanding exception to all those other great Anglosphere cities – now apes them.


The Irish Conservatives Forum is doing well-- twenty-three members and quite a few threads going. I hope it continues into the future.

Minding Frank Duff's Language

I've been reading The Woman of Genesis, a book of essays (which were, I think, all originally talks given to Legion of Mary meetings) by Frank Duff, the founder of the Legion of Mary. It's a fascinating book. Duff had a powerful conviction that Catholicism was the true religion and that Catholics had a duty to persuade everybody of this truth. Some of the articles on other religions almost make the reader inclined to titter nervously and look over his shoulder, they are so unabashedly critical and sectarian.

For the purposes of this post, however, I'm more interested in his use of language.

Frank Duff was very long-lived-- he died in 1980 aged ninety-one-- and he was very active almost up to the end. Furthermore, the articles are undated, so it's hard to tell what year any particular article was written in. Nevertheless, his prose style doesn't seem to have changed much over the years.

I was particularly struck by this paragraph (from an article about addiction), as a good example of his style in general:

Of course, fun can seem fast and furious as long as the drink is flowing. In those circumstances, people imagine themselves to be witty and brilliant, but tape-recordings of such outpourings have proved that they are not elevated and can merit to be called drivel.

Reader, does this strike you as very different from a paragraph that might be written today? It strikes me in this way. Indeed, I found myself smiling a little, as I read it. There isn't a single word in it that any writer or speaker would hesitate to use today, and yet the entire thing seems quaint, stiff, stilted. It reminds me of the sort of English spoken by well-educated, upper-class Indians or Pakistanis.

If someone were to write this paragraph today, I imagine it would read something like this: "We all know that, when someone is drunk, they can think that they're being very witty and brilliant. But, when they hear a recording of what they said, they realize that they were actually speaking drivel."

Even the substance of the paragraph is rather odd to our ears. The detail of the tape recorder seems unnecessary, over-elaborate, over-earnest.

Admittedly, Duff had something of a pedantic and stiff prose style, perhaps due to his having been a civil servant. So some of this was down to his own personality, but not all of it.

I'm not lamenting this change. I'm only remarking it. It's fascinating that language can change so significantly, even when it remains entirely intelligible.

Trying to improve my Irish made me very self-conscious of language usage. I found myself wondering first of all how a native Irish speaker would use a particular word or expression, what would "come naturally" to them. Then I wondered what "came naturally" to me speaking English. Once you find yourself wondering what comes naturally, it's hard to get a hold of it. It reminds me of the occasions that someone asks me for the lift code in the library, and I realize that I can't tell them, though I use it all the time-- I key it in entirely through "muscle memory".

The same is true of my writing style. If I'm good at anything (on which subject I'm agnostic), it's probably writing. But when I think about style I go completely to pieces. It's only when I think about the ideas I'm trying to express that I can write-- presuming I can write at all.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Joke

A man went to a counsellor in a state of agitation.

"I've realised in the last few days that I've never loved anybody", he says. "I feel like I'm incapable of love."

"OK, well, let's break this down", says the counsellor. "Tell me about your parents."

"I had the best parents in the world. Loving, supportive, concerned...but I never loved them!"

"Well then", said the counsellor, "are you married?"

"I have a beautiful, caring, devoted wife. But I don't love her!"

"What about children?"

"Two beautiful daughters, everything a father could ask for...but I don't love them either!".

The counsellor extends her sobbing client a tissue and says, "I see. Now, I want you to think very carefully and tell there really and truly nobody in your life that you've ever loved?"

The guy sobs, looks rather embarrased, and says: "It's a bit odd, but my wife's mother. I guess I love my wife's mother."

"I see. Anybody else?"

"My wife's sister. I know it sounds bizarre, but I'm fairly sure I love my wife's sister."

The counsellor smiles and says: "You see then, it's not so bad, after all!"

"How on earth can you say that?"

"Have you never heard? 'Tis better to have loved in-laws than never to have loved at all!".

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Postcard From Switzerland

I got a postcard from a friend in Switzerland today. It showed a picture of two gnomes sitting fishing on the rim of a cup of tea. (I think.) I didn't really understand the picture. if there was any joke or significance to it.

The handwriting on the back was hardly decipherable; something about trees and coming to Dublin in July.

But, turning it round and round in my hands, I found myself marvelling at how much a postcard now means. Somebody has to go into a shop, scan the postcards, choose an appropriate one (appropriate for you), write a message, buy a stamp, and post it. In our age of instant communications, its tangibility and personal nature is so very meaningful.

I guess there's always been a certain sweetness to postcards; certainly, they feature heavily in book and film titles, not to mention song lyrics, which aim for poignancy. ("Hide on the promenade, etch a postcard...") However, now they are more touching than ever.

Capitalism and Human Nature

I dislike the tendency to blame "capitalism" for all the woes of the world because it seems to me that "capitalism", like "heteronormativity", "hierarchy", "patriarchy", "nationalism", and "elitism", is simply a word used to describe human nature, and that trying to change human nature is always a bad idea-- indeed, usually a wicked idea.

Now, I'm not particularly a cheerleader for capitalism. I'm not a partisan of the completely free market or laissez-faire. In fact, if we're going to respect the idea of human nature, then it makes more sense (to me) to accept that there has never been a free market and governments have always "interfered" in the economy. Anarcho-capitalism seems as utopian to me as communism.

I'm all for key industries being nationalised, and quite generous social welfare, and quite heavy regulation of commerce, and so forth. At least, I'm certainly not opposed to such things on principle. I think they have to be argued on a case-by-case basis.

But the idea that the system which exists in every developed country is somehow unnatural, and twisting human nature out of shape, just seems bizarre to me. If capitalism is so unnatural, why does it manifest itself again again, in Singapore and Japan as much as in America and the UK? Indeed, why are most "communist" countries increasingly capitalist? On the other hand, if we're going to play with language so that highly socialised economies like those of Scandinavia are no longer capitalism, then we've departed from the ordinary understanding of the term.

If the desired alternative to capitalism is the Distributist ideal of small farms, small business, etc., then this seems like a pipe dream to me. Indeed, Chesterton hailed Ireland as a successful example of a peasant economy, but this ceased to be the case quite a long time ago, and Ireland relied on emigration to keep this system working for a long time before that.

The Mondragorn Corporation in the Basque country is sometimes hailed as proof that worker-controlled industry can thrive. Well, I'm very pleased by the success of Mondragorn, but it's one corporation, and it exists in a capitalist economy--as Noam Chomsky whinges on its Wikipedia page.

Assuming the abolition of capitalism as the preliminary to achieving your social goals seems to me irresponsible, silly. It's like saying: "That's what I'll do when I win the lottery". Capitalism isn't going to be abolished. Give it up.

I wouldn't like to be misunderstood. I'm all in favour of dreamers and utopians. The world would be poorer without them. I think it adds to the pageantry of life to have tiny microparties who meet in a pub and plot the downfall of world capitalism. But it stops being funny when so many serious intellectuals and writers and film-makers and others participate in such talk.

Also, I'm not saying that economic reforms are impossible. I think economic reforms are inevitable. We'll always have capitalism, but I would like to see a more family-friendly and nation-friendly brand of capitalism. I would make the argument that the social teachings of the Church are aimed at this, rather than some "third way" between capitalism and socialism.

If you have a vision for society (as I think everybody should), I think the great test of it is: can you pursue it now, either by yourself or with a group of others, in the way you live your life? If the only progress you can make towards it is by agitating, by seeking to gain political power, then it's both utopian and probably dangerous.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Strange Comforts

I'm still feeling blue, but I've been finding some comfort in a strange place-- YouTube videos of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's At The Movies show.

They appeal to me for various reasons:

1) They belong to the recent past (eighties and nineties)-- a period I've always found fascinating. I don't mean specifically the eighties and nineties-- I mean whatever the recent past is, relative to now. The recent past isn't history, but it's not the present either. It's a kind of limbo. Somehow, I find that strangely tranquil. The controversies of the moment have died down, but the controversies of history haven't flared up yet. (For instance, it's strange viewing their review of JFK and remembering what a hullaballoo there was about that movie.)

2) I like the fact that they were both Chicago film critics. As my previous post shows, I'm very interested in the concept of place recently-- especially cities and towns. I have a friend who's fascinated with Chicago, though that might have had more to do with the Chicago gal he married.

3) I like the theme music.

4) I like the opening montage, which shows them leaving their respective newspaper offices and going to the cinema. Imagine having, not only one great job, but two great jobs!

5) I like that the show had its own traditions. There's the famous thumbs up and thumbs down, of course, but also the fact that they would say: "Until next week, the balcony is closed" at the end. They also did "worst of the year" and "best of the year" shows.

6) The show incorporates one of my favourite things in the world-- an empty cinema, which serves as its set. Obvious, but effective. In fact, the background images on my computer diary, on my laptop, on my work computer, and even on my gmail are all cinema interiors-- some empty, one with an audience. I like them in both cases, but especially when they're empty-- the idea of a private cinema, or even a private screening, is delicious. I think the mind is a kind of private cinema-- it's my favourite metaphor for consciousness.

Another thing I like is the whole cinema "aesthetic"-- it's so easily evoked. A red upholstered seat evokes the cinema, as does a heavy red curtain, the spotlights on the ceiling, or a stylized projector or movie reel. It's as easily evoked as Christmas, or the horror genre. I love such things. 

7) I like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel themselves. There's something quite avuncular about them.

Interestingly, neither of them were bowled over by Groundhog Day.  They both give it a thumbs up, but they don't speak of it in nearly the sort of adultatory terms they use for some other movies. I had the same reaction-- I liked it at first, but not that much. In fact, Gene Siskel says it "grew on him", presumably in one viewing. I know Roger Ebert's regard for the movie increased over time.
(This is what he wrote in his retrospective review of 2005: "Groundhog Day" is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is. Certainly I underrated it in my original review; I enjoyed it so easily that I was seduced into cheerful moderation. But there are a few films, and this is one of them, that burrow into our memories and become reference points. When you find yourself needing the phrase This is like "Groundhog Day" to explain how you feel, a movie has accomplished something.")

I'm tremendously moved that the last words of Ebert's last blog post, two days before his death, were: "I'll see you at the movies". As someone who didn't believe in an afterlife, I wonder what exactly that meant to him. 

To change subject completely, I tweeted this aphorism today: "With God, suffering is mysterious. Without God, suffering is meaningless." I thought that was quite well put, but it didn't get any reaction. Twitter doesn't seem to like me as much as Facebook did.

Being from Ballymun

I was speaking to someone yesterday about Ballymun, my home suburb of Dublin. I grew up there and I've spent most of my life there. He asked me if I felt any attachment to it and I said, yes, I increasingly feel a strong attachment to it.

He asked me if there was anything distinctive about Ballymun and I cast about, unsuccessfully, for some kind of tangible distinctiveness. It used to be very distinctive, with its brutalist architecture surrounded by large "green spaces", its roaming gangs of kids, its horses, its van-shops. Now, however, that's all gone, and it's pretty much like any other Dublin working-class suburb.

"No", I had to admit, eventually. "Nothing really." 

And yet I feel like a Ballymunner to the tips of my toes. Even the sound of the name is evocative to me, reminding me of Pushkins's excellent couplet:

Moscow; those syllables can start
A tumult in the Russian heart.

I'm also reminded of this O. Henry story, where a snooty cosmopolitan who spends most of the short tale laughing at local pride ends up getting into a bar fight because someone insults his home town.

Maybe all local patriotism is completely irrational.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Friday, May 19, 2017

On Friendship

I couldn't resist the Montaigne-like title.

Somebody left a comment about friendship on one of my posts months ago and I've been meaning to write something about it since. Reading about Aristotle's views on friendship has revived the subject in my mind.

This evening, I've been trying to calculate how many close friends I have. A close friend I would define as somebody I've known for years and with whom I've had innumerable interactions in different situations. (Although that's not the whole of it, but that's the necessary condition. I don't include family either by blood or by marriage-- not that these aren't friends, but it's something different.) I've come up with about half-a-dozen to's hard to "call" sometimes, between whether someone is a close friend or just a good friend.

I'm very slow to call somebody my friend-- not out of choosiness on my part, rather out of bashfulness.

I have other friends, who I wouldn't call close friends, necessarily. And I've had other close friends from whom I've drifted apart, for one reason or another.

For the longest part of my life, I didn't really have friends. I only really began to make lasting friends in my mid-twenties. I'm thirty-nine now. 

In my childhood, I had no friends at all, being very withdrawn, and this has had a lasting effect on me, making me very introspective. In my teens, I made sort-of friends in the neighbourhood, mostly through taking part in informal soccer games. I'm not in touch with any of them now, though. I had no friends in school, though after leaving school I had transient friendships with some old school acquaintances. My class in college was so small that we were all quite friendly, but I'm no longer in touch with any of them.

It was only when I started working that I made lasting friends-- and before the lasting friends, I had some transient work friendships which were quite intense at the time, but which are now entirely finished. I was a bit of a lost soul for a while, so I was eager for confidantes and bosom buddies. I've come to believe that you shouldn't use your friends as confidantes-- it may be embarrassing for them in the short term, it will certainly be embarrassing for you in the long term. Although revealing one's vulnerabilities, to some extent, seems to be a part of friendship.

The funny thing I've noticed about my close friendships is that I never expected them. They just grew up unobserved. Whenever I've tried to make somebody my friend, I've failed miserably. Probably it's the old principle-- people like you most when you're not trying too hard, when you're not aiming to impress.

Another thing I notice about my close friends is the element of impersonality involved. The best conversations I've had with all of them are the least personal, the least emotional. Indeed, for a long time I had a weekly get-together with one friend (a philosopher) where we would discuss some topic almost in the formal, forensic manner of a college tutorial. The worst part of small talk is not that it's trivial-- the worst part of small talk is that it's so intrusive and personal. Indeed, I've started pretty much telling small talk merchants to mind their own bloody business.

Humour and friendship are very closely linked, I think. One of the first "moves" in a friendship is when somebody makes a daring joke, guessing the other won't take it amiss. It seems to be a kind of trust offering, a leap of faith. Whimsy is another important theme, I think. Certainly, with me, one of the first "soundings" I take with anybody is to say something rather bizarre and inconsequential and see how they take it. If they run with it, I like them. If they focus on the bizarreness and inconsequentiality...not so much.

Well, maybe I haven't said anything particularly profound. The ambiguity of friendship fascinates me, but I don't know how to expand on it. Perhaps in some future post. But I do think friendship is one of life's greatest gifts, and one I'm glad I eventually came to enjoy.

Showing my Colours

I just put up this image as a poster on my office wall.

That'll confuse 'em. Ha ha ha!

I'm tolerant. I like peace. I like colours. I don't particularly like nuclear bombs. Works for me.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

My Irish Conservative Forum has taken off in a big now has EIGHTEEN (18) members and several good discussions going.

However, we all know that everything that's really fun is over eighteen, so anyone who wishes to join....well, here is your invitation. 

The counter-revolution starts here! Do you want to be a part of it? Of course you do!

The Alt Right, Trump and Democracy

The Alt Right are generally anti-democracy. In this regard, they are similar to many people on the further reaches of the right, including many conservative Catholics.

The Alt Right were enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump-- that is, until his air-strike on Syria, when they began to lose their enthusiasm for him. Some of them disavowed him entirely.

These handful of facts express why I can't be anti-democratic, even if I wanted to be (which I don't). Let's say Trump had been a dictator instead of a democractically-elected President-- which the Alt Right would presumably be all in  favour of. What would they do, then, when he disappointed them? What is the mechanism of getting rid of your philosopher king if he turns out to be all king and no philosopher?

People say democracy is just an illusion of control and the unwashed masses are conditioned by...fill in the blank. Well, maybe. But does that mean having outright despotism is somehow better? Doesn't democracy have some curbs on arbitrary power?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

On People Being Pathetic

I'm an incredibly irritable and cantankerous person. Not outwardly, so much, because I try to suppress it, but inwardly. I'm annoyed and infuriated by my fellow human beings dozens of times a day-- sometimes (perhaps usually) for something completely innocuous, such as the snicker on someone's face or the predictability of a comment.

I'm trying to overcome this tendency within myself, but it's a big battle.

Funnily enough, the times when I feel the most spontaneous shame for it is when I see my fellow human beings as pathetic-- including myself (usually myself in the past). Then I genuinely feel for them and feel bad I ever scorn them.

I had a friend once who told me about a friend of her own, who had adopted two little girls from a background of extreme poverty. She said that, the first night she put them to bed, she noticed as they were sleeping that they were both holding onto the shiny wrapping paper in which she had given them some kind of chocolates earlier. They'd never owned anything and so they held onto this. I found this story very affecting, and illustrative of the human condition.

It reminds me of this passage from Chesterton's Manalive, which I've only read once:

"Why are children not afraid of Santa Claus, though he comes like a thief in the night? He is permitted secrecy, trespass, almost treachery—because there are more toys where he has been. What should we feel if there were less? Down what chimney from hell would come the goblin that should take away the children's balls and dolls while they slept? Could a Greek tragedy be more gray and cruel than that daybreak and awakening? Dog-stealer, horse-stealer, man-stealer—can you think of anything so base as a toy-stealer?'

"The burglar, as if absently, took a large revolver from his pocket and laid it on the table beside the decanter, but still kept his blue reflective eyes fixed on my face.

"`Man!' I said, `all stealing is toy-stealing. That's why it's really wrong. The goods of the unhappy children of men should be really respected because of their worthlessness. I know Naboth's vineyard is as painted as Noah's Ark. I know Nathan's ewe-lamb is really a woolly baa-lamb on a wooden stand. That is why I could not take them away. I did not mind so much, as long as I thought of men's things as their valuables; but I dare not put a hand upon their vanities.'

It also reminds me of this poem by Coventry Patmore, which I can only read through tears:

The Toys

My little Son, who look'd from thoughtful eyes
And moved and spoke in quiet grown-up wise,
Having my law the seventh time disobey'd,
I struck him, and dismiss'd
With hard words and unkiss'd,
His Mother, who was patient, being dead.
Then, fearing lest his grief should hinder sleep,
I visited his bed,
But found him slumbering deep,
With darken'd eyelids, and their lashes yet
From his late sobbing wet.
And I, with moan,
Kissing away his tears, left others of my own;
For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-vein'd stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
So when that night I pray'd
To God, I wept, and said:
Ah, when at last we lie with tranced breath,
Not vexing Thee in death,
And Thou rememberest of what toys
We made our joys,
How weakly understood
Thy great commanded good,
Then, fatherly not less
Than I whom Thou hast moulded from the clay,
Thou'lt leave Thy wrath, and say,
"I will be sorry for their childishness."

Newman Lecture in Central Catholic Library

An email from the CCL:

Dear Members and Friends,

Later this month,  the library will host a lecture entitled  “The Personalism of John Henry Newman”. The lecture has been organised jointly by the UCD School of Philosophy and the International Centre for Newman Studies. The speaker is Professor John Crosby, who teaches in the Department of Philosophy, Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio. Professor Crosby’s research centres on the development of Christian Personalism, a social and philosophical movement which originated in nineteenth-century Europe, and which places great emphasis on the value of the person as the key notion that gives meaning to reality.

The date is May 30th, time 4pm, place 74 Merrion Square.  

Registration is free, but places are limited. To reserve a place, please contact Margaret Brady at the UCD School of Philosophy, email:

We look forward to welcoming you to this event.

Teresa Whitington
Central Catholic Library

Europe and Me

I was going to title this quick post, "The Faith Isn't Europe and Europe Isn't the Faith", but I don't know how many people would get the Bellocian reference and it's not really the nub of what I'm talking about.

I wrote about the story of Father Solanus Casey reaching the Capuchin monastery through snowfall on Christmas Eve a couple of days ago. That story really enchanted me. In fact, as I was reading about it on one web page, and re-watching another YouTube interview about Fr. Solanus that I'd seen many months ago, I had something of a "purple notebook" moment (although purple notebook moments can only ever be verified afterwards; the purple owl spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk).

Part of the reason I found Fr. Solanus's story so moving is because it combines the permanence and sublimity of the Faith, with all its lofty associations, with the familiarity of American references; Yonkers, Harlem, street car operator, and so forth.

And musing on this, it occurs to me that I'm completely cold to the romance and glamour of "Europe". Yes, I know Ireland is geographically in Europe, but I mean the continent, and especially the Romance-speaking lands. The sight of a piazza or a cobbled street doesn't excite me one bit; to be honest, it kind of depresses me. And all those relentless blue skies...

I had my honeymoon in Germany, France, Italy and Austria. They were nice, know, they were nice.

The same is true of European history. I'm afraid I find the High Middle Ages to be a crashing bore. All those principalities and duchies and royal families just make my head swim. As a monarchist and a localist and a Catholic, I should probably view this as a golden age, but I don't.

I love Ireland, and I love England, and I love America.

Ireland; smoky photographs of Brendan Behan, Michael Collins, and Eamon De Valera in dark pubs; sausages, rashers and white pudding; tea, tea, tea; green fields, real or imagined; a kind of endearing awkwardness in the populace, right down to how we carry ourselves; the Irish mammy; the cult of heroic failure.

England; Big Ben; Carry On movies; the eccentric vicar with a model railway in his backyard; ghost stories featuring donnish middle-aged men who cycle from cathedral town to cathedral town; the cult of heroic failure; names like "Hampden" and "Bromley" and "Coventry"; bleary seventies movies where everybody and everything looks tired, dishevelled and worn-out.

America; the Budweiser Clysedales; Target stores; Macy's parade; flat, square buildings and low skylines; extreme weather; a sense of enormous space; a sense that even outdoors is somehow like indoors, people are so relaxed and unselfconscious; a kind of respect for everybody's personal projects, and an eagerness to talk about them (tell an American person some project you have, and they take it seriously); more than anything, gusto.

I'm also rather drawn to Japanese and Russian culture, what little I know of them. I told this to my sister and she said: "I've noticed people who are drawn to Russian culture are usually also drawn to Japanese culture." Perhaps it's their unapologetic insularity.

But Europe leaves me cold.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Great Indoors

When I have more time, I want to write a lengthy blog post with this title.

I love the indoors. I greatly prefer the indoors to the outdoors. Being a conservative, I tend to like boundaries, barriers, and divisions. I'm fascinated by the fact that, once you divide an enclosed space with a wall, you've created two new spaces.

This reflection arsies from a dream I had just now. Actually the dream is a recurring dream. It was set in the old Ballymun, which was divided into flats (four-storey and seven-storey apartment blocks, one of which I lived in) and towers (fourteen stories high). The recurring dreams comes in different varieties, but in one variety I am inside of the towers (which I didn't know so well) and surprised that it has all kinds of facilities I didn't know about. In this dream, one of the floor contained an indoor cinema, which was furnished like an ordinary cinema, had its own shop, and so forth.

Cinemas are one of my favourite places, perhaps even my favourite place of all. The background image on my email is a cinema audience. The wallpaper of the desktop I'm writing on now is an empty cinema. I love cinemas not only because I love movies but because they are windowless, self-contained. I also like supermarkets and swimming pools for the same reason.

Sometimes I get the reputation of a contrarian. There are constant complaints from the staff in the library where I work about the lack of windows and natural light. I remember, at one meeting on the subject, I said: "But I like the lack of windows!" Everyone thought it was just me being contrarian again.

I love the library because it's so big. Every now and again, I like to pause during my work-day and reflect that there are five floors around me full of different rooms, in each of which different things are happening, but they are all the same unit. I find this almost mystical. It's part of the pleasure of patriotism and the pleasure of family. Indeed, I hope it's not irreverent to invoke the words of our Lord himself: "In my father's house, there are many rooms."

I've occasionally toyed with the idea of writing a fantasy novel set entirely indoors, in an indoors or underground world. How this would work, I'm not so sure. The need for food and ventilation is a problem.

Don't get the impression I'm a pasty-faced troglodyte who never goes out and who hates the sun. I do like the outdoors sometimes, particularly when it snows or in wintry weather. Indeed, I wrote this poem to express my occasional passion for the city streets. I walk at least twenty minutes every day, often considerably more. But indoors is definitely my first love.

Monday, May 15, 2017

I Love, Love, Love, Love, Love This

I quite like this story about Fr. Solanus Casey (known to his family as Barney), cut and pasted from another website. It describes how, at a time when he was wondering which religious order to join, he decided on the Capuchins:

After Holy Communion, Barney distinctly heard the Blessed Mother telling him, “Go to Detroit” where the Capuchins were – and still are – headquartered.

Without question, Barney departed through a snowstorm for three days to arrive at the monastery door of St. Bonaventure on Christmas Eve. Exhausted from the trip, he fell asleep, but was awakened by the sound of bells and singing wafting through the air which was pungent with incense. With joy, Barney jumped from his nap and joined the procession to the chapel for Midnight Mass. In the years afterward, he would tell of the profound happiness of that night.

This story has so many things I love:

1) A dramatic situation.

2) Snow 

3) Christmas.

4) Discomfort followed by a reward. I've also written in praise of discomfort here.

5) Voices in the air, my favourite noise.

I'm not surprised he loved the story.

Mind you, this kind of thing works best with snow. In Ireland we have rain, and the worst sort of rain-- drizzle. Dispiriting, but not adverse enough to be bracing.


Annoying Habits of Hagiographers

Since I've been researching a books on saints, I've spent a lot of time reading hagiographies recently.  Once upon a time, hagiographers were notorious for making up stories out of whole cloth. But for the last hundred years or so, the principal sin of hagiogaphers is sheer waffle. It's amazing how many pages of hagiographies are filled, not with facts about the saint, or even with background facts relevant to the saint's life, but with general observations about the human condition and with confident reports of what was passing through the mind of the saint at a given time. I keep on wanting to ask the writers; how do you know this, exactly?

Also annoying is the sardonic, knowing, world-weary tone that the hagiographer often adopts when writing about the sins and shallowness of the ordinary man or woman, as contrasted with the saint. Even when the writer is applying it to themselves, it's maddening.

But let me return to the "uncanny insight" side of things. In an article on soon-to-be-Blessed Solanus Casey (who died in 1957), written by a relatively youthful Catholic apologist who I won't name, I came across this sentence:

“We have to put God on the spot,” he’d say with an Irish twinkle in his eyes."

Really? Did the author see the "Irish twinkle" himself? Did someone tell him about it? Rrrr!