Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Colorado.

This post comes to you from Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House in Sedalia, Colorado, about an hour south of Denver. I’m here for the Arrupe Experience, a period of intensely focused spiritual preparation for priesthood which Jesuit scholastics throughout the world are expected to complete before ordination, typically after the first or second year of theological studies. The Arrupe Experience includes an eight-day silent retreat (which will start in a couple of days) as well as some days of reading, reflection, and conversation focused on priestly identity and its place in the life of the Society of Jesus.

More informally, the Arrupe Experience also provides an opportunity to renew relationships with Jesuit contemporaries whom one has come into contact with at earlier points in formation but may not have seen for a while; the group I’m with now includes some of my novitiate classmates as well as some of my confreres from philosophy studies at Fordham. There are about forty of us here in Sedalia, hailing from four continents and representing all three of the Jesuit theological centers in North America (Berkeley, Boston, and Toronto). This blog will remain silent for the next couple of weeks, with an update of some sort hopefully coming after the Arrupe Experience is over. In the meantime, prayers for all of us would be much appreciated. AMDG.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

May we be strengthened by his presence...

Some readers of this blog know that St. Benedict of Nursia is my favorite saint, and some - though fewer - also know that I carry the Medal of St. Benedict in my pocket. It seems opportune to share a photo of this medal today given that this is the Feast of St. Benedict, which is actually the Feast of the Translation of the Relics of SS. Benedict and Scholastica ("translation" in this case referring to a time when the remains of these saints had to be moved from one monastery to another to protect them from invaders). May I commend this explanation of the medal and its symbolism to your attention?

Some readers may recall that I made my annual retreat last year at a Benedictine monastery, and the monks there are in my thoughts and prayers today. I also pray for all members of the Benedictine family and for all who take inspiration from the example and Rule of St. Benedict. To borrow a prayer from the Medal of St. Benedict, Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death! AMDG.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Remembering Thad's Steak House.

"The men wore suits and the ladies wore dresses. The ambiance was elegant and the roast prime rib was famous." These are the opening words of an article published in today's edition of the New Bedford Standard-Times profiling 89-year-old Thaddeus "Ted" Irzyk, owner of Thad's Steak and Seafood House, a landmark New Bedford restaurant that closed just over a decade ago. What kind of place was Thad's? It was a place where "[t]he men wore suits and the ladies wore dresses," but it was more than that, as the Standard-Times noted around the time of the restaurant's closing:
In its heyday in the 1960s and '70s, Thad's was arguably New Bedford's most elegant restaurant, the venue of choice for family functions and political fund-raisers. Baseball legend Ted Williams once ate there, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy made several visits, governors and other dignitaries spoke at grand functions. Nearly every mayor since the 1960s held gatherings there. When the tall ships came to New Bedford in 1976, Thad's was where the crew of a Polish ship ate many a meal.
Despite being a New Bedford fixture for nearly four decades, Thad's was done in by changing demographics (at the time of the closing, the owner's son commented that customers had "been dying off or moving away") and changing tastes (as Ted Irzyk says in today's Standard-Times, "People don't dine anymore... They eat. They're two very different things"). I recall trying to go to Thad's for lunch not long after the restaurant's imminent closing had been announced and being told that they weren't serving that day because the manager and the cook had not come in. In other words, it seemed, they had given up.

I was sad to see Thad's go, and reading the profile of Ted Irzyk in today's paper inclines me to wax nostalgic. Thad's was a restaurant where I dined frequently with my family as I was growing up, and I can affirm that the place exuded a sort of mid-century luxury that spoke to the Greatest Generation's idea of the good life; as I once wrote on my old blog, the decor, music, and people that one found there "made a trip to Thad's feel vaguely like a visit to the set of The Lawrence Welk Show." Remembering Thad's now, I find that what stands out in my mind are small details, like the wall of framed reviews, awards, and commendations by the entrance, or the fact that they sold sets of postcards with views of the restaurant's exterior and interior (how many eateries would do that today, I wonder?). I remember members of the staff who worked there for years, some of whom my family and I still reminisce about. I also recall that it was not uncommon to see groups of priests dressed in clerics having dinner together at Thad's; I have a suspicion that Thad's may have offered the Catholic clergy some kind of discount or even free meals, which reminds me that the American Catholic culture which seems largely to have vanished still retained something of a foothold during my youth.

As I remember Thad's, I also think of other restaurants and businesses that my family and I used to visit, many opened in the same era and with a similar time-warped ambiance. I think, too, of places that I never visited but often went by, places that somehow comforted me with their enduring presence and that I strangely miss now that they're gone. Remembering Thad's in particular, part of me wonders whether the place might have enjoyed a kind of revival had its owners hung on for a few more years: I can imagine Thad's having an appeal for the local hipsters who now patronize other old-timey establishments like Gilda's Stone Rooster. Everything has its time and place, yet it seems that what was once popular often becomes popular again. AMDG.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

On the demise of Google Reader.

After a generally successful eight-year run, the well-known RSS feed reader Google Reader disappeared into the ether yesterday. The only public rationale that Google has offered for the decision to retire the much-used Reader was that "usage has declined," though the real reason seems to be that the free service wasn't making money for the company (which isn't to say that Google is hurting financially: the company raked in over $3 billion in net profits in the first quarter of 2013). In truth, as TechCrunch writer Sarah Perez commented shortly after the plan to phase out Google Reader was announced, Google "is now systematically shutting down products which don’t fulfill its core missions: search, social, ads. On these fronts, Google Reader just doesn’t deliver."

The demise of Google Reader leaves a void that will not easily be filled. Over the last few months, I have heard some tech industry types try to spin the decision to kill Google Reader by dismissing RSS feed readers as passé and claiming that Twitter and Facebook should be seen as adequate substitutes. In truth, Twitter and Facebook are not substitutes for Google Reader because the services that they provide isn't even remotely similar. As the aforementioned Sarah Perez writes in a quasi-obituary for Google Reader published yesterday, there was a lot that one could do with Google Reader that one cannot do with social media sites like Twitter and Facebook:
. . . Google Reader was special because it was one of the last remaining places on the Internet you could really call your own. In every other way, the nature of news reading on the web these days and the social services that now dominate your attention are crafted by others who dictate what you will read and when. Whether browsing through an editorially run news site, parsing your Twitter stream or reading your Facebook news feed, the links before you are those that others have deemed important.

There’s value in this signal, of course — a sense of what’s trending in the larger world allows for serendipitous discovery. But it’s also a relinquishing of control. Oh sure, you can choose who to follow, but it’s not the same as choosing which news sources’ feeds you will subscribe to, why, and how often you will read them.

In Google Reader, I’ve gleefully stuffed websites into collections like “B-List” and “C-List” and “Can’t Miss” and “Panic Button,” instead of more proper names like “top tech sites” or “Apple bloggers.” It’s my decision which headline collections get scanned with a glance, and which writers will see me devouring their every word.

Meanwhile on Twitter, every missive is as important as the one that preceded it. A photo of your cat. News from the war. A beautiful sunset on Instagram. A government overthrown. It’s a real-time firehose of information that you dip into as you can. There’s no unread count. You just refresh and refresh and refresh for more.
I started using Google Reader daily in the fall of 2009, after one of my students at Saint Joseph's University mentioned it to me and suggested that I give it a try. Google Reader greatly simplified the task of keeping up with the few dozen blogs that I then had bookmarked in a 'favorites' folder on my Internet browser, conveniently aggregating them in a single feed. Google Reader quickly became an important means of organizing and digesting the mass of data that appeared before me each day, especially as the list of blogs on my daily reading list grew longer. I also discovered that Google Reader had become the preferred means by which many others chose to read my own blog, as Google helpfully informed me of the number of subscribers that I had at any given time.

Practically speaking, what does one do after a service that was an unobtrusive but significant part of one's daily life disappears? A fair number of alternative feed readers have appeared to try to take the place of Google Reader, and it seems that some of them are already struggling to meet demand. From what I can tell, the most popular of the Google Reader alternatives is Feedly, which I took a brief look at in March and decided not to adopt (at this writing I'm unable to visit the Feedly website because of apparent capacity problems, so perhaps I made the right decision). The RSS reader that I'm currently using is CommaFeed, which looks and functions enough like Google Reader to make for a relatively easy transition; CommaFeed has its fair share of difficulties - for example, it seems to have trouble with embedded video - but perhaps these will be resolved in time. I am also thinking of giving The Old Reader a try, but I haven't gotten around to it yet. Readers with opinions on such matters are welcome to share their thoughts on the various Google Reader replacements if they wish. For my part, I wish erstwhile Google Reader well as we make our way through the brave new world that has been foisted upon us. AMDG.