August 24, 2016

Images of a Trip


It's like a wake-up from a dream to a dream whenever I get up and open the slatted blinds - like theatrical curtains - to reveal the mood-altering vista of swaying palms and rolling sea.

It's Hilton Head time again and we made the drive in what must be the record time, time made enjoyable in part by the inestimably great Brian Lamb interviewing the inestimably great historian James Robertson, biographer of the inestimably great Gen'l Stonewall Jackson. That's just as good as C-Span gets.

Just now, via the magic of modern technology, I belatedly watched the wunderkind-swimmer Ledecke swim by herself for over half her 800 meter race, looking for all the world like Secretariat at the Belmont. Racing against herself without competition against the best of the world. Incredible.

I then check the WaPo and read an inspiring article about a woman with warts all over her body due to a long-term illness and her body. She learned to love herself despite it, with help of brain injury!

First “fun activity” of the afternoon was a needed run, a purgative thirty minutes on the beach followed by a heady half-hour bike along the dappled Hilton paths. Lushness personified, the trees are covered in vines and look like tall green papier-mâché men. As I age I notice I appreciate dappled light more, such as was found on the ride.

Day 2:

Another interstellarly awesome weather day, though hot as pancakes. “Feels like 99 degrees” offers the weather website. Gust sea air, gust like the wind!

I drop in on the beach at high noon and spend an hour while jazz plays.  A wide expanse of beach courtesy high tide. Slight sheen of sweat combined with wind provides relief.  Life in a Corona commercial.

Day 3:

Another bright shining morning as if fresh from a heavenly assembly line. Resolutely sunny and warm, 82 degrees at 7:45.

I leisured breakfast - phoned it in - by just making cereal and eating some cheese danish. My that danish was good. Who said the Danes have given us nothing by violent Vikings?

Read indoors and out, erring slightly with too much political news. Lunch back at the condo and then more reading – historical fiction written from the perspective of Thomas Jefferson's daughter. I'm learning more about Jefferson, how deep his depression after his wife Martha died after ten years of marriage. And of his temper.

I certainly had no idea Jefferson was so emotional. Jefferson, Adams, and Washington all had tempers and emotional storms.

*
"O whale! the mad fiend himself is after ye! blow your trump—blister your lungs!“  –Moby Dick
Yes, blow that Trump!

And in the novel, Melville mentions how they were desperately seeking the whale:
"Ah! how they still strove through that infinite blue-ness to seek out the thing that might destroy them!”
Melting Scripture today:
Consider how Christ endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.
And I thought of how that must be our attitude towards ourselves, that though we endure such opposition from ourselves and our sins, Christ endured ours so so must we.

The psalm at Mass was 23: “there is nothing I shall want”. I generally read this as a promise of God not leaving us in lack, but I could turn it around and say there is “nothing I shall crave” in lieu of Him.

*

Looking at the home IP camera I see the dogs looking out the window and think, surely falsely, that they are waiting for us. And that makes me miss them.

Good day was had by all - lunch at 2pm (frozen pizza and ham) and jambalaya at 7.

How scientifically illiterate be my wife and me? Enough to wonder why the moon causes ocean tides. Doesn't seem like that should be in the lunar job description. But then I always liked math and English and not science.

Steph at Walmart now picking up an open-sided tent. Wants to pitch one on beach for shade purposes. Makes sense given that it is blistering hot down here this time.

Day 4:

The water is the warmest I've ever seen it - bath water warm. It can't even cool your core temp because it's at your core temp.

Timing wise this has been sweet: rainy and cloudy in Cloudumbus while sunny and mild here. Plus I admit to not being crestfallen that Saturday, had we'd been home, we'd be helping someone move. God never gives more than we can handle.

I retrieved a portable speaker and put on some jazz as alternative programming to “cell phone lady”, the woman we so named who bitches loudly about work and people at work on her cell at the beach. Obviously we pitched our tent in a bad neighborhood.

I'd like to go on a historic tour of nearby Beauford but Steph seems rather satisfied just crashing here and why not?

Last night gave us time to walk a moon-and-starlit beach. It was a scene of otherworldly wonder: the full moon shining on the water, the clouds lit up all over the huge sky. Very dramatic, and lends a sense of the smallness and insignificance of man, including Trump & Shrillary. A good antidote for self-seriousness.


Today is the anniversary of Black Elk's death, a Lakota medicine man and warrior who survived Wounded Knee. From a meditation:
"In 1892 Black Elk married a Christian woman, and their three children were baptized. In 1904, after his wife’s death, Black Elk himself became a Catholic, taking the name Nicholas. Eventually he became a catechist and traveled widely, spreading the Catholic faith."
He was also devoted to "the rosary, Mass, and offered powerful preaching on scriptural passages”.

A former commissioner of Indian Affairs said that Black Elk had something within him, religious strength, that the world has lost and “must have again, lest it die.”

*

We lazily let the day slip from the bonds of the azure sky, letting 10am morph into 4pm with only a half-hour walk in between. As Herr Trump would say, a low energy day.

Day 5
"What a lovely day again! were it a new-made world, and made for a summer-house to the angels, and this morning the first of its throwing open to them, a fairer day could not dawn upon that world." –Moby Dick
Today did a thirty minute run followed by almost hour walk. 5.3 miles covered in da blazing heat. Yesterday went in the water for a very brief respite and received a jellyfish bite on my foot.

At night we we picked up some Mexican food at Fiesta Fresh (picture of St. John Paul II in their shop!) and enjoyed a late dinner at home.


Day 6

Cloudy finale down here; chance of thunderstorms later. Well we've had a great run of great days. Superabundant sun with no rain from Sunday through Thursday - five consecutive days.

Lazy morning after Mass - three hours of reading tweets and eating breakfast, drinking coffee. 12:42pm and it feels like the day just started.

(Later) Well surprisingly (not!) the weatherman was wrong - sun galore. And I relished the long traditional ride to Grant market and beyond. Just 13 mile ride - I could've done a lot more - but the last day of beach was calling and I had the capital idea (if sorely belated) of just walking farther in order to get to a private beach front.

I rode under the pine trees and past the golf course. Listened to country music and Dan Fogelberg. Bought peaches and a tomato at the ma pa shop. I admired the sheer lushness of landscape.

From Fogelberg, love these last two lines:
   "Born in the valley
    And raised in the trees
    Of Western Kentucky
    On wobbly knees
    With mama beside you
    To help you along
    You'll soon be a-growin' up strong
    Oh, the long lazy mornings
    In pastures of green
    The sun on your withers
    The wind in your mane"
*

EPILOGUE: I'm regretting my sunburn but it was almost totally unavoidable given how I put enough sun protectant on to cover ten samurai warriors for a month in Rio.





August 11, 2016

Coptic Monk

Desert monk used to be atheist professor.   (An Into Great Silence sort of short film.)



August 10, 2016

A Long, Long Time Ago...

In early July of 1997 I read a NY Times article about book lovers titled When a Love of Books Means a Life in Stacks. It featured NYC authors who have huge libraries and pictured Ann Douglas (who wrote a book about Manhattan in the '20s), as well as Edward Robb Ellis, who boasted of five sets of Britannica Encyclopedias among us 10,000 volumes.  Why you'd need that even in the pre-Google days defies explanation.

I cut the page out and framed it, and it's yellowed over the nearly two decades but still represents a treasured book room item if only out of nostalgia.

I took another look at it tonight and decided to google this Edward Robb Ellis character, a man with three names. And coincidentally I find I own one of his books (A Diary of the Century). So I own books of both of the authors prominently featured in the piece.

Ellis has the distinction of having kept a diary for a record 70 years with some 22 million words. He's got me beat, with my 18 years and 3 to 4 million words. Steven Riddle surely has has double want I've done in terms of years and words.

The Arms of Krupp / Trump


August 09, 2016

Pop Culture's Fascinating with Survivor Shows

I suspect the success of survivor type shows, which proliferate now, is subconscious testimony to people recognizing that a culture that encourages weakness and victimhood over self-reliance and Stoicism is not a good foundation not only for society in general (witness the financial bankruptcy path we're on) but even for our own individual happiness and well-being. I'm reading The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living by Kevin Vost (his book on Dominicans was recommended to us at Mass).  The “offer it up” mentality that the Church used to emphasize with regard to suffering and discomfort seems like that's the only viable way of life in this vale of tears, especially as we enter the valley of the shadow of death in our old age - that fearsome time when most everything gets stripped from us. (The survivor show Naked and Afraid is a literal stripping; Alone is a stripping of all friends and society.)

The ancient Stoics were able to withstand (cheerily!) the most heinous imprisonments and tortures, and it must be incredibly comforting to know you can handle whatever life throws at you.

It certainly feels like God's trying to tell me something given that my at the same time I'm reading Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir of a guy who escaped the grinding poverty and feelings of helplessness that paralyze Appalachia. He writes of his time in the Marines:
The trials of my youth instilled a debilitating self-doubt. Instead of congratulating myself on having overcome some obstacles, I worried that I’d be overcome by the next ones. Marine Corps boot camp, with its barrage of challenges big and small, began to teach me I had underestimated myself…I’m not saying ability doesn’t matter. It certainly helps. But there’s something powerful about realizing that you’ve undersold yourself—that somehow your mind confused lack of effort for inability. This is why, whenever people ask me what I’d most like to change about the white working class, I say, “The feeling that our choices don’t matter.” The Marine Corps excised that feeling like a surgeon does a tumor.
Also reading the Russell Kirk bio and he was a great devotee of the ancient Stoic philosophers. Christianity is Stoicism that can "touch the heart" and not just the mind, I've heard it said.

August 01, 2016

WFB on Trump

As if from the grave, William F. Buckley speaks of Trump, written 16 yrs ago:
Look for the narcissist. The most obvious target in today’s lineup is, of course, Donald Trump. When he looks at a glass, he is mesmerized by its reflection. If Donald Trump were shaped a little differently, he would compete for Miss America. But whatever the depths of self-enchantment, the demagogue has to say something. So what does Trump say? That he is a successful businessman and that that is what America needs in the Oval Office. There is some plausibility in this, though not much. The greatest deeds of American Presidents — midwifing the new republic; freeing the slaves; harnessing the energies and vision needed to win the Cold War — had little to do with a bottom line.
In the final analysis, just as the king might look down with terminal disdain upon a courtier whose hypocrisy repelled him, so we have no substitute for relying on the voter to exercise a quiet veto when it becomes more necessary to discourage cynical demagogy, than to advance free health for the kids. That can come later, in another venue; the resistance to a corrupting demagogy should take first priority.
So what else can Trump offer us? Well to begin with, a self-financed campaign. Does it follow that all who finance their own campaigns are narcissists? At this writing Steve Forbes has spent $63 million in pursuit of the Republican nomination. Forbes is an evangelist, not an exhibitionist. In his long and sober private career, Steve Forbes never bought a casino, and if he had done so, he would not have called it Forbes’s Funhouse. His motivations are discernibly selfless…

July 27, 2016

Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog

I'm reading this book about the prophet Jeremiah by Eugene Peterson, the translator of The Message bible. He's a huuuuge fan of Jeremiah, to put it mildly. It sounds like he is his spiritual soul mate and guard against mediocrity, an irritating thus needful message to this devoted medocrite.

I guess it's not surprising given he's so driven that he translated the Bible singlehandedly, ala Knox but unlike Knox without being asked to. He believes in himself, and I mean that in the best sense – that he believes God has made him in His image and empowers.

I find it amazing because so few people are fans of the famously downcast Biblical author. He seems too harsh, too negative, for our time. Which is why it's interesting to see this paean in print. The contrarian in me approves.

He writes:
Good people, virtuous lives, mostly seem a bit dull. Jeremiah is a stunning exception. For most of my adult life he has attracted me. The complexity and intensity of his person caught and kept my attention. The captivating quality in the man is his goodness, his virtue, his excellence…It is understandable that there are retreats from excellence, veerings away from risk, withdrawals from faith. It is easier to define oneself minimally (“ a featherless biped”) and live securely within that definition than to be defined maximally (“ little less than God”) and live adventurously in that reality.
Elsewhere:
“The whole meaning of history is in the proof that there have lived people before the present time whom it is important to meet” - EUGEN ROSENSTOCK-HUESSY
And:
All the great stories of the world elaborate one of two themes: that all life is an exploration like that of the Odyssey or that all life is a battle like that of the Iliad. The stories of Odysseus and Achilles are archetypal. Everyone’s childhood serves up the raw material that is shaped by grace into the life of mature faith.

July 26, 2016

Latin Mass Recap

Went to a Latin low summer mass Sunday; I  find the long silences oddly comforting (Pope Benedict was always a proponent of that). It's a good time to pray, reflect, absorb the religious art.  It's strange is how uncomfortable I am with silences during the regular Mass, like during Offertory or after homily or Communion. They seem endless. They seem like “planted silences” that are not intrinsic to the liturgy, like they're out of context somehow. For sure the thirty second silence after a homily or Communion seem ridiculous because it's so brief that you're just anticipating having to stand up again. But with the Latin mass the priest is praying at the altar, facing away, and seems a good time to ponder things “in our hearts” like Mary did.

I thought about how I like the Latin Mass in part because I don't have to participate as much, which is certainly not the best reason. The priest does so much for you that you feel you are receiving more than giving.  If Mass is primarily about receiving God and outside of Mass more about giving the God you've received then it works.

The Latin mass is for the lazy like me because 1) the priest seems to pray many of the prayers for you,  2) there aren't many responses, 3) you don't have to say “Amen” when you receive Communion, and 4) you don't have to shake everyone's hand at the sign of peace. It's a very peaceful liturgy. You can tune in and tune out as you will, you're less self-aware, and it's comforting to know that priest up there is delivering prayers on your behalf. To borrow from jogging terms, the regular Mass is all associative, the Latin mass a mix of the associative and dissociative.

(Byran Loy wrote that “Associative thoughts during running a race are based on the performance itself. You think thoughts like monitoring bodily sensations such as muscle pain and include internal commands like 'relax the shoulders'. Associative runners consider their emotional state like 'I feel light and fast today.' They are focused only on the task at hand.”

“Athletes who dissociate, however, may think about things unrelated to the task at hand as a means of distraction. These dissociative thoughts, according to Schomer could include reflection on past events and planning for future events. Athletes who focus on the environment (looking at trees) or listen to music while running are also dissociating.”)

Saw someone praying from a prayer book as they stood in the Communion line, which was a fine idea since the lines felt awfully slow (the priest gives Communion to everyone - no Eucharistic ministers here - and he does so with a typically Latin reverence, making the sign of the cross with the Host individually before you receive).

July 25, 2016

The DNC Emails

As NR's Jim Geraghty wrote today: "The WikiLeaks hacking of the Democratic National Committee is terrible . . . but also delicious.".

What caught my eye was how Wasserman Schultz called up Phil Griffin, MSNBC President, to complain after Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski called for Schultz to “step down”.  Geraghty writes,
That just confirms our suspicions that Democrats are more sensitive about press criticism and have more backdoor avenues to shut it down or discourage follow-ups. 
Wikileaks founder adds:
Debbie Wasserman Schultz called the president of MSNBC to haul Morning Joe into line, which it subsequently has done. I noticed this morning, Morning Joe actually discussed it themselves, trying to shore up their own presentation of, you know, a TV program that can’t be pushed around. But, in fact, they did not mention the call to the president. That was something that is still unspeakable. And it was a 180-degree flip in that coverage.
*

A month earlier there was an off-the-record meeting with Phil Griffin with this stated aim in a DNC email:
This is an opportunity to say hello and touch base on the timing and setting for a voting rights town hall; and to stress that we want to have greater collaboration with their team on having the Democratic Party represented on their shows. MSNBC has largely moved to having their contributors and talent do most of the on-air commentary and we don’t get many opportunities to have the Party represented. While Mika [Brezinski] won’t be there, you should point out that you’re reaching out to re-engage with her. Our relationship with NBC/MSNBC is severely frayed given what they perceive as a snub with the last debate, and CNN getting favored treatment. Griffin may raise that concern, and ideally we could lower the temperature and seek common ground. 
*

The DNC memos show again the twining of media folk and political folk (internecine in the Mika case, when it comes to Democrats and the media).  Here's the infamous email demanding she apologize:
This is the LAST straw. Please call Phil a Griffin. This is outrageous. She needs to apologize.   DWS [Wasserman Schulz]
*

I also was amused by this donor vet email:
Hello-  Can we please vet George Lindemann, Jr. to give to the DNC and attend a POTUS event? Thank you! 
A long Lexus/Nexus string was the response, along with a shortened explanation:
George Lindemann – convicted of three counts of wire fraud in 1995 and received a 33-month term in federal prison; Investigation stemmed from a federal investigation where over 50 horses were killed in a 20 year period in acts of insurance fraud; nothing new as of 5/9/16
Unwilling to see the obvious (a strenuous donor advocate), he responds: "Thank you Chad.  He would not be hosting, just writing and attending."

So it has to be spelled out: "Sorry man.  He fails for everything."

Because advocating that babies be killed in the womb is a-okay in Democratland, but not dead horses or insurance fraud.

He's a Uniter, not a Divider

Trump as the international subject while on the Camino pilgrimage:
[An older gentleman] speaks a few words of English and so it was that for about 45m we all sat chatting with the Italian woman as the intermediary and us all piecing together three languages to arrive at one conversation. Know what we all laughed about? Donald Trump.

July 22, 2016

The Hot Dog Eating Contest

Our department is having a hot dog eating contest to feed the hungry. I wanted to enter but eventually concluded I don't need the gastric indiscretion. It comes down to speed more than stomach size since it's how many you can eat in five minutes.

I bought a ticket and you pick which contestant you think will win and if they win you win a prize. I was hovering over the buckets, trying to decide who was worthy when one of the participants happened by:

Su Su (slim Chinese girl): “Vote for me!”
Me: “I can't, look at you, you're too thin!”
Su Su: “Didn't you see who won the big hot dog contest? A small Asian?”
Me: “Oh I think I remember that, yes.”

So I ended up putting my ticket in her bucket, thinking maybe a lifetime in food-deprived China has made her a good speed-eater.  Perhaps she comes from a large family. They always eat fast.

*

Took a lunch walk and there was so much stimuli, the irrepressible lushness of a fountain and sun on green leaves at a downtown condo near the cathedral. Impressed me to the point I stopped to take a picture though it doesn't do it justice.


The urban shops and streets were vibrant in the bright noon atmosphere. It made me wistful for travel during this quick-perishing summer, namely to pretty places like my alma mater.

There was also the stimuli of the impressive gothic church, one I'd not been for awhile. And I forgot about the Holy Door! Where devout millennials take selfies while walking through!

July 20, 2016

Dual Uses

I confess to sometimes feeling the temptation of seeing God as a utilitarian, to see us as widgets in need of shaping before going to "market" (Heaven), with earthly life being that rather toilsome process.

It's surely a provincially human thing to see only half the equation, to fail to see that God prefers to accomplish multiple things with one action.  Jesus accomplished our redemption (a transactional concept) while simultaneously demonstrating his seemingly foolhardy love for us (irrational).  With God, the rational and irrational kiss, like mercy and justice.

You could look at the act of eating as merely fulfilling a bodily need for nutrition and sex as purely for procreation. These seem the utilitarian, mechanistic view of things. But why can't God make things for two (or more) uses?  The penis is an example of a dual-use instrument: you can (rationally) remove urine or in orgasm experience irrational pleasure.  Thus similarly intercourse, as the Church teaches, can be for procreation and unification.

Of course the materialist says the pleasure from eating or sex is merely an evolutionary enticement to accomplish the missions of growth and reproduction, but why can't it be that God prefers that we experience simultaneously pleasure and the utilitarian functions of feeding ourselves and continuing the species?

If God were interested in the utilitarian he'd have been happy with Paul, then Saul, who seemed a rather well-shaped Pharisee, rather than Mary Magdalene, who had issues.  The paradox is that love is the ultimate "product" He seeks, even though love is not a product in the way we think of it.

The Gift of a Moist Towelette to a Dying Man

I was looking through my D.C. pics and came again to the wall-hanging of St. Veronica receiving the image of Christ.

Whatever the historicity, it occurs to me how incredibly disproportionate and thus God-like, the response. She wipes the face of Jesus on the road to Calvary, a tiny, almost infinitesimal relief given the suffering he was enduring. It's not as though Jesus had merely mowed the lawn on a hot summer day and someone offered him a moist towelette and a lemonade. He was in extremis.

But I was touched by how he offered something of himself far greater than what she gave him, a "souvenir" par excellence, and something supernatural.  We give the natural and he gives the supernatural.

I thought about how I always mistake Jesus as expecting incredible things when, perhaps this day, he asks only that I smile at a stranger. Or refuse a haughty moment, a look of lust. He can multiply the loaves and fishes and can multiply the smallest actions. Thank God.

*

Quotable:
    In a weak person, power becomes cruelty;
    a sense of inferiority
    is carried to the level of brutishness.
    God has no sense of inferiority.
    God is sovereign.
    God can do all,
    and so he judges even his felons,
    even his sinners,
    with kindness and mercy.
    But this just and merciful God also sanctions,
    because his mercy is not weakness.
       –Archbishop Oscar Romero

July 19, 2016

Our National Soap Opera... or "As the Donald Turns"

I find it amusing and oddly satisfying that after decades of hearing liberals falsely call the GOP candidate du jour dumb and stupid, we've finally shown them what dumb and stupid looks like.  It's sort of like, "you're stupid for failing to recognize how smart our previous candidates were!"

And the silly furor over Melania's speech represents another case where I feel I live in an alternative universe.  Plagiarism, schlagiarism.  Personally I'd rather politicians copy whole speeches and believe them versus write their own and be lying. (Lying is the new black, by the way, given our two presidential candidates.)

The "speechgate" outrage is an example of fiddling while Rome burns. It helps Trump: provides more publicity and press makes ass of itself, a twofer. Worrying about Trumpian plagiarism is like cancer patient worrying about a hangnail. And to the extent it shows Trump campaign ineptness that's a positive; disorganized fascists are the best kind.

If there's a upside to nominating an illiterate guy with AAHD it's that most of the calls a president has to make are jump balls and thus resistant to study.  You can't study your way into an effective health care system or a safer Middle East, witness Obama and Hillary.  I think someone with a coin tossing heads/tails could've done as well as Obama did in his eight years.