June 30, 2016

Heaven Can Wait

I'm trying to figure out why the heck the 1978 comedy Heaven Can Wait  moves me so. I just saw it again after having not seen it in about three decades. It stood up well for me.

It's funny how I'm taking new things from it. Little things like the comment of how the previous Rams owner was upset about losing his team to "ruthless" Farnsworth. “What kind of pressure did he apply?” asks his friend. “The worst. I asked for $67 million and he said yes.” Which is actually pretty astute, how money can rule us rather than vice-versa.

Then there's the story line of Joe Pendelton/Farnsworth having two loves: football and Betty Logan, and how these fought for supremacy with Betty winning but "all these things [football] added unto him" nonetheless. It reminds me of the tension between earthly trivialities and love of God.

And it reminds that there's something beyond just the physical body, some “invisible” spark within that allows those with faith to recognize Pendleton in Farnsworth's body.  Like recognizing Christ in a fellow Christian.

The ending is bittersweet - more bitter than sweet when I first viewed it. Back then I felt mostly the “bitter” of the woman and Joe not remembering their history together, of her not having the satisfaction/fulfillment of the truly happy ending of mutual awareness of who she was to Jarrett and who Jarrett was to her.

Seems the coach was left sad and without faith, not accepting that Joe was really inside Tom Jarrett's body. The pivotal moment for him was when he asked Jarrett to look into his eyes (which earlier in the movie was said to be the key to unmasking the true Joe). The coach seemed as deflated after looking as before.

The whole thing is reminiscent of Faith, of stepping into uncertainty and trusting it certain. Of taking small little incidences, coincidences, and understanding they converge into something Big --which happened for Betty when Joe said before he died “don't be afraid to take a chance on someone who may be a quarterback” and by hearing Jarrett later say (like Joe), while they were in the dark together, “there's nothing to be afraid of.” It's telling it happened when her sense of sight was obscured - and thus not seeing the words come from Tom Jarret's body. Reminds me of the Blessed Margaret novena: “O God who wished Blessed Margaret be blind from birth so that the eyes of her soul enlightened by your grace, might more clearly see the value of spiritual realities….”  In the darkened tunnel Betty saw who Jarrett really was.

It reminds me God's subtly, not forcing our belief, and how faith seems so fragile and yet really isn't. Mr Jordan insists “there is a plan” and while the chance meeting between the woman and Jarrett at the end seems tenuous and fragile, able to be broken off by one or the other easily (after all, they ostensibly didn't know each other), you could look at it as fated and as sure as God's will being done.

June 29, 2016

Hastag MakeAMusicGroupCatholic

I spent too much time yesterday trying to come up with offerings for #MakeAMusicGroupCatholic after seeing Jeff Miller of Curt Jester tweet a couple witty offerings.

Here are mine:
Pure Chastity League

The Allman Franciscan Brothers

Meatless Loaf

Emerson, Lake & Palm Branches

The Communiondores

Nitty Gritty Girt Band

Nuns and Croziers

Narrow Straits
Others I didn't tweet since they seemed lame even by my generous standards:
The Kentucky Godhunters

U3

Bead-les

Let Us Now Praise Famous Blogs

The intense blog era for me was 2003-2005 and some of the most memorable lines (for me) of bloggers varied from the mundane to the brilliant. It's funny how minor things can oft times register.

I always mean to write a definitive list. Overall I've probably learned the most from Tom of Disputations.  A tiny sampling:

Mark Shea: We are not our sins.

Amy Welborn: If the pre-Vatican II church was so healthy and wise, why did it collapse so quickly?

Tom of Disputations: I recall being gobsmacked by his motto capax dei (“capable of God”) simply because he made it sound like holiness was attainable. I also will never forget his saying that (paraphrased) that we are to forgive each other's sins, and often enough that "sinful" behavior doesn't even rise to the level of objectively sinful.

Jeff Miller: A hilarious pic of St. Therese on cover of “Pray Boy” magazine

Julie of Happy Catholic: her saying she reads books while brushing her teeth

Steven Riddle: that he double-stacked books - first time I heard you could do that (not that you'd necessarily want to since it obscures row behind).

Jim Curley: That “Curley in '12” presidential blog stocker/image!

Lee Ann Moraski was a big John Calhoun fan.

June 23, 2016

At Last! The Key to Our Insane Politics

In this insane political year, with GOP picking Trump and Dems falling in love with a socialist, this Atlantic article helps explain things, including the Democrats' recent precedent-breaking sit-in

The gist of it is that all the things we hate about politics - earmarks, glad-handing spineless politicians, favor-trading - turns out to have a function: it allows government to function.

It's an eye-opening read,  a "pro-establishment" piece during this era when "establishment" is a dirty word, and a key that unlocks everything when combined with a recent book by Yuval Levin titled, "The Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism".

It's all about atomization. A race to extreme individualism conjoined to a race towards extreme centralization.  They go in tandem, surprisingly: "two sides of the same coin that reinforce each other and make the other possible" according to Levin. The Dem lawmakers involved in the sit-in are simply taking the next step in the logical progression towards greater individualism (thwarting and obstructing the rules of the House) and greater centralization (their desire to enact federal gun laws).

The Yuval Levin book argues that what we've failed to diagnose the real problem, which is a surfeit of nostalgia:
Levin argues that our anxiety is rooted in a failure of diagnosis. Our politics is drenched in nostalgia, with Democrats always living in 1965 and Republicans in 1981, and is therefore blind to the profound transformations of the last half century. America’s midcentury order was dominated by large, interconnected institutions: big government, big business, big labor, big media, big universities, mass culture. But in every arena of our national life—or at least every arena except government, for now—we have witnessed the centrifugal forces of diffusion, diversity, individualism, and decentralization pulling these large institutions apart. These forces have liberated many Americans from oppressive social constraints but also estranged many from families, communities, work, and faith. They have set loose a profusion of options in every part of life but also unraveled the social order and economic security of an earlier era. They have loosened the reins of cultural conformity but also sharpened our differences and weakened the roots of mutual trust.
Building on our strengths while healing our wounds, Levin argues, would require a politics better adapted to the society we have become—a politics rooted in neither an ethic of centralized power nor a spirit of radical individualism but a regard for the potential of a modernized subsidiarity and civil society. 

June 22, 2016

St. Thomas More

Gosh I love St. Thomas More. What a sublimely relatable saint! A married man, unlike the preponderance of canonized male saints. And I like the way More strenuously tried to save himself by supporting the King to the fullest extent possible. Here was not somebody who considered his life cheap.

From Robert Bork on how St. Thomas followed the law (Church and earthly) closely because he didn't trust himself or knowledge of morality:
“There is the thought that [More] is not sure about morality, that he may be wrong. When Roper says to him, 'The law's your god,' More replies, 'Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god…But I find Him rather too subtle…I don't know where He is nor what He wants.'”
Gosh there's some saintly honesty! That's something you don't read in most saint hagiographies.

Bork continues:
“Again [More] says: 'God made the angels to show Him splendor - as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind.' Not in pride and certainty of the individual conscience, but in the tangle of his mind. It was because More recognized the fallibility of individual minds that he obeyed authority but saw no need or virtue in doing more than authority required when his mind told him what was ordered was wrong.”
Precisely. And therein lies the difference between a Martin Luther and a Thomas More: humility. Luther was sure of himself, More not. One's a saint, the other helped fracture the Church. At the very least you'd think Luther might've required of God a mystical vision in order to make so clean a break.

Thomas More was the only person not a member of the clergy who died rather than take the Henry VIII oath:
“More was caught between two authorities…[but he believed] Christ did not leave behind a book but a Church, and that Church must not be divided…At this extremity, God was no longer too subtle for him, and More obeyed God's law and went to his death.”

June 20, 2016

How Long Can Your Blog Go?

So I looked at 45 Catholic blogs that began a decade or more ago, more or less at random (looked at blog lists on blogs), and assigned them birth and death dates. Death dates arbitrary; if someone blogged once or thrice in a year that year does not count.

Some blogs I couldn't easily track down (like Dylan's) so they weren't included.

The average lifespan is a surprisingly healthy 10 years.


(For best results, click to enlarge.)

I marked a bold line at the end of 2009 because it seems like that's when a lot of blogs fell off or began to.  I suspect the rise of Facebook at that point:


I think RectaRatio.blogspot.com comes as the biggest surprise to me.  It looks like a labor without ego - no writerly voice at all, just a pious commonplace blog of clips and pics, of prayers and saints - for going on 15 years! I can't recall pious blogs like that lasting too long, although theoretically it should be easier since you don't have to create content but borrow it.  On the other hand I doubt these blogs get many props or hits, so there's less incentive.

June 17, 2016

My 2006 Post

Exactly 10 years ago I was impressed with how Trump plays the media to get ratings. I didn't know the half of it, ha.  From 2006:
I heard that Donald Trump, after a multi-day waiting period during which he solomonically considered whether or not to fire Miss USA for conduct unbecoming, announced at a press conference yesterday that the young miss will be allowed to continue her reign.

Is that not perfect? This is why Trump gets paid the big bucks. Now instead of five people paying attention to the pageant you have at least twenty.

So, taking a page out of the Trump marketing book, I will announce next Tuesday whether or not I will fire myself as a blogger. Should I be fact fired, the second in command, Ham o' Bone, will take over.

My One Millionth Political Post, Sadly

Ironically, I suspect that Trump has unwittingly proved that the GOP establishment strategy of not being overly ambitious in its agenda, in marshaling political power instead of getting in big fight with Obama over budgets, was the correct one. Because Trump has taught us is that there is little voter appetite for conservatism - hence if GOP had gone pellmell after Obama it would likely have gotten its clock cleaned. People are really not in the mood at all for budget balancing, which is why Trump smartly never emphasizes that.

The GOP figured that Obamacare, as bad as it was, was going to stay because replacing Obamacare apparently was politically infeasible.   Looks like the establishment was correct because if the electorate cared about Obamacare they would've nominated someone with a discernible health care plan.

*

It's interesting to me the sway that real estate developers have in suburban communities despite the fact that the number of citizens with ties to developers approaches zero.  It's a figure of wonderment that public officials can have citizens pay for the infrastructure that developers require, like sewers and such, and then jack up property taxes by allowing residential development to far outpace commercial.

It seems a decent example of how the rich on any level appear to rule the roost, presumably because voters don't follow local politics closely enough, or understand how complicated some of these complex TIFs (tax increment financing) are. Complexity is a politician's best friend when it comes to actually governing (because he can obfuscate and avoid accountability) and it's his worse friend when it comes to campaigning (witness Trump versus all the other Republican candidates).

It's disturbing how tech companies like Google and Facebook, which in the beginning seemed non-political and more interested in money and number of hits than in skewing things, now fiddle with algorithms to "cook the books" -- Facebook by eliminating conservative stories in their collated section and Google by changing their autofill feature with respect to Hillary Clinton.

It's all a reminder of how nobody is looking out for our best interests: not government, nor business.

June 15, 2016

Pain, Mysticism, and St. Paul

Did some reading of St. Paul biography titled “In the Steps of Paul” and came across the paragraph below and thought: “Yes, yes!” The paragraph is fascinating because it highlights the oddity of someone receiving supernatural visions and yet being, paradoxically, more focused on the “mundane” everydayness:
“The knowledge that the purely sensory limitations of the physical body had been outdistanced for a moment, just long enough to permit the visionary (like Paul) to know reality. Those who have voyaged outside the small world of the senses are, strangely enough, often intensely practical in achievement. St. Paul is an outstanding instance, and so are St. Bernard, St. Joan of Arc, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius Loyola, and St. Teresa of Avila.”
They sweat the small stuff even after seeing the big stuff, perhaps proving the big stuff is the small stuff. It always impresses me, that St. Paul, after receiving that vision of Christ on the road to Damascus, ended up living another 30 years with all sorts of “major inconveniences” like shipwrecks, floggings, prison time, near stonings. You'd think he'd say to God, “Lord I know you can snap your fingers and make this obstacle go away, make me to spend my time more effectively for you than here in prison or deal with a ship wreck. Are you still with me?”. There's the sense that if someone has visions you'd think they'd feel …entitled? Or at least having direct experience of God's help they would expect it repeatedly.

The book goes on:
"It seems to me that one of the first things we have to realize about St. Paul is that from the moment of his conversion he became one of those saints who, in the words of Evelyn Underhill in her book Mysticism, possessed a 'triumphing force' over which circumstances had no power. 'The incessant production of good works seems indeed to be the object of that Spirit,' writes the author of Mysticism. 'We see St. Paul abruptly enslaved by the First and Only Fair, not hiding himself to enjoy the vision of Reality, but going out single-handed to organize the Catholic Church. We ask how it was possible for an obscure Roman citizen, without money, influence, or good health, to lay these colossal foundations: and he answers 'Not I, but Christ in me.'”
Coincidentally, came across this from a completely secular writer in a book trying to describe the Greek notion of beauty, talking about how pain seems relative:
“In his recent book, A Cultural History of Pain, Javier Moscoso raises the question of how we identify pain in someone else…We might rely on familiar manifestations of pain such as a contorted expression or cries of anguish (in pictures, the mouth shaped so as to suggest a scream), but what if the posture and appearance of what we take to be the victim of torment are or seem to be perfectly serene, as is the case, to be the victim of torment are or seem to be perfectly serene, as is the case, for instance, in numerous images of Christian martyrdom, from Christ himself onward? Various documentary accounts affirm that the faith of some saints was so strong that they did not feel the pain inflicted on them; other accounts make it clear that pain was indeed experienced but was welcomed as essential to penitence, and so again it was in some form transcended or at least different from the way we habitually think of pain as necessarily producing aversion.”

D.C./Outer Banks Trip Log

MONDAY: Livin' the dream! Bathed in wonder. It's been too long since a good ol' fashioned sight-seeing vacation. Who can't love a pretty monument on a monumentally summer day? I stare fondly at the fountain outside the Library of Congress and I think how refreshing this is, this simple thing of outdoor statuary. It feels so Roman, like Trevi.

It reminds me how I'm probably the only person ever to have gone to Las Vegas for the architecture. Gambling? Pshaw!

I walked 12k steps, starting at the local Catholic churches that looked unbearably quaint and antique. Both locked up, alas. One overtly Italian and the other Chinese (Chiesa Italiana Holy Rosary and Saint Mary Mother of God.) Gothic churches built in the 1800s. A painted mural on the brick of the church is half-peeled off, leaving a sort of gauzy pointillistic effect.

Outside the Italian church were statues of national figures like Giuseppe Verdi and Michelangelo; apparently there aren't enough Italian saints to warrant being featured. (In fairness, it looks like a completely separate building from the church called “Casa Italia”.)

Walked past the National Building Museum; I wished they'd called it the National Building Building. That would be so much cooler.

Walked by the Supreme Court with its sadly untrue motto etched in stone: “Justice for All”, notwithstanding blacks pre-Civil Rights and babies in the womb to this day. Thought about going in but wasn't sufficiently motivated.

Instead, wandered over to the Folger Shakespeare Library and gorged on exhibit celebrating the Bard's influence in America. You haven't lived until you've seen Herman Melville's marginalia on “The Tempest”. Not to mention a real, live Abe Lincoln letter on his favorite plays (Macbeth, Lear, Richard III, but mostly Macbeth). Feminist Jane Smiley on the sad discovery that Shakespeare wasn't a feminist. There were clips of Shakespeare in TV comedies like Gilligan's Island and a clip of Cybil Shepherd doing a Shakespeare gag on Moonlighting. Man she was otherworldly pretty. And the chemistry between her and Willis as electric as I'd recalled.

Felt a good dollop of wonder too walking around the Globe Theatre they've recreated in there. Could imagine Shakespeare speaking his lines as in merrie olde England.

Next up: Library of Congress. Walked into the John Adams building but that's not where the fun is. The Jefferson building is the place of the glorious reading room. Alas by the time I walked around the gigantic building it was 4:34 and they stop letting people in at 4:30.

After the aborted Library effort, I headed to one of the renown DC bookshops. It was a far piece on foot, or at least it felt so, but the Capitol Hill Bookshop had the cranky atmosphere of a curmudgeon who makes no bones about his politics: he has a sign “wacko stack” next to Sarah Palin and Laura Ingraham's books. He also had a sign above a survivalist book that said: “read this for post-Trump America”.

He'd ask customers if they wanted a bag for their books and when one young lady hesitated he sighed sarcastically and said, “I know it's a big decision.” He asked a customer with a Russian accent who said he'd forgotten something, and the owner asked if maybe he had too much vodka last night. “You drink it?”. “No, not anymore. Only in Russia. Over here nobody drinks or smokes, they just exercise.”. “And do yoga,” the proprietor responded.



 I took pictures of the signs, including the t-shirt “I Got Used at Capitol Hill Books”. Also bought William Least Heat Moon's River-Horse about his travels along the Ohio River. Copped some free books from the free table though I don't know how I'm going to get them home given bag weight restrictions.

TUESDAY: Enjoyed a vivid bit of River-Horse by the great William Least Heat Moon, he who changed his name to reflect his something like 1/8th American Indian heritage. I think if Elizabeth Warren wasn't such a fake she'd do the same. If you're going to try to trade on affirmative action privileges like her you should at least go all in.

*

Well the vacation is on all cylinders. Am currently iPading on the steps of Saint Mary's church, the only available place to sit in this very urban locale, drinking a beer out of a coffee thermos. It's 7:15pm and a full day was had.

It started with a visit to St. Mary's, only to find it shut tight. I wended all around it, finally finding an unlocked gate to the St Francis garden topiary just next to the stone church. An lady in perhaps her early 60s was knitting. I asked the lady why Mass wasn't being said. She showed me a bulletin and it appeared 8am Mass was only Wed-Fri, so I was a day early. She was loquacious; at one point she asked if I was of Irish and I said partially, and what my birthday was and she opened a large datebook and scribed my name on the entry for 6/22, saying she prays for folks on their birthday. Nice!

She was previously a nurse, and told me she was asked to be a Third Order Carmelite but always had a love for St. Francis - in fact, she had lit up immediately when I approached her because I had a shirt that happened to have “St Francis school” on it, a thrift shop find. She asked if I went to St. Francis parish and pointed me eagerly to the St. Francis statue near us.

She gave me a St Faustina Divine Mercy card, saying this is the time of Mercy and when Jesus comes again it will be in Justice and Judgment, so this is the time to take advantage of.

Later I went to Mass at Shrine with 300 nuns and holy young women and I thought: “Wow, if God was ranking people in this assembly I am dead last in holiness.” [I just had a word from God and he said, “that happens every time you go to daily Mass!”]

Later, at the Shrine I went through the big front door but it turned out not to be the Holy Door (as proclaimed by Pope Francis), so I went out and came in again through that one.

But that's skipping ahead. I wandered around in the morning sun, through Chinatown, trying to make it “my own”. My three-day residence. Later I would hit the only tiny grocery mart and it felt very authentic. The smell in there was very Asian, mostly noodles and fishy though I didn't immediately see any noodles or fish. There was American craft beer, but the newspapers (USA Today and another one) were all written in gibbly-gook letters, those crazy Chinese symbols. I felt like commenting to cashier how impressed I was by how Chinese this place looked and how it could be a movie set. But I held my tongue.



After the phone call decided to make the hike down 6th street to National Gallery of Art and it wasn't that far at all, less than a mile. Gorged on art for a couple hours then gorged at the buffet in museum. $22 but it was good nutritious food: salads and herb-baked chicken and cheese and soup. My body was keening for the outdoors since the weather was golden, literally, and the museum cold and overcast. Art likes shade and cool, me not so much - the a/c was so strong that I could've used a sweater.



So I went outside and enjoyed some of the strong 85 degree sun. Sat next to a fountain so big it was deafening.

I got to the Basilica (National Shrine) about 3:30 and walked around the astonishing church - easily the most beautiful I've seen in America. It has the power of continual surprise since it's really a collection of a dozen or more churches since the side altar nooks contain feasts for the eyes. I wondered what the point of taking pictures would be, because simply everything was picture-worthy and yet pictures couldn't do it justice.

A flock of nuns came by and sang afternoon hours at 4:45pm. At first I thought it was a choir practicing, a pleasant sound, until I walked the football-field distance to the one side altar among so many that actually had a Blessed Sacrament. Those nuns know where the real action is - not in art, but in Presence.

It was grounding; paradoxically by soaring (prayer) we are grounded (in reality). Yet I am amazed how art has the capacity to teach as surely as words, especially in one artwork at the National Gallery neatly showing Mary had the dual role of caretaker and adorer of Christ.



Soon it was time for 5:15 mass, which I errantly thought was one of those 30-minute quickie daily masses. It was in the crypt church, which I didn't even know existed. I had to track it down by the music to find it, so big was the whole huge crypt area.

And whoa, was I ever surprised to find a decent-sized church, and yet one completely packed. I had to stand in the back along with a couple dozen other standing room onlies, including a couple nuns next to me.

The cause of the big crowd was immediately obvious when the priest mentioned the 300 young women (about a quarter were nuns) who were at a conference/retreat this weekend – this was their big mass apparently. Big as in long too - a healthy hour fifteen minutes. But I felt really like God was in that room.


Now it was after 6:30 and I called on Uber again. This time I had a driver within 5 minutes and found out later, with appreciation, that it was a free ride. The Google Maps promise turned out to be true, that you do get your first Uber ride free.

The black driver was a marvel, talk-wise. He gave me an education on DC politics on the ride to the hotel. So much so that I was sorry to reach the destination. Said DC is growing by leaps and bounds, mostly millennials who are “different” because they come here bringing jobs, mostly start-ups. Older generations go where the jobs are, these kids want to live here first and worry about jobs second. He said DC used to be pretty small but now is a true big city.

He told me all about how the current mayor has done more for the city than any major in history but probably won't get a lot of buildings named after him because he's a “nerd”. Very effective, but not the wild, outgoing type like previous mayor Marion Barry. He said Barry finally got let go by voters because he embarrassed the city too much due to the drug use and such.

I felt bold and comfortable enough to forego the cumbersome term “African-American” and say, “How come blacks don't like Bernie but support Hillary?”. (At least I didn't, like Donald Trump, say “the blacks”.) And he said he, personally, wouldn't allow either one of them in his home let alone vote for them, but he said you have to understand Bill Clinton's “orientation” to understand why blacks like him so much and thus Hillary by association.

I said Bill's orientation is obviously heterosexual, and he laughed obligatorily and said in that department Bill's in a world of his own and added that what he meant is that Clinton went to Georgetown as an undergrad when he was poor and from a disreputable family, and Georgetown at the time was 50% black and it was only the blacks that had anything to do with him due to issues of class. So he became very close to them, and was mentored by elderly black men who worked on campus. So that's how he became the first white black president.

At the end I told him this was my first Uber and if I had to sign anything and he said no, I was done. And then I asked if I was supposed to tip and he said, “I take donations! I have an ex-wife!”

Back at the hotel, I filled my thermos with beer and went on a writing escapade in the pleasant summer night on the steps of Saint Mary's, then later couldn't resist the lure of walking the blocks around me. Very stimulating and the diversity was off-the-charts: rich, poor, black, white, Chinese, hipsters, tourists, young. “The stranger filleth the eye” is an Arab proverb.

I headed down the more populous streets and it was a party. Two live bands separated by a block or two each drew a dozen or so onlookers. New Yorky feel in the density of architecture, the brownstones and the many glitzy stores.  Also went by Shakespeare Theatre and felt a pang of regret for not buying tickets (7:30 performance) but … there's always tomorrow!

WEDNESDAY: As a bona fide sun-craver, this vacation wasn't perfectly suited to meet that need being necessarily heavy on museums.

The day started with a cheap Uber ride to the august Library of Congress. Unfortunately they make you jump through hoops to get on the Reading Room floor, but given my lack of sitting still this trip it probably is for the best. Instead I enjoyed the wonder of the picturesque castle that surrounds it. I wandered through the exhibits on the second floor, primarily that of the Spanish coming to the Americas in the 16th century. Columbus and Cortez. But then I was thrilled to find the “room of rooms”, the genesis of it all: Jefferson's original library! The books were arranged in a circular fashion in clear bookcases rising eight feet high. They had ribbons to mark whether it was the original book held by Jefferson, or whether a duplicate copy was acquired later (some were sold or destroyed by fire). His library was about 6500 books and of those 2400 survive; he said it was his selection was what made it great, not quantity. That's what we all say.


Holy of Holies
I observed that he had a multi-volume set of Thomas Scott's commentary on the entire Bible. I wonder how much he used it.

Of course it was light on Catholic apologetic works, so pooh-pooh, haha. I thought about how his “Jefferson Bible” (sold in the gift shop) was dumbed-down to include no miracles, displaying that greatness of intellect can be as much an obstacle of faith as being wealthy in financial terms. God loves the poor, be it the spiritually poor (“blessed are those who have not seen but still believe”), financially poor (the widow's mite), or intellectually poor (“Let the little children come to me”).

*

The Capitol tour a fail. Fun to get in and hunt down my congressman's office, but Congressman was arriving later and the group I was with was missing two members, so we sat with interns making small talk for 20 mins. Then over to Capitol for a long security line wait, then another long wait for one of interns to get us tickets to enter. A byzantine process that involved long security lines to entering the visitor area and then more long lines to acquire a sticker to replace the pin you got for making it to the visitor area.

The interns said you'd have to wait in another endless queue if you want to actually get into viewing area of the chamber, aka “the gallery”. This part is an optional part of the tour, although I made the whole thing optional by punting.

Yes I blew it off after waiting an hour and 15 minutes. Figured I'd cut my losses since I'd rather see where Lincoln died than where our dysfunctional Congress perpetrates it's “business” on we the people.

*

Headed to Ford's Theatre and much smaller theatre than expected! And homely, banal farm stage props for the “Our American Cousin” play.

Unreal a president could be that close. “You can feel his presence here,” said the ranger, who gave an instructive talk. Lincoln tried to slink in late, but hard to do when you're 6'4'', so the actor who spotted him stopped and said to the orchestra, “Play 'Hail to the Chief'” and they did and the crowd gave him a huge ovation for winning the war.

I wondered how Booth could get injured jumping from the modest leap from the presidential box, but learned he got his boot spur caught in a flag. Foolish to wear boots to an assassination. I've seen pictures of Ford's Theater, but nothing compares to actually seeing it in person. I assume the same of those who go to the Holy Land compared to those who read of it in the Bible. It comes alive and you gain a new perspective.

The thing about Ford's is that it all happened recently enough that you can see the bed he died in and where he was shot. Ford's Theater is recreated though, but still at least we know what to recreate. With Lincoln's birth, there's no “bed where he was born”. After you become famous then things become saved for posterity, much like there isn't much know about Christ's early life compared to his death and resurrection.

The theater immediately went out of business due to the taint of tragedy and fell into disuse until it became an office building and the upper floor caved in killing twenty. Then it really fell into disuse, doubly cursed, an abandoned warehouse until 1968 when it was restored to look like the day Lincoln was shot. “That horrible house,” said Mrs. Lincoln.

Then over across the street to the Peterson house, where Lincoln died at 7:22am the next day. Saw the anteroom where Mrs Lincoln agonized, awaiting doctor reports in between visits, the room where some of his cabinet gathered, and finally where he died. Very small room, but there were eight or ten people in there at a time.

At the gift shop they had a three-story tower of Lincoln books, showing just how much has been written of the man. 15,000 books and counting. Like the Bible, Lincoln needs constant new translations to tell his story again I guess.

*

Then walked to the MLK library near my hotel and am sitting in glancing sun. Big plate windows open to urban avenue. I later walked out of the library with a book I'd intended to read inside! Walked back in and returned the book but it was interesting to see how easy it would be to take one. I think book-lovers aren't the stealing kind. (Although the Bible being the most frequently stolen book doesn't give one too much confidence on any front.)

Coming back to the hotel from MLK, I wanted to walk forever. Every path looked intriguing, especially lit up by a needed sun (it being a high of about 72 today and chilly when windy). What was that ancient looking building that way? Certainly stasis hasn't been my thing out here, especially when it comes to reading. I've built up a decent reading deficit, but it's hard to read when a city so alive thrives right outside the window.

Walking around has its downsides though. I saw a young black man in a parking lot with a shotgun in his hands. I walked back to take another look and again it damn sure looked like one. I was glad when I was out of the line of fire.

*

(Later): Well one has to try a few new things on vacation, like a spur-of-them-moment purchase of a production of Taming of the Shrew at the Shakespeare Theater without reading a single thing about it. As I learned belatedly, this play was a bit unusual. All male cast, which soon became apparent to me, the men in drag showing in greater or lesser ways something was just “a bit off”. It's perhaps a tribute to womanhood that men can't play them too well, and presumably a tribute to manhood that woman can't really play us.

It started with a bad vibe, a bishop doing a disco dance. Glad to see the crowd wasn't amused either. And it turned out to be partially a musical, with three songs in the first hour. I bolted after that hour because of my short attention span and the thought that I could be reading.

THURSDAY:

Part deux of the trip - headed to Nags Head to join my in-law's vacation, already in progress.

A different kind of beachly beauty here: a tinge of auburn in the sand when wet by waves, a mix of different hued shells, unique seaweed and most of all sand dunes, something you don't see in the flats of Hilton Head.

When I got there two of our members had left to visit the “Lost Colony”, the English settlers who'd disappeared without leaving their bones or pottery or anything besides a mound and a fence.

I get stuck tomorrow with the wild horses of Corolla, only there's hope it will be quashed as even my wife doesn't want to spend a day driving in the car to get the rather remote area.





FRIDAY:

This is a place of natural beauty but one not without its costs: misquotes at night are so thick that even quickly entering and exit bedroom door to deck last night let in about a half-dozen.

This morning a gust of wind shears off the top of a nearby sand dune. Feels almost like a California ghost town with the strong wind and dunes and wood buildings up on stilts looking like neglected ruins. Fine sparkling view of the sea beyond.

Hope the gang isn't too disappointed with our not going to see the wild horses of Corolla, which is a 90 minute drive one way and a 2-hour tour, one that doesn't guarantee you'll see the horses. But since my wife doesn't want to go I joked that “wild horses couldn't drag me away from this balcony!”

*

Walked to the quiet, pool-like sound side (we're on a strip of land so thin you can walk to the sound, or bay, on one side and the Atlantic on the other). Very peaceful, mostly noise-free. Our house sits right next to a road with constant loud vehicle traffic. But the bay is far enough away. We spent a good hour or two there, then I headed for 20 minute run (saw an art show, a turkey and a rooster in the yard next door to show).

Seagulls look sharper down here, like miniature penguins, snow white with black heads, white tail feathers, and a light grey wing-tops. Perhaps different variety than Hilton Head.

*

SUNDAY: 6:30am alarm bell, to accommodate mass at the inner city Basilica of Our Lady in Norfolk, a 2hr drive from the rental house and only 15 minutes from our eventual destination, the Norfolk airport.

According to the bulletin this is the “only African-American basilica in the United States and the cornerstone of Catholicism in the Tidewater.”

Given how good the preaching and the music I felt like they knew what they were doing and were serious. Even the lectors were excellent - the second reading was delivered by a man who sounded like James Earl Jones.

It was odd and inspiring to see all these enthusiastic black Catholics, who looked for all the world like Southern Baptists, gathered. They were dressed to the nines as is their custom and the lady in front of me followed the readings in an old black missal of some sort.

We made it about 5-10 mins late and walked into a standing room only church vestibule, but eventually got seated by an usher. Normally I don't go for the amplified band sound but I couldn't help but enjoy it here. Wonderfully moving homily by the deacon. There was loud applause after the sermon, which I can't recall happening in a Catholic church before.

The homilist said that he knew of a young white man, who grew up hating blacks because that was what he was taught. He had on his left wrist a Nazi tattoo, and every day he went to a shop for coffee or donuts. And the woman behind the counter was black. And at first he was cold, but then they eventually exchanged small pleasantries.  Then small talk.  And then about their jobs and families.

He'd always kept his tattoo hidden from her, but one day he slipped when he went to grab the coffee with his left hand and she saw it.

She didn't recoil from him or chastise him.  She said simply, "You know you're better than that."

And that's what God does with us.

I could tell immediately when the the Kyrie song went five minutes that we weren't destined to finish this mass, and indeed they hadn't even taken up the Offertory yet after 50 minutes, so I'm guessing they were on a 90+ minute pace. We headed out then in order to make the flight to Columbus, but found someone had just about blocked us in. I moved some red pylons and we went “off road” a bit to get out. Dodged a bullet there!

Epilogue:  And now back home I see first lightning bug of season and timely given our proximity to the fabled summer equinox, that begetter of midsummer night madness. The fireflies rose from the ground like tiny lanterns until poof and vanish. We fly smack dab into the width and breadth and height of summer magnum. I want to do a cameo in Edwardian summer with English gardens and frolicking Emma Thompsons.

Surreally tired, presumably from the fatigue-cocktail of too much exercise, drink, and social conviviality. I feel the economy of motion of an athlete without any of the athlete's athleticism. So Calgon take me away!

June 13, 2016

GOP Establishment Was Right

Ironically, I suspect that Trump has unwittingly proved that the GOP establishment strategy of not being overly ambitious in its agenda, in marshaling political power instead of getting in big fight with Obama over budgets, was the correct one. 

Because I think what Trump has taught us is that there is no voter appetite for conservatism - thus if GOP had gone pellmell after Obama it would likely have gotten its clock cleaned. People are not in the mood for hard choices or balanced budgets, which is why Trump smartly never emphasizes that. 

The big lie is that support for Obamacare is soft.

The GOP establishment figured that Obamacare, as bad as it was, was going to be permanent and looks like they were correct because even GOP primary voters didn't care enough about Obamacare to nominate someone with a discernible replacement plan.

June 02, 2016

Age of Advertising

George Will on beer advertising  provides another explanation for why depth  is dead:
"Consumers are moved to covet a product less for its intrinsic qualities than its manufactured meaning.  Advertising does this by reducing its information content and increasing its emotional appeal."

June 01, 2016

The Big Sort

I'm reading a book called The Big Sort, about how politics is being altered by the trend of modern mobility forming like-minded communities, of birds of a feather flocking together, Republicans with Republicans and Dems with Dems.  The author asks a chicken or egg question on gerrymandering, a sort of both/and: we self-segregated by community while at the same time leaders became more aggressive in protecting districts. Polarization begets more polarization.

Part of it is due to our fractured media environment and how “mass media” has become more narrow-cast media.

A real eye-opener was a single line about the impact on religion:
“Mainline religious denominations gained parishioners through the first half of the twentieth century, the age of mass markets, but lost members beginning in the mid-1960s to independent churches designed for homogeneous communities. Media, advertising, city economies - they've all segmented, specialized and segregated.”
*

It's worth pondering how many of the dire OT prophets have hopeful messages of restoration at the end. A prime example is Zephaniah, a book of unrelenting despair and vengeance until a sudden complete change of tone with the words from yesterday's first reading on the feast of the Visitation.

My study bible remarks that even if a later scribe added it, it's not untrue given that Israel did have a remnant and resulting hope after their return from Babylon and rebuilding of the Temple.

Perhaps it's a case of the ancient Jewish church attempting to always find that elusive balance between presumption and despair, and there was a perceived need, perhaps, to offer some hope.

It parallels the account of the Passion, given how dire and how much suffering would be experienced before Resurrection. Zephaniah feels like a written preview in words of what would happen in the body of Jesus: judgment, sentence, and then salvation.

*

I think even on a secular level there's an implicit acknowledgement of how broken a godless world is, shown in the fascination with world-ending apocalyptic stories.

What does it say that there was such a sharp reversal in the '80s from the sexual excesses of the '70s and late '60s? Or in the '40s from the freewheelin' '20s? Society itself learns over time, just as the individual learns, and forgets, and re-learns, and forgets… The bewitching attraction of sin unfailingly does not satisfy, though we, at regular intervals, think it will.

May 29, 2016

Things I'm Confused By

One thing I don't get is how people say that U.S. credibility is damaged by Obama and Trump. For example, concerning how Obama said there was the infamous red line that Obama said Syria could not cross but did, and how that would tell our allies they couldn't trust us.

But if you've met one U.S. president you've met…one US president. Like it or not, foreign policy is a solely owned subsidiarity of our president and I don't know why any other country would be foolish enough to think that there is a standard U.S. response to anything. That our country could go from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan shows that we're not monolithic or have anything resembling a stable reputation.

Russia, for example, would be stupid to treat the United States as an entity apart from the US President, as far as how it affects them. The POTUS owns the military, the State department, and most of the organs of influence. If Russia has taken the measure of the man or woman in the White House, then they have taken the measure of the situation. Reputation of the country is a joke; individuals have reputations, the U.S. doesn't.

*

All too often I tend to think that what is demanded of us is less than what was demanded of prior generations. I feel a false sense of security based on previous eras' sacrifices; there's a temptation to live off the capital.

For example, before Obama and now Trump, I felt way too complacent about the safeguards the Founding Fathers put around democracy, thinking that these safeguards were failsafe. And yet that ignores their own warnings that America's republic would depend on the virtues of the citizenry, not the system of checks and balances. And Obama has shown how relatively easy it is for the executive branch to become dictatorial, especially when you have an utterly divided and cowed legislative, and a judicial that is more concerned about reputation than anything (witness Justice Roberts tortured reasoning concerning Obamacare).

Similarly, there's no way to think that Christ was crucified in our place, or that we can rest on the spiritual capital of the saints. We see around us no substitute for sanctity.

*

It seems like there's a huge tension implicit in the thinking of Pope Francis and others on the world as we now have it. Francis surely signs on to the principle of subsidiarity and local control as much as possible, but in a world that is utterly interconnected how do you even have local control? Superbugs, Zika virus, pollution, etc… don't respect national boundaries. A one-world government is politically unfeasible, but I have a hard time seeing how Francis can't not want it, given it's the only way to have success with his huge pet issues, like the environment and the economy.