June 10, 2017

Good to Know

Not fake news! DNA results don't lie...

June 08, 2017

Four-Minute Abs!

Reading Shattered about Hillary's doomed campaign because I'm bonkers for political gossip. And I'm fascinated, truth be told, that Big Data lost.

The oddest thing about the election was that perhaps 30% of Dem primary voters and 30% of Rep primary voters believe in a free lunch, in utopia as sold to them by hucksters Sanders and Trump. That's sort of disturbing.

A passage from the book that applies not only to Sanders's silliness but also to Trump's risible campaign promises:
When Clinton said she wanted students to emerge from college without debt, Bernie reminded voters that his plan would let them attend for free. Hillary's advisers thought it was reminiscent of the scene from There's Something About Mary in which a crazed hitchhiker tells Ben Stiller's character that he can make a fortune by turning 'eight-minute abs' into 'seven minute abs.'
"She's seven-minute abs," said one of her advisers. "This guy's f-cking four-minute abs." 
 Barnum was right.

June 06, 2017

NYC Trip o' Log

On Sunday headed to airport and I'm in line to board plane to Charlotte on way to NYC. There was a line right next to me in the same gate to go to Chicago.

An attendant at flight gate asked a 20-something guy with a scraggly full beer where his father was. He pointed back and said the guy in a cowboy hat - who was errantly waiting in the line for Charlotte rather than Chicago. The attendant motioned for him to come up immediately since he was in wrong line and cabin was getting ready to close.

The guy in the cowboy hat comes up to the agent and is immediately recognizable - we see him on all sorts of Alaska reality shows on TV.  His name is Marty and I inadvertently delay (and hold up flight?) when he sees me taking his picture and commandeers my phone to call  Steph.  (I'd told him my wife Steph was a fan of the show.)

She was talking to her sister Marsha and didn't answer, so Marty waited for voice mail and said, "Hey, this is Marty from Ultimate Survivor and you shouldn't screen Tom's calls...".

Then I'm onboard my flight and Marty's son is there too. Suddenly he jumps up and says "I'm on the wrong flight!" He forgets two pieces of luggage but helpful bystanders alert him and he comes back, twice.


Checked in around 4pm at Hotel Metro in midtown, with good rooftop view of the massive Empire State building. Can see it from window in my room on 12th floor. Definitely a new part of Manhattan for me to stay in, although I kind of miss (already) the more residential Upper West side spot four years ago.

Today I made a strategic mistake in wandering way north, up into the banal touristy areas between 40th and 50th along 5th Avenue. The New York Public Library was closed for Memorial Day weekend, so I was saw St. Patrick's in the distance and headed up those blocks. Mass was just ending; I wandered around afterward but found the crypt is closed to the public, so it was kind of disappointing. The organ player played an absolutely thundering rendition of America the Beautiful at full volume as the closing hymn.

Great people watching, or people gaping. Saw an Orthodox Jew, so dressed, smoking a cigarette and maybe reading the Talmud. Saw a handicapped person being wheeled by who made remarkably unique sounds. Saw robed Buddhists and uniformed sailors and soldiers.

After much deliberation I decided to pick up something to eat from street vendor. The big decision was: coney dog or chicken kebob on pita? I want to have a hot dog for Julie at some point, since she loves them. I did the kebob, and boy was it tasty. He didn't mess around. Ate it at Bryant Park, a charming green space with plentiful chairs and an impressive variety of humanity. I watched a group playing a bocci-ball like game called P├ętanque, starring old and young, foreigner and white, black and bearded.

Bryant has a large lawn area where young people, presumably NYU'rs, lounged and slept. The lawn was surrounded by leafy trees with tables and chairs at regular intervals; kiosks of food and games like Petanque lay on the edges. Seemed like a good place to chow some food or read a book, although today was overcast and cool.


A very full vacation day, full of history and remembering and using one's historical imagination, since visibly almost everything has radically changed.

Woke to the sight of the ornate architecture of the building across the street and so looked it up on the 'net. It's The Gregory, formerly The Gregorian. This area of Manhattan took off in the late 1800s as prosperity moved north.

A ton of Germans in this hotel - must be a big group vacation. Haven't heard this much Deutsch since high school German class. I'm kind of disappointed I didn't keep up with the German, or learn it better in high school. I thought three years of it would make me fluent, wishful thinking. And of course the third year was a joke since we learned nothing since the new, young teacher had no discipline and we ran rampant.

I started out thinking I would tour the neighborhood churches and then maybe the Met art museum. I love the idea of not having an itinerary, of just making it up as I go along.  And my "plan" changed on a dime when I google searched the Big Onion walking tours and found an 11:00 one on immigrant New York including the notorious Five Points, the 1880s-era Irish and black slums.

I cabbed to corner of Chambers and Warren, to the old City Hall, the seat of Tammany Hall. The tour guide was a doctrinal student in her late 20s, early 30s (I believe she said her dissertation is on how women gained the "right" to wear pants, how that was controversial back in the day). She said that the Irish stereotypes of being lazy, violent and corrupt were untrue, that that was a few bad apples like Mr. Tammany. She offered as proof what was an Irish savings bank founded in 1852 across the street - she said the Irish immigrant initial depositors never withdrew their money, showing they were not simply blowing their paychecks on booze every weekend but had the foresight to save. Oh that that would rub off on Americans today.  Perhaps a stretch though to use that one anecdote as proof the Irish were generally responsible.

For two hours she gave vivid anecdotes and interesting vignettes. She talked about how City Hall was slated to cost $250k but cost $13 million due to Tammany overpaying contractors. (The bossman ended up being jailed, complete with luxuries like being able to spend weekends at home; he escaped briefly to Cuba but in Spain he was extradited and sent back to America to jail and died the following year.)

We saw the building where the first retail clothes salesman made a big killing. He got the idea of letting women see the garments before ordering, a popular idea. Very rough part of town, so middle class women would line up to "window shop" with personal bodyguards. Otherwise they'd be groped or worse.

Our guide told us the sad tale of America's first supermodel, Audrey Munson. She's the model for the lady atop the City Hall and numerous others from Wisconsin to California.

Audrey went to a soothsayer who told her of her doomed life: early fame, but no happiness. You'd think that was tragic and unfair, but even saints were told of upcoming misery, like St. Bernadette who was told she would be unhappy in this life. The Blessed Mother likewise was told that a sword would pierce her heart, and Jesus knew from Isaiah and other Scriptures that he would be the "suffering servant" and die a prophet's death in Jerusalem. St Peter was told by Christ that he would go where he would not go, St. Paul was shown in a vision what he would suffer, just as he told his future martyrs that their blood was no on his hands for he told them the full plan of God (persecution before glory). By definition (that being love) God would not tell us something that wasn't for our good or the good of others.  So I guess we need not fear the reaper or the soothsayer.

Audrey found little acting success until someone discovered her beauty and photographed her nude for an arts magazine. She became famous, acted in a few movies but appeared nude - she ended up being objectified and typecast, scorned. A doctor killed his wife in order to be with her even though she never even knew him, but the tabloids said she was "the other woman" and, being blamed for the doc's wife's death, her career was even more dead. By the age of 40 she was trying to commit suicide and was institutionalized for the next 60 years, dying in the 1990s at over 100 years old. Reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe, only Monroe succeeded in killing herself.

We went by Foley Square to Columbus Park, the intersection known as Five Points, and it was really hard to imagine it back then: slowly sinking homes (caused by the developers not realizing they were building on a natural spring and not a rainwater ditch), dirt roads, filth, crime. She argued it was overdone, this bad reputation. Back then middle class folks actually took tours to Five Points to gape and gasp at the poverty but not to get too close.

Then on to Chinatown, just so incredibly big. Many speak no English, as well they can in a place like this with so many countrymen. Very exotic scenery to me. We went by the Church of the Transfiguration (closed for Memorial Day, sadly), where they now have masses in Chinese, English, Cantonese, Manadrin and another language that escapes me. It was originally a Protestant church, then Irish Catholic, then Italian Cath, now Chinese Cath. The Irish and Italians didn't see eye-to-eye on worship because in Ireland they were very low key due to persecution - few ornamental things like statutes and singing and high masses - while the Italians were big on all of the above.

We went by a road that curved around (Doyers) which was a hit place for Chinese gangs back in the late 1800s. They had a menu of prices, $5 for breaking a leg, $15 for murder, or what have you, and they would execute the crime as the guy was going around the bend, then hurry back into a nearby house which led to secret tunnels that the Irish police at the time had no idea existed.

We traveled through Little Italy to the Precious Blood shrine where the dust of St Janirus liquifies many Septembers on his feast day. Pope Francis was there to witness the miracle recently. It too was closed, drats!

Old St. Pat's cathedral, sadly closed. Everybody closed on Memorial Day.

Hit McNally-Jackson, an independent bookstore, briefly. Then walked all over West Village, Greenwich Village... Saw beautiful brownstones with gargoyles...Saw the church were St. Mother Cabrini prayed, and I spent some time in there doing the same. A very beautiful and affecting church with many statues and paintings. Later I saw Our Lady of Guadalupe, adorned creatively and fulsomely. Walked to the water - the Hudson - and saw the New Jersey (Hoboken) skyline. Walked up to the Whitney Art Museum but there was a line and I had scant desire to look at modern "art". Modern okay, but art?

Started getting tired even though I'd only walked 5.5 miles, just 2.5 over my usual per day. Found a little shop nearby that had a salad bar and feasted on more nutritious fare. Not very adventuresome - I probably should've tried some authentic Chinese food in Chinatown (the guide said you look in the window and look for a letter grade to tell how safe the food is - "A" is best, "F" means you'll die if you eat it.)

The rooftop seemed a good cigar smoking spot but failed on two accounts: one, it being a remarkably un-photogenic spot on a very cloudy time, and two, my lighter failed. So I did some writing on the (again) cool night before heading back out to find a lighter. I headed out to Herald Square to see if I could cop a smoke and voila - I see the most ingenious private seat in a public space, a nook from which I could see but not be seen. It overlooked an expanse of lights and activity, Macy's being directly across the street. I spent a pleasant hour cigar'ing and collating the 99 pictures I took. It really appeals to the artist in me, taking these photos and then enhancing them using Apple's photo editor.  Enjoyable pastime. I find it takes all night to just to document a vacation day with words and pictures. I have a yen for a book, preferably NY history... especially after having walked 19,000 steps (could be a new high for me).

New York still entrances me, even minus my writerly dreams (which seem the likely genesis of my Manhattan cult).


So today I showered, ate continental breakfast in the room, coffee'd up, rosary'd up, and by 10:15 rolled out the door to the fabulous Morgan Library. Great to see it while still fresh, in the morning. A short jaunt from the hotel, one of the big advantages of the hotel was proximity to this and the NYPL, I explored the exhibit "Noah's Beasts", an interesting collection of Sumerian art found around 3000BC. I was impressed by how spiritual it was in a sense, how back then they were groping towards a savior, and how the ancient writing on a stone represented an early flood narrative.

Next up was into the rarefied office and library of J.P. Morgan. In later life he spent much of his time collecting things like the Gutenberg Bible, which I got to see and admire, as well as lots of medieval religious art. Virgin Mother and child was a lot of the theme in his office. It's all sheer mouth-gape, from the mini-Sistine chapel ceiling in the entrance way to the artistry and great sense of order conferred by the library itself. "For the glory of God" in Latin was an inscription, but a lot of it seemed like for the glory of Morgan.  Reminds me how NY Times author Thomas Friedman built an 11,000 house to prevent emissions from potentially twelve suburban homes: ah, the things we sacrifice for climate change.

I can't believe how religious Morgan's library office was - nearly all religious art, as if he were a cleric not a baron.  Books such as "The Legend of St Margaret" from the 15th century adorn the walls. I wonder if part of this is to feel kinship with Christians past, for few things bring the dead alive more than their art. These artifacts show the longevity of the Faith as well.

It felt so peaceful there. Then walked/jogged to get to Fr. George Rutler's parish for 12:10 Mass. Guy saw me and said, "no matter where you're going, it's not worth hurrying.".

The author of a number of books and EWTN "star" gave a decently long homily for a sparsely attended weekday mass. Felt like I failed Rutler by getting his thumb wet when I received on the tongue.

Next up was an Uber ride to the Met, although I wasn't feeling too motivated.  Mcsorley's pub?! Flatiron and vicinity! More time actually sitting in NYPL and letting the architecture heal!?

Why do I never allot time for this joint?

The day got behind me quick, as did this trip. No literal ray of sunshine till 5 minutes before time to leave, alas. Still, NY has that London foggy feel in that you don't go there for the weather. Especially if you want to hit museums.

I loved the chance to use my German, microscopic in vocabulary as it is. A German couple on the elevator and they get off on an earlier floor. I get ready for my moment on the stage and say, "Entschuldigung!" ("Pardon me") since I am slightly in their way. He looks up at me with recognition but without surprise or smile, so I assume I'd handled the pronunciation well enough. I certainly look far too American to think he thought of me as anything but an American but ...


Traveled to tiny Hilton Head airport and we hit the beach almost immediately upon landing, with a strenuous game of throwing the grandboys high into the surf and later jogging about a mile (Will tired quickly so part of the the jog was me carrying Will - now that is a workout).

The amazing thing was seeing something I'd never seen in all the years I came to Hilton Head - two young sharks in the shallowest water right where I was throwing Will in. Steph and Sam were back aways making sand castles and missed it. I grabbed Will and stood in the two feet of water and watched, disbelieving, the sharks go back and forth just four feet away. They were each about a yard long with a fin the size of my hand. A dog went into the water after them and the owners were screaming frantically - later they said that these were definitely sharks. Silver-lined fins and all. I hung out in the shallows watching them for maybe a minute, holding Will up out of the water.

Will uncorked quite a line later to his Mom, insisting "Yes we did too, we saw a god-da*mned shark!". That was unexpected. She obviously disciplined him for it but Steph had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.

Today's surprise was when Sam started crying like crazy after stepping on something "hard" - probably a stingray since the shallows were thick as thieves with them. A lady came over and told us that three of her family got stung and one had to go to emergency room. Her son said the pain was unbelievably intense. Sam wasn't hurt at all, just crying from fear apparently.

So thus ended the beach time for the kids, presumably for the duration of the trip.

I told Sam "the king game" was my favorite and he acutely recognized why, announcing that that was because PawPaw can relax in a chair while they fetch him some imaginary treasure.

Spent a good while playing with the boys - card games (Go Fish and Blackjack), the "king" acting game, and plenty of pool and ocean time ("Marco Polo", and throwing them in the sea).


Jogged a goodly 35 minutes this morning in the slightest of drizzles. Uncanny how I've been able to catch the worst weather of NYC (cool and rainy) as well as Hilton Head (warm and rainy).

Oh to be in Hilton Head in June! Is not the light itself more rare? The days are long and of temperate langsam.


Ahhhh, the sigh of sun-streaked contentment: morning coffee in the pool room at Canvasbck. The natural beauty feeds you - the blue water, the lush jungle beyond, the comforts of civilization (books and ipad). And it's simply irreproducible at home given the trudge work of Max (feeding, putting up with his barking and interruptions). How sweet to have even this day... And then a week at our timeshare later this year, although without the beauty of the accompanying jungle.

I call it a jungle because that's what it looks like to me - nature run wild. I'm not sure it meets the dictionary definition ("an area of overgrown vegetation, typically in the tropics"). Is this the tropics? ("Hilton Head Island encompasses 42 square miles (68 sq. km) of semi-tropical...").

Yesterday was fabulouscity. A long quenching run. A long quenching beer drink. Some Mexicano music. Some reading about the Stoics. Later, the best pizza I've had in ages ("Doughboys" and they deliver). And then the sigh of very tired limbs in the comfy bed...

Sherwood Comes East

Enjoyable dinner with Californian and longtime blogger, first-time (Ohio) caller Jeff C. He's very interesting to listen to, well-spoken, and one can tell immediately the intelligence.

We had dinner at the Red Brick Tavern (since 1836, which coincidentally is when Jeff and I first started blogging!) in London since it was half-way more or less between Dayton and Columbus. Our waitress was kind of wise-cracking and in that reminded me of Flo from Mel's Diner and Jeff was old enough to immediately pick up the reference.

I was struck by how he recounted how a fellow had told him not to have more than two kids because if you have enough of them you'll end up with one who gets into drugs or dies early or otherwise breaks your heart. In other words, "love is risky?" Jeff said. He said "yes"... you can't have love without risk. I remarked how Jesus's coming to earth was certainly a high-risk proposition for Him.

He mentioned how he was impressed by the beauty of Ohio, how green everything is compared to his drought-stricken part of the continent in California.

May 28, 2017

Saints and TIME Magazine as Wisdom Literature

Via Wikipedia, I found a chronological list of saints and zeroed in on the 15th and 16th centuries. It really does seem that Luther's break, in 1521, was preceded by a paucity of saints. Seems to point out the incredible necessity of saints, and having them in every age. (Now that St. Mother Teresa, St. Padre Pio and St. JPII have died there doesn't seem an obvious saint alive now. Maybe Pope Benedict.)

The 1200s had Aquinas and Dominic and Francis and Anthony, the 1300s St Catherine of Siena. There are plenty of blesseds in the 1400s and 1500s but not the sort of Lebron James-type interstellar non-martyr saints until St Ignatius and Francis Xavier, both coming just after Luther (founded the Jesuits 13 years after Luther's climactic break with Rome).

Perhaps you could blame the Protestant Revolution on a lack of saints (though combined with the invention of the printing press, which was a particularly effective way to spread heresy.)


I'm always amazed to find wisdom literature in unlikely places - like the secular TIME magazine (admittedly, with a lot of help from J.R. Tolkien). And yet, voila!
“Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgment concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married,” Tolkien wrote. “Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates.”

Tolkien blamed our “soul mates” obsession on the Romantic chivalric tradition: “Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake. . . . It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man’s eye off women as they are” — that is, “companions in shipwreck not guiding stars.”

I love that: companions in shipwreck. True soul mates are made, not born. This tracks with what I see in long marriages. It took time for many of even the most loving couples to feel like kindred spirits. It wasn’t something that happened in the first hour, or even in the first year. It took time, and patience, and commitment.

Another friend told me that his tradition-minded parents, an adorable couple who would appear to the outside world like soul mates, didn’t have much binding them together when they married: “She was Jewish, and he had a good job; that was enough.” They struggled while their kids were growing up, resolving to stay together until the nest was empty and then go their separate ways. But something funny happened: by the time the children were grown, neither wanted to leave.

Our old notion of soul mates is not helpful. “The ‘real soul-mate,’” Tolkien wrote, “is the one you are actually married to.”

I confess to deep appreciation for the sunroom, sun or no sun. It was fab to crash in my limb-lorn weariness, post-workout, on the sofa and dream-vise out the transoms. It's architecturally tasty, the slight mod of the A-frame being a figure of constant wonder. I'm bedazzled by the twin solatubes, the gentle decor, the glow of the track lighting, the windows jammed with the green of the evergreens beyond. It's, shall we say, a clean, well-lighted place. Our dream room, perchance.

May 26, 2017

Pope Trump and President Francis

I'm mesmerized by the Francis-Trump summit. A bromance begun. Two fellas very comfortable in their own skin and highly comfortable with command, and a slight soft spot for autocrats. I crave the details. The fact that the meeting went thirty minutes to the second shows Francis doesn't suffer fools well. He wasn't about to give the Donald the talking point of "it was supposed to go 30 and it went 40!"

Kind of interesting that the first thing Trump did in the Holy Land was see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as reported by Lino Rulli. How many presidents would've done that asked Lino.

Last night my semi-joke to the in-laws about Trump lying to the Pope fell way flat - everyone was offended (they voted Trump). I said that I couldn't believe Trump had lied to the Pope by saying he'd read the encyclicals the Pope gave him - Trump doesn't read, so unless the encyclicals are covered on cable news he won't know what's in them. My wife took me literally and argued you can't call it a lie since he could still read them.

I  have one liberal brother-in-law and I saw him a few days earlier and vented about the fact that liberals crave an activist Supreme Court that takes the law out of people's hands and then they act all surprised when the Court gets politicized and Republicans vote for a candidate like Trump based significantly on Supreme Court choices.  Oh the irony. The unintended consequences.

The potus is not just president but a legislator too because he chooses the legislators (judges). If judges were just about interpreting the law we wouldn't have to choose presidents for their SCOTUS picks. It debases and skews the whole process.

May 16, 2017

Tocqueville's Prediction

Kevin's comment on my previous post about Cleveland wanting to secede from Ohio reminds me of something from the book The Complacent Class I read recently, concerning how Tocqueville didn't think the union would hold:
Tocqueville said he refused “to believe in the duration of a government which is called upon to hold together so many distinct and not equally powerful states covering an area half that of Europe.”...
What Tocqueville did not see was that extreme federal stasis was an alternative to federal dissolution. If what the federal government does simply cannot change very much, then all those states and all those diverse and numerous people can’t have a destructive fight over the content of policy, and, thus, for that reason among others, the republic will not collapse. That gridlock may be depressing in some ways, but it has kept America going for some number of decades in recent times. 
Stable is better than unstable, for the most part, but that doesn’t mean we are going to be very pleased by the choices American democracy will put before us…Tocqueville understood that America would one day be overtaken by a version of democracy mixed with stasis and that such a future world would cease to inspire us politically. 
Yes, count me not inspired by politics these days.

May 13, 2017

Trump and Gore Vidal: Soul Mates

Was reading the Parini bio of Gore Vidal who, like Trump, was big on feuds and walls of magazine covers depicting himself.  This sounds  eerily familiar:

"[Vidal's] phone calls often began: "What are they saying about me?" To a somewhat frightening degree, he depended on the world's opinion...On the wall behind his desk were twenty or so framed magazine covers, with Gore's face on each one. I asked 'What's that all about, those covers?' He said, 'When I come into this room in the morning to work, I like to be reminded who I am.'
"I took his narcissism was, at times, an exhausting and debilitating thing for Gore, as it proved impossible to get enough satisfying responses. He required a hall of mirrors for adequate reflection, and there was never enough. The nature of the narcissistic hole is such that it can't be filled."

May 08, 2017

The Healthcare Follies (or alternatively The Way Things Are)

At Mass, a substitute priest gave a short but potent homily about The Way Things Are.

Specifically he asked, rhetorically, why God goes to the trouble to want helpers. Jesus was big on having helpers, his apostles and disciples, and yet often enough the apostles were a hindrance to his mission. He could've done things more efficiently alone.

God is so big on instrumentality that I sometimes picture God saying, "Gosh, I hate to put on such a big show to Saul on his way to Damascus instead of using human beings, but I need someone with a high intellectual capacity to bring my message to the Gentiles." Interesting enough that He chose an pharisaical Jew. If the world was making the choice of whom to send to the Gentiles, it would likely be a recent Gentile convert, someone who knows how Gentiles think and is "one of them". So God chose the opposite to prove he could. And of course St. Paul was as effective an evangelist as there ever was and likely will be.

So why the helpers? This priest said he thinks it's because it goes back to how we fell. "Adam and Eve were tempted so they were certainly not in Heaven. They were meant to work together to get each other to Heaven and they did the opposite. So God wants to rebuild humanity as he originally intended." With humans helping humans, even if it's an inefficient method. No wonder men want to be gods.

Speaking of wanting to be gods, there's a whiff of that in the health care debate. How about us, wanting to overthrow scarcity! The great thing about being a liberal is you can say things like "health care is a human right, not a privilege!" and it's just as fantastic slogan as "free money is a human right!" You can't beat that with a stick. I really have the sin of envy when it comes to how free and easy and wonderful it must be to be liberal. I don't see how you can lose if you just throw out bromides without specifics, which is one of the things that Pope Francis does with glorious regularity.

Kevin Williamson of National Review throws water on the parade in a post titled "We Cannot Vote Away Scarcity":
Our ongoing troubles with health care stem from an unwillingness to deal with certain facts. One of those facts is scarcity. “Scarcity” is a term from economics, and it refers to the fact that there is never enough of anything to satisfy every possible desire — the universe holds only so much, and human desire has a way of outgrowing whatever we have. So we have to come up with a way of dividing up that which is scarce. We have tried many different ways of doing that — war, caste systems, central planning — though mostly we’ve relied on the fact that everybody wants lots of different things, which makes it possible to trade. But buying and selling stuff is not, to be sure, the only way to divide up that which is scarce.

Medical care is scarce: There are only so many doctors and hospital rooms; the pill factories can make only so many pills, and there are real limitations on the raw materials used to make those pills; heart stents don’t grow on trees, but, even if they did, they would be scarce, like apples and oranges and pears and avocados.

Because of scarcity, medical care eventually reaches the point where one of three things happens: Somebody puts out his hand and says “Pay me,” an officer of the government or an insurance company refuses to approve some treatment, or you die. Because we are a largely cooperative species, we do not like that very much. It seems unfair and unkind. So we try to make an end run around scarcity with things such as health insurance and government medical plans, both of which are based on the same economic principle: Someone else pays. But scarcity does not care who is paying: Scarcity is scarcity. In the most monopolistic public-health systems (e.g., the ones in the United Kingdom and Canada), there is a lot of saying “No,” though it is what we might call a “Japanese no” — saying “no” without actually saying it. They put you on a waiting list and hope you die before they actually have to say “No,” or they simply expect you to accept that some services and treatments are categorically unavailable. There is a reason New York City’s hospitals are full of rich Canadians who cannot afford the free health care at home.
Of course if liberals have an easy job "Free health care for everybody!" then conservatives do too with the catchy (if far less popular): "No such thing as a free lunch!". Where it gets interestingly difficult is middle strategies, of trying to mitigate things. But there's not too much of a constituency for that else John Kasich would've won the presidency. We're no doubt getting the government we richly deserve.

This whole health care debacle, from Obamacare to Trumpcare, would be so amusing if it wasn't so serious. It's an attempt to square a circle, and both parties have no fallen prey to that hardy myth, and have lined up at that circular firing squad, to mix circle metaphors.

May 03, 2017

GOP Still Tail-Tucked After All These Years

I rue the day the GOP went down the shutdown path during the Gingrich years because we've been paying for it ever since.  It's like the Dems discovered a new source of unbelievable power, like when foes of Superman suddenly discovered that he's allergic to Kryptonite.  

Repubs get played every time since Dems and Reps know exactly how script goes: GOP gets blamed for shutdown, national parks close, social security checks don't go out, military vets denied health service, and there's no way to win that battle simply because constituents of Dems will not blame Dems, while constituents of Repubs will blame Repubs.  Heads roll, capitulation happens and life goes on. 

I went on Drudge yesterday and chuckled to see that Ryan and Congress got the blame instead of 45.  The Drudge-Trump bromance continues!  But not with Ann Coulter - she handed Trump a tongue-lashin'.  She said Republicans in Congress are useless but that is well-known information; we hired a crazy person to do what congress can't.  And he ain't.  

Trump's promising a shutdown in September.  Easy to say that in May. 

April 27, 2017

Discarded Communion Host Leads to Conversion

Interesting reversion story from a guest poster at Catholic Bibles blog:
"I went to a good college and let my faith slip away due to the self consciousness of being semi-religious at an Ivy League school during the Bush years, when Christianity was mainly seen as the philosophical arm of the Republican party by many in New England.

-From there it was a fairly quick descent in drugs. I got that out of my system and got pretty heavily involved in left wing activism for a while.

-I was absolutely lost and depressed for much of the time between age 18 and 22, but after college I began to find my place in the world in some bohemian circles. I noticed, say, trees for the first time in my life and was intoxicated by the beauty of the world. I started thinking about Jesus a lot, but mainly in a "I wish it was all true..." sort of way. I had "natural happiness", but nothing supernatural.

-While dating an art student, I awoke in her apartment, quite hung over, and grabbed a strawberry. I bit it in half and was amazed to look inside and see the pith within the empty space of this overgrown hothouse berry. It came to me in a flash, as easy as if you look at a clock and know what time it is without knowingly processing the symbols: God exists.

-I excitedly told my girlfriend, who was quite horrified and dumped me. She wept in the entryway of her building as she walked me out. "There is no heaven," she kept repeating.

-I carried with me the knowledge of God's existence, but didn't know what to do about it. I certainly didn't identify with any specific religion or spirituality.

-In the summer of 2012 I stopped at a Stop n Shop in Johnston, Rhode Island to grab a meager dinner before I went to shoot pool with some friends at a dive bar. I looked down at some point and there on the ground was a very dirty communion host. I knew that it didn't belong there, and after thinking about it for a while, I picked it up and put it in my pocket. The entire rest of the night I felt charged--as if I'd been plugged into a battery or something.

-The knowledge of what this was dawned on me over the course of months and years, not all at once. I gave the host to my parents (who had returned to the Church with new enthusiasm a year or two before) who asked advice from their pastor on what to do with it. The suggestion, considering it was of unknown origin, was to dissolve it in water and feed a beloved plant with it. My mother poured it onto the soil around a sunflower.

-I knew my life was transformed. I knew the Church was who she claimed to be. I already knew God, but now I knew that he loved me and pursued me. Still, that knowledge of its importance, compared to the sinfulness of my life gave me pause and indecision.

-I returned to the Church Ash Wednesday 2013."

April 26, 2017

Q&A with Pope Benedict

Interesting excerpts from the Pope Benedict "Last Testament" interview book: 

Q: Do you experience the ‘dark nights’ of which the saints speak?
A: Not as intensely. Maybe because I am not holy enough to get so deep into the darkness. But when things just happen in the sphere of human events, where one says: ‘How can the loving God permit that?’, the questions are certainly very big questions. Then one must maintain firmly, in faith, that He knows better.

More and more it is a gift; you suddenly see something which was not perceptible before. You realize that you must be humble, you must wait when you can’t enter into a passage of the Scriptures, until the Lord opens it up for you.

Q: What are your thoughts about your resignation?
A: One objection is that the papacy has been secularized by the resignation; that it is no longer a unique office but an office like any other. I had to accept that question, and consider whether or not functionalism would completely encroach on the papacy, so to speak. But similar steps had already been made with the episcopacy. Earlier, bishops were not allowed to resign. There were a number of bishops who said ‘I am a father and that I’ll stay’, because you can’t simply stop being a father; stopping is a functionalization and secularization, something from the sort of concept of public office that shouldn’t apply to a bishop. To that I must reply: even a father’s role stops. Of course a father does not stop being a father, but he is relieved of concrete responsibility. He remains a father in a deep, inward sense, in a particular relationship which has responsibility, but not with day-to-day tasks as such. It was also this way for bishops. Anyway, since then it has generally come to be understood that on the one hand the bishop is bearer of a sacramental mission which remains binding on him inwardly, but on the other hand this does not have to keep him in his function for ever. And so I think it is also clear that the Pope is no superman and his mere existence is not sufficient to conduct his role; rather, he likewise exercises a function. If he steps down, he remains in an inner sense within the responsibility he took on, but not in the function. In this respect one comes to understand that the office of the Pope has lost none of its greatness, even if the humanity of the office is perhaps becoming more clearly evident.

Q: Pope Francis?
A:  From ad limina visits and correspondence. I grew to know him as a very decisive man, someone who in Argentina would say very firmly, this is happening and this is not. I had not experienced this aspect of warmth, the wholly personal connection to the people; that was a surprise to me…

One person might be somewhat reserved, the other a little more forceful than one imagined. But I do think it is good that he approaches people so directly. Of course, I ask myself how long he will be able to maintain that. It takes a great deal of strength, two hundred or more handshakes and interactions every Wednesday, and so forth. But, let us leave that to the loving God.


Q: How did you deal with rejection while a young adult in the ministry?
A: I believe that it is dangerous for a young person simply to go from achieving goal after goal, generally being praised along the way. So it is good for a young person to experience his limit, occasionally to be dealt with critically, to suffer his way through a period of negativity, to recognize his own limits himself, not simply to win victory after victory. A human being needs to endure something in order to learn to assess himself correctly, and not least to learn to think with others.


Q: Were you still able to get any sleep [during your papacy]?
A: Yes, yes, that is non-negotiable for me. [Laughs] I’ll never let that be infringed upon.  Seven or eight hours.


Q:  Is the new internal split, then beginning within the Church, and basically enduring to this day, to be considered as part of the tragic nature of the Council?
A: I would say so, yes. The bishops wanted to renew the faith, to deepen it. However, other forces were working with increasing strength, particularly journalists, who interpreted many things in a completely new way. Eventually people asked, yes, if the bishops are able to change everything, why can’t we all do that? The liturgy began to crumble, and slip into personal preferences. In this respect one could soon see that what was originally desired was being driven in a different direction. Since 1965 I have felt it to be a mission to make clear what we genuinely wanted and what we did not want.

Q: Did you have pangs of conscience, as a participant, one who shares responsibility?
A: One certainly asks oneself whether or not one did things rightly. Particularly when the whole thing unravelled, that was definitely a question one posed. Cardinal Frings later had intense pangs of conscience. But he always had an awareness that what we actually said and put forward was right, and also had to happen. We handled things correctly, even if we certainly did not correctly assess the political consequences and the actual repercussions. One thought too much of theological matters then, and did not reflect on how these things would come across.

Q: Was it a mistake to convoke the Council at all?
A: No, it was right for sure. One can ask whether it was necessary or not, OK. And from the outset there were people who were against it. But in itself it was a moment in the Church when you were simply waiting on something new, on a renewal, a renewal of the whole. This was not to be something coming only from Rome, but a new encounter with the worldwide Church. In that respect the time was simply nigh.


Q: You once said that you got to know this great man [Pope John Paul II] better by concelebrating the Holy Mass with him than by analysing his books. Why was that?

A: Yes, well, if you concelebrated with him, you felt the inward proximity to the Lord, the depth of faith which he would then plunge into, and you really experienced him as a man who believes, who prays, and who is indeed marked by the Spirit. This was more the case than if you read his books, although they also gave an image of him, but they certainly didn’t let the whole of his personality energe.

He was a man who needed companionship, needed life, activity, needed encounters. I, however, needed silence more, and so on. But precisely because we were very different, we complemented each other well.


Q: Describe your vision impairment.   
A: The day came, in 1984 I think, when I had a kind of embolism too, which spread to the whole eye. I was in Maria Eck hospital and went to the optician the very next day. It was already too late then, so my vision was very severely impaired. That was being treated for a long time, until finally – a third thing – macula [Macula lutea – also called ‘yellow spot’, a disease of the retina], so now I’m simply blind in the left eye.

Q: Completely?
A: Yes. I don’t even see light and dark.


Q: In the Vatican you never belonged to any cliques. You have an aversion to cronyism. Has your keeping a distance from the apparatus of power not earned you lots of enemies?
A: I don’t think so, actually. I’ve even had friends. Everyone knew that I don’t do any politicking, and that inhibits hostility. People know: he’s not dangerous.

Q: When Joseph Ratzinger emerged before the faithful on 19 April 2005 on the loggia of St Peter’s Basilica as St Peter’s 265th successor, he looked almost like a teenager. After the long suffering of his predecessor, people weren’t accustomed to seeing a Pope not sitting in a wheelchair, who was able to recite texts fluently and to the end. The Popes passing the baton could not have been more different. One was mystical and Marian, the other learned and Christocentric. Here the actor, the man of gesture who wooed the stage. There, the shy ‘worker in the vineyard of the Lord’, the man of the Word, who wanted to renounce the prizing of mere effects over substance. This was already the third conclave you’d witnessed. Was it different to the others?

A: Well, with the first two I was still among the young and little-known cardinals, a novice shooter, so to speak, and in that sense I was in a quiet position. Here I had the responsibility of dean of the College of Cardinals. That means you have to conduct the Pope’s funeral, you have to manage the preparations and then even have a responsibility in the conclave itself. At the end, it is the dean who asks the one selected whether or not he accepts. Through a good twenty years in Rome I was no longer an unknown quantity, my position this time was different from before. And finally, I was now seventy-eight years old, which was of course reassuring. If the bishops stop at seventy-five, you cannot hoist a seventy-eight-year-old onto the chair of Peter.

Q: Why did you not name yourself John Paul III?
A: I felt that would be inappropriate, because a standard had been set there which I couldn’t match. I could not be a John Paul III. I was a different character, cut from a different cloth; I had a different sort of charisma, or rather a non-charisma. Suddenly: Christ’s vicar on earth. What inner change was going on there? Yes, there was the thought: no, I need still more help from him. One knows: I really am not that. But if he lays the yoke on my shoulders, he must also help me bear it.

Q: You spoke of the cardinals’ ballot as the falling of a ‘guillotine’. Did you regret that later?
A: No, the feeling was just like that, a guillotine.

Q: Do you feel you were too much of a professor as bishop?
A: One only realizes afterwards that a professor is accused of approaching the contexts of life too theoretically, which is a danger when it comes to action. But he is gradually schooled in dealing with practical matters by the people around him, and this enables him to become something different; less theoretical and more capable of grasping practical tasks.


Q: Will it take centuries to Christianize the continent of Europe again?  Were you deluding yourself to have preached there so much?

Q: It is not permissible simply to give up proclaiming the gospel. Indeed, it seemed completely absurd in ancient times that a couple of Jews went out and sought to win the great, learned and knowledgeable Graeco-Roman world for Christianity. There will always be great failures too. We do not know how Europe will develop, or the degree to which it will still be Europe if different strata of the population newly structure it. But to proclaim this Word, which bears power in itself, to build the future which makes the lives of human beings meaningful, that is independent of any calculation of success, and absolutely necessary. The Apostles could not make sociological investigations, that happens or it doesn’t, but they had to trust in the inner power of this Word. At first, very few, lowly, people joined. But then the circle grew. Of course the Word of Gospel can disappear from continents. Indeed we can see now that the Christian continents of the beginning, Asia Minor and North Africa, are no longer Christian. It can even disappear in places where it was dominant. But it can never remain unsaid; will never be unimportant.

Q: Were you too focused on debates on the “historical Jesus”?

A: If we no longer know Jesus, the Church is finished. And the danger that we will just destroy him and talk him to death with certain types of exegesis is overwhelming. Therefore I had to get a bit stuck in to the battles over the details. It is not sufficient just to interpret the texts spiritually with dogma. One must enter into the disputes, and do so indeed without losing oneself in the exegetical details, but go far enough to recognize that the historical method does not prohibit faith.
The question ‘is it really proven?’ comes to one again and again. But then I’ve had so many concrete experiences of faith, experiences of the presence of God, that I am ready for these moments and they cannot crush me.


Q: How was it with Obama?
A: A great politician of course, who knows what it takes to be successful, and has certain ideas that we cannot share, but he was not only a tactician to me, but certainly a reflective man too. I felt that he sought the meeting between us, and that he listened.  What was generally impressive about these encounters was discerning that – although these people indeed think very differently to us on many issues – they certainly try to see what is right.

Q: How was the meeting with Putin?
A: Very interesting. We spoke with each other in German; he speaks perfect German. We didn’t go very deep, but I certainly believe that he is – a man of power of course – somehow affected by the necessity of faith. He is a realist. He sees how Russia suffers from the destruction of morality. Even as a patriot, as someone who wants Russia to have great power again, he sees that the destruction of Christianity threatens to destroy Russia. A human being needs God, he sees that quite evidently, and he is certainly affected by it inwardly as well. He has now even, as he gave the Papa [Pope Francis] an icon, made the sign of the cross and kissed it.

Q: Describe your papal visit to Berlin.
A: Berlin is somehow different to the Catholic tradition, and the city is an expression of the Protestant world. Catholicism is indeed there, and it is lived too, but it is somehow marginal.  So it’s clear that one could not expect that Berlin would be like Madrid, or even like London or Edinburgh. There are other cities which are not at all Catholic, but the people are somehow different there . . .

Q: How did you find the meeting with Fidel Castro?
A:  It was touching, somehow. He is of course old and unwell, but certainly very with it and he has vitality. I don’t think he has, on the whole, yet come out of the thought-structures by which he became powerful. But he sees that through the convulsions in world history, the religious question is being posed afresh. He even asked me to send him some literature. Did you do it? I sent him Introduction to Christianity, and one or two other things too. He is not a person with whom one must expect a major conversion, but a man who sees that things have gone differently, that he has to think and ask questions about the whole again.

Q:  Pope Benedict, in the 1950s you predicted an enormous loss of faith across much of Europe. That won you a reputation as a pessimist. Today one sees how your vision of the ‘small Church’ which would lose many of her privileges, which would be opposed, and around which fewer and fewer believers in the strict sense would gather, has come true.
A: Certainly, yes. I would say the dechristianization continues.

Q: How do you see the future of Christianity today?
A: That we’re no longer coextensive with modern culture, the basic shape of Christianity is no longer determined, that is obvious. Today we live in a positivistic and agnostic culture, which shows itself more and more intolerant towards Christianity. In that sense, Western society, or Europe in any case, will no longer simply be a Christian society. Believers will have to strive all the more to continue to form and to bear the awareness of values and the awareness of life. A resolute faith among individual congregations and local churches will be important. The responsibility is greater.

Above all, we see how the dechristianization of Europe progresses, that in Europe things pertaining to Christianity are increasingly disappearing from the character of public life. So the Church must find a new kind of presence, must change her way of being present. There are seismic periodic changes in process. But we do not yet know at which precise point we can say that one era begins and another starts.

Q: You know the prophecy of Malachy, who in the Middle Ages predicted a list of future popes even to the end of time, at least the end of the Church. According to this list, the papacy ends after your pontificate. Is that an issue for you, whether it can actually be that at least you are the last of a series of popes, as we have known the office so far?
A:  Anything can be. This prophecy probably arose in circles around Philip Neri. And he simply wanted to say – in contrast to the Protestants, who were then saying the papacy is at an end – through an endlessly long series of popes yet to come: ‘No, it is not at an end.’ But you don’t have to conclude that it really ceases then. His series was never going to be long enough.

Q: But are there not also lonely hours, in which one can feel terribly alone inside?
A: Certainly, but because I feel so connected to the Lord, I’m therefore never entirely alone.
Q: He who believes is never alone?
A: Yes, genuinely. One simply knows, I’m not the one doing things. I also could not do it alone, He is constantly there.

Q: Were you happy then, being Pope?
A: [Laughs] Well, I would say so; I knew that I am carried, so I am grateful for many beautiful experiences. But it was always a burden too, of course.

Q: Your bishop motto comes to mind: ‘Co-worker of the truth’. How did you actually come to that?
A: Like this: I had for a long time excluded the question of truth, because it seemed to be too great. The claim: ‘We have the truth!’ is something which no one had the courage to say, so even in theology we had largely eliminated the concept of truth. In these years of struggle, the 1970s, it became clear to me: if we omit the truth, what do we do anything for? So truth must be involved. Indeed, we cannot say ‘I have the truth’, but the truth has us, it touches us. And we try to let ourselves be guided by this touch. Then this phrase from John 3 crossed my mind, that we are ‘co-workers of the truth’. One can work with the truth, because the truth is person. One can let truth in, try to provide the truth with value. That seemed to me finally to be the very definition of the profession of a theologian; that he, when he has been touched by this truth, when truth has caught sight of him, is now ready to let it take him into service, to work on it and for it.

To be loved and to love another are things I have increasingly recognized as fundamental, so that one can live; so that one can say yes to oneself, so that one can say yes to another. Finally, it has become increasingly clear to me that God is not, let’s say, a ruling power, a distant force; rather he is love and he loves me – and as such, life should be guided by him, by this power called love.