Living in a world with evil

One of the side effects of the seeming secularization of modern society is the loss of an intimate sense of the presence of evil, a force that subverts and undermines the essential dignity of each person. Because most people no longer have the ability to feel the presence of evil, it becomes much easier to trivialize it, to make it a bit of entertainment. When it escapes our machines of digital imagination, we sit stunned and incapable of processing the experience.

Two recent events seem to make vivid the presence of evil forces, the shooting in Colorado and the bombing in Bulgaria. In each the bounds of civilization seem to have come untethered and the harsh reality of the evil forces invade the sanguine sanctum of modern life.


On my first Solemnity of St. Joseph with the boy around

This gallery contains 17 photos.

It seems fitting that the closest church to the office is the cathedral for the Diocese of Columbus, St. Joseph’s. In the first year of my fatherhood, I’ve had the opportunity to walk down on various occasions. I received the … Continue reading

Standing at the Walls

I spent fifteen years toying with the notion that I would some day become a college professor. I never took a truly applied course. Oh I took the ‘applied’ courses offered by non-applied disciplines, but never a business course or something of that ilk. I didn’t even take any physical education or silly (most aren’t but you could fulfill the requirement with one) fine arts courses.

I knew pretty much from day one that academia wasn’t a growth industry, certainly not in any of the topics I ever wanted to study. I enjoyed the mental gymnastics of a really good classroom discussion. Unfortunately, I had more of those in grades 7-12 than I did in undergrad and even for stretches of grad school. I believed I wanted to live the life of the mind. I had romantic notions of the college experience. I never it found in the large state universities of Ohio (or some of the other places I’ve since been).

I never quite fit. I still don’t. I was too middle class in early grade school. I wasn’t from the right family for the rest of grade school. I wasn’t from the right neighborhood in high school. I wasn’t a local and I was trying to have a liberal arts experience at a large, urban, public university, so I didn’t fit. I was too interested in religion and rather different in my politics in grad school. I just didn’t quite fit. I didn’t fit because I didn’t much care to. I did care and would have liked to have more relationships left from that time, but I didn’t care to enough.

Columbus, Ohio

And so I’ve circled the walls of academia, never quite willing to wear the uniform and march in the right step to make my way in. Right now, I’m standing in one of the outlying villages. We have cleaner air and better sanitation, though the risk of pillaging is much higher.

Columbus, Ohio


Lent 2012

What brings me back here?

The same thing that has brought me back so intermittently over the last few years, I need to write. I don’t particularly enjoy writing. It is hard. More importantly, it takes practice.

Today, I went to Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in downtown Columbus. Life has changed too much after the last two years. There are certainly many blessings that have come by way, but time is starting to like grasping at sand.

This won’t be a journal, because I am not a journaler. It will not be a place for formal academic thought, but I don’t often think that way anymore. It will be more considered than my twitter feed or the things I choose to note on facebook. It will be more than my tumblr.

What is my vocation? How can I live my vocation? How can I truly live up to ad majorem dei gloriam?

Columbus, Ohio

What are the stories I need to tell? What needs to be critically interrogated? Where will my voice come from? Where can I make a substantial and lasting contribution?

I once wrote a lot of stuff that was little more than brain vomit. I tried a couple times to write something more than that, but that never lasted. I was going to be an intellectual. I was going to have something to say about the way the world should be.

I am a father.

I am a husband.

I am a son and grandson.

I happen to own a house and have a job working to spread the digital humanities.

I wanted to serve God totally, but I became those things instead. I can certainly be those things and still serve God.

St. Joseph Cathedral, Broad St., Columbus, Ohio

May Flowers

Oh my!  The good writing blog turned a year old and I didn’t even notice it.

Some of the writing here did get the juices going so the dissertation could get finished.

Since I don’t know what is next, I’m not sure where this blog is headed next. I’ve got a hankering to get back into the Catholic Telegraph and American Israelite copies that are taking up space on my shelves. I may digitize some of that and actually do a little public history-ing. Somewhere in me is still the political theorist that went into hibernation 10 years ago. So perhaps, I’ll head back in that direction. I definitely will only do posts that are at least 250 words here.

This is a picture taken this spring at Inniswood Park in Westerville. When I take pictures there are rarely people in them. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid people showing up in my pictures. I’ve always wanted my writing to come alive with the visceral stories of real people. It rarely happens. I write most often at a distance from individual experience.

This picture was taken a few days ago in downtown Columbus near the Southern Theater. I was headed to an Eighth Blackbird concert. A homeless man was setting up his sleeping bag for the night below the lower left hand corner of the picture.

It was a cold and snowy. It has now become a warm and wet year in the Valleys of the Beautiful River.

Good night!

An Autobahn Lane

Driving back and forth across the interstates of Ohio has taken up more of my life than I’d like to admit. First, it was trips along I-75 between Cincinnati and Toledo, while I was in undergrad – Botkins, Anna Minster, the suicide turn at Sugar towers at Findlay, and on across windswept Northern Ohio. It got so bad I literally had panic attacks before setting off on a trip. Women took me back and forth between Cincinnati and Toledo, Cincinnati and Cleveland, and Cincinnati and Dayton. Then came long drives that had only begun in Ohio and finally ended – with long stretches in the Old Dominion. Now, I’ve returned have once again had to drive back and forth along Ohio Interstates, now from the capital city to the city-state of Cincinnatus. All that driving, well it makes one get a little addled.

Over at UrbanOhio , I shared one of those thoughts that come along when you’re floating along at 72 with the cruise set because Ohio’s revenue enhancement force is out in full and I’ve made enough contributions to them over the years.
I’ve included these thoughts below:

I actually think the way to start tolling the interstates is with an autobahn lane – mostly it would useful for well-traveled rural intercity spots – 71 would be a prime example – but I could see 65 between Indy and Chicago as another example. Trucks would be verboten. I’d probably have it gated but no actual toll booths, you could only enter every few miles and your time spent on the road would be gathered with road sensors, GPS, and perhaps some extended version of the existing toll transponders. To use the lanes, I’d probably also include a special inspection with fees that okay your car for extended high speed travel.

The idea is that one lane would be high speed (I’d guess 100 mph, but even 85 or 90 mph. would be okay). However, the lane would tolled according to the full price of the lane – which would include construction costs, extra police and emergency that comes with higher speed, and a gas tax penalty that driving over 70/75 brings in terms gas usage in most cars.

The carrot is to give people the opportunity to get where they want to go ASAP, while at the same time beginning to condition the population to the full cost of the current road system.

Getting back up on the horse

Somehow time has moved from March to October and this blog hasn’t been updated. Oddly, the readership has started to pick up in recent days – which is nice – so I figured I’d try to start writing regularly again. I also need to get into a writing place so I can finally knock off the last bit of the dissertation and move on with my life. I don’t really have any specific topics in mind at the moment so perhaps I’ll take a few small bites at a time. If you are interested in what I’m reading that’s interesting head over to my other blog – Cincinnati’s Philly Historian.

Bite one: Honduras – I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Honduras on a student exchange nearly twenty years and have long had a place in my heart for that country. It has been heart-wrenching to see the problems they’ve had to confront over the last decade continue to fester – first Mitch and now the Zelaya crap. From my perspective, the failure of our current administration to support the Honduran people and stand up to Chavez and his cronies is one of the singular betrayals of American values that has occurred over the last couple decades, up there with the more extreme responses to 9/11. This attitude toward our neighbors is one of the key reasons I couldn’t buy into the hopey-change change and why I’m relieved more everyday that Kerry is still in the Senate.

Bite two: The Reds – The season ends today, which is sad. I’m actually not upset with their record. My hope for the season was that they would hang around .500, but I also hoped they would avoid a swoon that cause me to lose interest again. Unfortunately mid-June through early-August was really ugly and I stopped paying attention. I think this team has some potential for next year if they can unload a contract or two and have the kids mature another year. I’d be happy with a solid second place next year.

Bite three: Polanski – Dirty old men don’t deserve the kind of defense this guy is getting. It was the ’70s is not an excuse.

Bite four: Rail in Ohio – We gotta get it done. It won’t solve all of Ohio’s problems, but I do think it can better tie the state together than I-71 does at the moment and it gives folks a serious alternative to driving. I’d also expect that investment in rail would drive eventual further investment in higher quality local mass transit as people find its value grows with a more complete system. Nein on Nine, Cincinnati. Fundamentally this is about connecting Columbus to the national passenger rail system and if that is going to happen then it needs to be connected to the north and south and thus 3C. I truly don’t understand the right wing opposition to rail based passenger transit. It is so much more pleasant to use than road based systems and it provides the potential for new nodes of growth which clearly Ohio needs. Don’t be stupid, support rail transit.

Bite five: The Crew – I’m annoyed they lost last night. It’s sounds like it was a game they should have at least drawn. I’ve really enjoyed becoming a bigger fan of them over the last couple years and its been a great excuse to cook good food for good friends that I wouldn’t get a chance to see otherwise.

Alright, I think that is a decent start. Maybe I’ll try to write here in the morning instead of my usual routine and see if that gets the finishing the dissertation juices flowing. As always, ad maiorem dei gloriam.

To Read

This is coming a bit late. Nonetheless, onward.

Even though I fashion myself a writer that really isn’t true. I am now and have been for many years a reader first. I read pretty much constantly. Unfortunately, I have something of a short attention span so I can fly through many articles – academic, journalistic, and otherwise – but attacking a book can be daunting. I had no problem reading enough of a book to get the gist for grad school purposes, but to really dig into a full-length monograph has never really excited me.

I started reading a little late. I came first to the sports page and the backs of baseball cards. There I practiced and eventually became quite good at reading. Starting off in those formats cast the die of my style of reading. I read for the new, that which tickles the brain as having a different angle, new insight, and just the freshness of the next game. Going over plowed ground sends me running. This, I acknowledge, is not an especially laudable cast of mind.

I think one of the best discriptions of the life of the historian was passed along by a favorite European history professor in grad school, when asked to describe what historians do, he said roughly they read and then they keep reading and read so more and then eventually they might begin to write. Good history takes the reading that comes first seriously. One of the weaknesses of history not grounded in the text is that it quickly becomes clear that the historian hasn’t done enough reading. Now, some historians fall prey to opposite temptation, they can’t stop reading and thus never create something for the public.

This question of reading seems to a real challenge for educators. It seems so obvious that if you teach a person to read and read well that it opens up nearly all areas of knowledge. If you can’t read well no amount of instruction will overcome that fundamental lack. The goal is match the student with the sort of reading that sparks the imagination and draws them further in – this rarely happens in school, sadly.

Reading isn’t just about words though. One of the most interesting small schools of historical work looks at how people read the ‘city.’ The pedestrian city (automobile cities are different) were filled with spaces dominated by words competing for attention. How the people came to make sense of that panoply of words scattered around have provided rich source material to reflect on all sorts of issues about changes in the economy, politics, and culture – at least until the rise of radio and later visual mediums that placed the viewer in a more passive relationship.

Off to consider more the place of the school in the narrative of urban crisis of the late postwar era.


To write

I have kept up a blog for many moons, but it was never really much of anything besides a list of the mildly interesting links. I’m going to try something new here. Once a week, I will actually write something of value about the world today or history or what have you.

I’m starting this in what will hopefully be my final quarter as a graduate student. I will open each week’s note with a update on my progress and by June, I hope to have the final 2 chapters mostly written and head off into the summer by putting the finishing touches on this damnable dissertation.

My plan is start on Mondays by penning a post and then get to work on the dissertation immediately following. My intention is also to read less, think more, and actually do some serious writing. Obviously, this is a little late on Monday, but better late than never.

Things I have been working on in dissertation world. I am in the middle of my chapter on the problem of public (and to a lesser extent parochial) education during Philadelphia’s urban crisis. One of the first things that jumps out is that American education has been in a continual state of crisis for most of the century. The  discussion of the system seems to presume some degree of failure to achieve the goals necessary for a successful American society.

In looking at Philadelphia’s own history, one of the seemingly glaring issues is that at the same time that the district had supposedly been a ramshackle failure in the post-war period, this was also the same moment when the city’s Jewish community had its foundest of memories of its beneficial effect on their lives. The transformation of Overbrook High School seems to be one of the more representative institutions. It had been one of central Jewish institutions in western Philadelphia, but beginning in the mid-60s it underwent a quick transition from white and Jewish to mostly African-American. In that short time, the school went from having one of the best reputations in the city and even the nation to becoming a symbol of the failures of the Phila. School District to do its job. Figuring out how that circle got squared is at the top of list of things to do this week and next.

On an entirely unrelated note, it is pretty cool that Cincinnati’s riverfront is probably being transformed more right now with the new building for Great American Insurance and the construction of foundations of a new neighborhoods at the Banks (or Roeblingville – I like the sound of it).

I wish I had more to say about Columbus and Westerville, but I haven’t been able to really get passionately involved in the culture and history of the town yet. It does seem like there is plenty space in the Columbus area for some serious history work to be done. It doesn’t really have the accessible and constantly retold narratives that Cincinnati does. It part it derives from not have reached a peak of influence only to see it drift away as the centuries float by.

The title of this blog does refer in some way to the fact the Ohio River seems to flow through my bones (and its chemicals have probably left traces all through my body). Columbus and Westerville, while not having the same intimacy with the Ohio River as Cincinnati, remain towns in the broad and beautiful Ohio Valley. Honestly, I’m not sure there as an area of the country as beautiful and diverse as the Ohio River Valley. The picture atop this blog is from the Steamwheeler Monument near Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati looking across the Ohio River to Kentucky. Below is nice picture that shows all the places that send their drops of water into the Valley of the Beatiful River.

Ohio River Drainage Basin