December 13, 2017

Amazon Catholic Bestsellers


Pope Francis boasts number 1 and number 2, although doubtless he doesn't appreciate number 1.  It’s probably not the healthiest spiritual activity, reading negative things about the Pope.  (See my blog title.)

Particularly intriguing is how much conflict he had with his parents and surrogate parent.  And his reforming of corruption in the church has gone nowhere. I wait for buyer's remorse from folks like John Allen and Austen Ivereigh.

Later reading more of the papal bio I experienced an “ah-ha” moment in reading that choosing a pope is different than choosing a CEO and that the cardinals aren’t doing a lot of research and investigations into the backgrounds of individuals. In fact, they are cut off from the world obviously.  Seems like the system ought be revamped to help prevent eschewing reason (grace builds on nature, not replacing it) by allowing them to do research. It’s a pious thing to want the decision to be wholly guided by the Holy Spirit but we fly on two wings not one, faith and reason. But I allow I could well be misguided.

Surely the lesson is that great leaders are few and far between and that no nation or church is “entitled” to a string of them. It takes divine providence combined with human wisdom.

R. Reno in First Things really surprised me recently by saying that even the status of migrants and refugees is contingent: "I predict that this papacy will be a great defender of migrants and refugees—until political pressures on the European ruling class become so great that it shifts and becomes more 'realistic,' at which point the Vatican will shift as well. What is presently denounced will be permitted; what is presently permitted will be denounced."

December 06, 2017

Solzhenitsyn’s Nearly 40-year old Address

I read Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 address to Harvard to see how prescient the great Russian sage was.  Some excerpts:
Truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter. A measure of truth is included in my speech today, but I offer it as a friend, not as an adversary.
He goes on to see a lack of courage in us, calling it the first sign of a nation’s end, primarily reflected in our lack of robust self-defense of Western values during the Carter years, i.e. not cringing and constantly in apology-mode.

The Trump win in some way would seem to negate this tendency and George W. Bush as well, who was unapologetic and courageous in his confidence as far as rebuffing opinion.  (Too confident on Iraq, alas.)

And on materialism...
So who should now renounce all this, why and for the sake of what should one risk one's precious life in defense of the common good and particularly in the nebulous case when the security of one's nation must be defended in an as yet distant land?
Even biology tells us that a high degree of habitual well-being is not advantageous to a living organism.
It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.
He goes on about our lack of depth, which is oh-so-much-more true now than even then:
“Everyone is entitled to know everything." (But this is a false slogan of a false era; far greater in value is the forfeited right of people not to know, not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life has no need for this excessive and burdening flow of information.) Hastiness and superficiality — these are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century and more than anywhere else this is manifested in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press; it is contrary to its nature. The press merely picks out sensational formulas.
More on our apology-itis:
It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world the way to successful economic development... However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of no longer being up to the level of maturity by mankind. And this causes many to sway toward socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.
The mathematician Igor Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliantly argued book entitled Socialism; this is a penetrating historical analysis demonstrating that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. 
And good spiritual stuff:
If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become above all an experience of moral growth: to leave life a better human being than one started it.
Most of the speech stands up well and serves as a present day diagnosis, but it’s hard to see his words about Russia as true (perhaps Poland though):
A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human personality in the West while in the East it has become firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. 
Russia’s soul has waned mightily and is committing suicide with vodka and low birth rates while enthusiastically supporting a pernicious leader for decades (Putin). They seem as about as morally comprised as a nation can be, so their rot post-Cold War has been alarmingly fast. As has been said of the pre-Vatican II culture - how good could it have been if it collapsed so quickly? - so too of Soviet.

November 30, 2017

Say Not the Struggle Not Availeth

This morning watched a little Morning Joe. Propaganda or not, it’s enjoyable to watch TV in the morning though I do feel sheepish watching after seeing a local priest I respect fire off this tweet:
This is the first time I have ever seen @Morning_Joe. It's so terrible. How do people watch this stuff? Pure cynical manipulation.
True, but to avoid cynical manipulation seems like you can't watch TV.

Speaking of, will the last TV personality to leave please close the toilet seat lid? The latest to go down are Matt Laurer and Garrison Keillor.

There’s a surreal quality to hearing a US Senator (Al Franken) being asked repeatedly and point blank if he he had cupped or grabbed a woman’s butt cheek. High-laire to hear him say he didn't recall ever doing so, and the interviewer exclaimed shock that someone could grab a woman's full buttock and not remember it.

Keillor found his hand straying down the bare back of a woman.

I think it speaks to the tremendous power of the male sex drive, especially when combined with a sense of entitlement that power and money bring. And it could also be simply that 99% of these guys are old, between 60 and 90, and they grew up in the “Mad Men” '60s where things were bad for women in the workplace.

It’s also an unwitting tale of how sins have a staying power far beyond what we think they might have. They have a long shelf-life for they have a long effect on the victims.

*

It’s amazing that a 1969 film, Something Beautiful for God, the documentary on Mother Teresa is unavailable anywhere (not YouTube, amazon, eBay, etc...) . It’s almost mystical, as if the movie were a supernatural event and thus somehow unable to be contained or preserved (Malcom Muggeridge, who was involved with the filming, reported that he felt it was supernaturally aided in that mysteriously they could film in almost no light).

I was going through books to sell and came across Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire and figured that was a good one to get rid of since her Come Be My Light was so depressing. And yet...I came across a quote from Peggy Noonan who said she’d read like crazy in 2008 and that it was the most important book she read in 2008. I thought I’d give it another chance and it feels providential. One blurb on the back says, “Secret Fire sets the record straight on her ‘dark night’”. Which would be helpful; seems like the necessary complement to the dark-suffer that was Come Be My Light.

A couple quotes; her darkness was not intended to depress us:
Her darkness was intended as a light for the rest of us. Her night was a metaphor for the blackness of our ‘vale of tears,’ a map etched on her soul to lead us through our own spiritual darkness into divine light. 
The author describes how Mother Teresa saw a different sort of poverty in the First World, that of a great hunger to be loved. And how she’s a mystic for non-mystics, given her vision but also her subsequent darkness.

Curious too the reaction to people viewing the film Something Beautiful for God:
“[Teresa] caused perplexity as people struggled with the newfound surge of generosity welling up inside. Curiously, most of the audience seemed unable to find any deeper, more enduring response beyond tears and a hurried check.” 
Teresa's message was elusive (beyond "Help the poor!") and the author who worked with Mother Teresa for over a decade to have found it.

*

From Peggy Noonan in WSJ on the spate of sex harassment cases:
An aging Catholic priest suggested to a friend that all this was inevitable. “Contraception degenerates men,” he said, as does abortion. Once you separate sex from its seriousness, once you separate it from its life-changing, life-giving potential, men will come to see it as just another want, a desire like any other. Once they think that, then they’ll see sexual violations as less serious, less charged, less full of weight. They’ll be more able to rationalize. It’s only petty theft, a pack of chewing gum on the counter, and I took it.
*

Saw a reference to the favorite poem of Chief Justice Rehnquist, a true Stoic, which he passed along to Clarence Thomas who had it laminated and put on his desk:
Say not the Struggle nought Availeth   
BY ARTHUR HUGH CLOUGH
Say not the struggle nought availeth,
The labour and the wounds are vain,
The enemy faints not, nor faileth,
And as things have been they remain.
If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;
It may be, in yon smoke concealed,
Your comrades chase e'en now the fliers,
And, but for you, possess the field.
For while the tired waves, vainly breaking
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making,
Comes silent, flooding in, the main.
And not by eastern windows only,
When daylight comes, comes in the light,
In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly,
But westward, look, the land is bright.

November 29, 2017

A Retraction

I'd like to issue a formal retraction for the implication made on this blog* that Donald J. Trump's obsession with birtherism was just a ruse to get him traction before a presidential run.

If a recent article in the NY Times can be believed, it's said he brought it up recently in a meeting with a senator.

* - "His first task as president / to find Obama's birthplace".

November 21, 2017

Seven Long Takes


Read an article on why physical beats digital despite higher cost and less portability - it’s about control and ownership.  On the one hand, we're material beings and God made us that way.  On the other, I wonder if it's part of the reason faith in God has such a headwind these days.  People do seem okay with not having physical money but just a number in a computer bank account or a share of stock without the physical paper...:
”There's this cache attached to physical goods that is perplexing from an economic standpoint," says Carey Morewedge, professor of marketing at the Boston University. "The very feature that imbues digital goods with their unique abilities—their immateriality—is also what impairs our ability to develop a sense of ownership for them."
The ability to touch physical goods enables us to establish more of an identity-bond, creating ownership and value. That vinyl collection, in short, becomes a part of who we are in a way that a phone full of files does not.
Sales trends across a variety of media reinforce this idea. Though streaming is the fastest growing market in music, digital sales dropped again in 2016, while vinyl sales increased again for the 11th straight year... Meanwhile, the number of Americans who reported reading a physical book last year was at 65 percent, compared to only 28 percent for an e-book.
"People have a desire to control their environment," says Morewedge. "That greater control over physical reduces risk and reduces uncertainty, which imbues it with greater value."
*

I thought yesterday about how God rendered Zechariah mute and St. Paul blind after their encounters and how instead of seeing it as “punishment” for their past unbelief, as I traditionally have, one could rather see it as preparation for their mission ahead by carving out for them a time of silence, metaphorically speaking.

As the Cardinal Sarah book on silence says:
All activity must be preceded by an intense life of prayer, contemplation, seeking and listening to God’s will...Ours is a time of continual movement which often leads to restlessness, with the risk of ‘doing for the sake of doing’. We must resist this temptation by trying ‘to be’ before trying ‘to do’.” 
So for Zechariah and Paul, they were given the gift of just “being” for awhile, which eventually led to Zechariah’s beautiful prayer as featured daily in the Liturgy of the Hours as well as the raising of John the Baptist, and for Paul of course the most frenetic activity for a would-be contemplative ever contemplated...

*

Tribalism is the new black, but I wonder if once we became a kritarchy about five decades ago, political tribalism became inevitable. Now that the Court chooses who lives or dies, you can justify people like Roy Moore and Donald Trump far more easily.

*

My lack of desire for travel - not including beach “travel” since that's simply a way to read without interruption - has waned significantly over the past decade or two. Can I pinpoint it? Perhaps after 2012, after we went to New Mexico, although the thrill had been declining soon after getting married. So an initial decline around age 36 and another at 49.

Is it the result of a jadedness? Or maybe a realization that other places/people were not so different, and I didn’t need to put others on a pedestal given that we’re all one human family?

Certainly I looked at the old Mexican women at the market in Mexico City in 2001 as if they were from another planet. They were intrinsically fascinating since they looked like they could be in National Geographic, having exotic dresses and deep-brown wrinkled faces. For one obsessed with externals as me, they would be intriguing.

But isn’t “foreign” relative when you look at it from a more religious perspective? Wouldn’t the man from Mars be, in some way, familiar to us in the sense that he/she/it was created by the same Father?

Or perhaps it could be that my desire to travel was related to poor self-image, seeing others as having something I didn’t, be they the contented ancient Mexican women or the ambitious and literate twenty-somethings of New York.

Another possibility is that travel was intoxicating before I was middle-aged due to a lack of self-knowledge that has been alleviated over time. (It’s ironic that I’m now looking for self-knowledge concerning the reason for my lack of desire for self-knowledge, or at least lack of desire to travel.)

The proximate trigger today is that I came across an old Shirley MacLaine quote about how travel is often done out of a motive of self-discovery, something she sees as unnecessary given that in her words, “You are the universe. Explore you. The universe is in you. You are complete.”

And this day I also came across a quote from Kathleen Norris in “A Cloister Walk” that says “the communal recitation of the psalms works against [a] form of narcissism, the tendency in America to insist that everything be self-discovery.”

MacLaine and Norris come at it from different directions, MacLaine suggesting more self-discovery by going within, while Norris seeing too much of it to be a problem for Christians called to go outside of themselves. But they seem to agree Americans are really into self-discovery.

*

Today is a grey November day, an almost perfect specimen of that unlovely genre. The sky was a continual traffic jam of clouds, crowded as a gameday parking lot. It was “grey”, not “gray”, for the long “a” in gray connotes a more festive occasion, like the old definition of “gay”, or of pretty bays, quays or cays, no sun ray or lovely May. Yes, “grey” it is.

*

Last week was a pitiless week! I’m wrung out, strung out, and stand in need of a quaff of elemental Anglo-Saxon. Or mellifluous old French cobbled from wurst verse. I’m ruffled by want of a cigar. I need dollops of good sense, of reflection on Christ’s instruction that we carry our cross and give ourselves completely, renounce all our possessions, and put Him ahead of wife and mother, father and child, career or position. The harsh Bible verses sound like echoes of Stoic virtue.

I needed Mass to be open to this new climate of change in the organization, because change is endemic these days. We’re becoming lobotomized by IT and by meetings, a sclerosis that paralyzes. The big driver of it is Big Data. Big data requires turning the keys to the kingdom over to the IT department. And that entails plentiful meetings because IT is a bureaucratic meeting-centric organization and they need to learn our business rules from scratch. It’s labor-intensive. Team-oriented. All those things that I recoil from.

*

Today’s morning prayer included the words of St. Paul that could be applied to all the saints, in that they seem content with the obstacles that God seems to allow to happen even (especially) when proclaiming the gospel:  “I shall be very happy to make my weaknesses my special boast so that the power of Christ may stay over me, and that is why I am quite content with my weaknesses, and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and the agonies I go through for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong.”

I think of all the hardships that even the Blessed Mother had to endure, the greatest which was watching her son die. And I think about how hard Mother Angelica had it, with the stroke and all the family dysfunction growing up. Or I think about the relatively minor incident how St. Teresa of Avila was thrown into mud and said to God, “if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”

The answer could make some sense read in light of St. Paul’s idea that these weaknesses guarantee Christ’s power staying with us. A powerful motivation, although admittedly power is not what we should be chasing after but love.

*

Appreciate the frank view of German regions by Patrick Fermor, who called the Rhinelanders civilized, the Bavarians a tad aggressive and perhaps ruthless, and the “diligent and homely Swabians” (ouch! I’m a descendent of Swabians from Baden.)

The impressions of Bavarians included this: “wrinkles and deep eye sockets, of friendly warmth and hospitable kindness” (sounds exactly like a certain Pope Emeritus).

November 14, 2017

To Read Or Not To Read...

A friend gifted me with the book by Roger Stone titled The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.

My lack of desire to read this book is exceeded only by the speed of the decay and dissolution of the Republican party.

I decided that part of the issue is that I don't trust the author.  (The Washington Times calls it a swing and miss.) My friend replied, "what about the footnotes and citations in the book?" I said they can be made up. "Fake news" is something everybody appreciates now even if everyone points to a different set of fake news. One thing we can all agree on is that fake news exists.

I've decided to try to advance the cause of vetting and reading with the following decision tree flowchart (click to enlarge):

November 12, 2017

Lectionary Choices

It continues to fascinate me that the gospels pre-Vatican II (and in the Eastern church to this day) focus on Christ’s miracles while the post-Vatican II church gospels focus on moral instruction (like today’s parable of the ten virgins; the Traditional calendar meanwhile offers a miracle story). 

On the one hand I get why the New Mass lectionary appears to want to emphasize what we can do for Christ rather than what Christ can do for us (even if that can fringe into Pelagianism, and I know there’s nothing we can do for Christ in that as God he already has everything but...).

Perhaps the idea was that the miracle stories don’t give enough instruction, don’t provide the impetus towards change, which Vatican II was set on achieving. I’m sure there was a practical consideration: how does a miracle story relate to the person in the pew?  The story of the ten virgins - which focuses on us, not Jesus - is thus seen as more relatable. 

But as I get older, I’m beginning to think that the root of all evil is practicality. It’s practical in secular eyes to think that marriage shouldn’t last forever given increasing lifespans. Or that ending a life in pain, or a birth that would result in a life of poverty, is needful.

An unintended side effect of stripping the miracle stories, especially when combined with the crippling of the mystery of the mass by adding folk songs and removing the Latin, was to make it seem like Jesus Himself isn’t all that mysterious or powerful, which, of course, is the death of faith. 

I guess that the Vatican II church simply assumed that everyone was already aboard the train that viewed Jesus as mysterious and powerful and that now what was needed to teach the “block and tackling” of social justice. But the inspiration for social justice is ... the mystery and power of Jesus.  


November 06, 2017

The Rise of the Rabble-Rousers

Heard interesting comments from Jonah Goldberg on Bill Kristol show.

Seems a half a century ago a guy named Will Herberg foresaw our present political condition.  Writing in "The New Leader" in 1954, he said the Founding Fathers were as afraid of despotism as they were of direct democracy because they were close students of history and understood that direct democracy leads to despotism.  He said the demagogues of ancient Greece and Roman manipulated the crowd and Caesar and Pericles used the Forum and the Arena to rabble-rouse and exert their will on the elites, and the Founding Fathers were terrified of that -- they wanted deliberative democracy that was largely closed off.

But it was democratic in these were the legitimate representatives of the people, but then behind closed doors they could slowly and methodically think things through.

Herberg said there has always been rabble-rousers in the past but there was no means of doing it well technologically until radio came along and FDR became first modern effective rabble-rouser.  FDR’s fireside chats were used to launch these incredible public pressure campaigns against Congress: write letters, make phone calls, send telegrams in order to force Congress to exert my will.

Then Sen. Joe McCarthy comes along and there’s rabble-rousing on the right on the radio.   McCarthy had no serious ideas to do anything, just has the right enemies and aroused passions.  (Sound familiar?) Herberg said television was making it worse and that the early investigative hearings were basically TV shows.  Mass entertainment technology, he claimed, is siphoning off the deliberative aspects of politics and making it into rabble-rousing and entertainment.

November 03, 2017

Obligatory Hilton Head Trip Loggish

Sayonara, summer.







Saturday:  Off to Hilton Head! With dogs in tow - Max restless early and often. “Paced” in his seat, and was omni-alert. Luckily not much squeaking from him.

Listened to Brian Lamb interview Gorbachev biographer William Taubman. Man those C-Span interviews are like no other. Interesting, informative and never cloying. Lamb “wears well”.

11 hrs 45 min ride due to longish stops (Steph briefly lost trying to find bathroom in outdoor mall) and later Wendy’s drivethru was dog-slow. Within five minutes of arrival Max left a steaming dump on the wood floor, and Maris returned the favor with a dump in the upstairs bedroom. Oh joy. This despite having walked them several times along the way, including giving Max an opportunity just 30 minutes before getting to the house. Go figure.

Sunday:

No 9:30 Mass due it no longer being summer, so planned on 11:15. Let Max out of crate and within a minute he peed in three places (two downstairs and one upstairs). Needless to say he’s been keyed up and highly charged. Practically feral, with the manners of a black bear. Took him and Maris out for a walk, obviously closing the barn door after the horse was out.

Nice walk on warm, cloudy day around ritzy neighbor and then to beach. “Moody and atmospheric” is my best spin on the weather. Sometimes the weatherman is right. Got the gates up to keep the dogs secure on the back patio and pool area. Noise from pool filter is loud; “harmless white noise” is my best spin on it.

Love the look of that tall white book case that handsomely wraps around the corner. There’s something so gentlemanly about a tall bookcase with a sliding ladder. This room helped inspire our sunroom decor, both in the white shelving and the blue art objects.

*

Much entertained by Maris’s obsession with getting into the pool. She wanted to so much but was afraid, and so she circled it a couple dozen times and eventually made the big leap and got in the first step (about three inches in depth). Eventually she graduated to the second step, about a foot and a half in depth. Baby steps for "baby danger".

Later ran three miles with the dogs down through Sea Pines. Saw a couple gators, one a baby we scared away. Biker came by and said, “Looks like you’re working a lot harder than they are” and I verily assented.

Monday:

Woke up middle of the night with bad sore throat, probably due to a/c chill combined with fan. Hard jog likely contributed. Turned fan off and took zicam and it helped; by morning less pain. And I have an excuse for no workout today.

Total noise this morning.  Pool pump, and then noise pollution in form of neighbors spray-washing their fence. Used a lot of ear protection and going outside almost a non-starter.

Later, sweet relief by 3:30pm. The neighbor’s motorized spray-washing is long over and just now I cut the electrical supply to the pool filter via outdoor breaker (not sure what other electricity I cut off) and silence, sweet silence reigns. What a difference! I feel empowered. Like I freed up a lot of previously unusable space and made this place our own. I feel like the owner the week and given the actual owner didn’t offer to do anything in response to my email, it’s a no-brainer. And it’s good for him since now I don’t have to give him a negative review, although wifi so pathetic it’s bathetic. Have to reboot the router nightly.

The brief afternoon sun gave way to clouds and eventually spitting rain. We called up Hilton Head delivery service (“Hilton Head Delivers” I think) and through them ordered off the Black Marlin restaurant menu. Oh. so. good. Came promptly in 45 minutes: the most delectable bread, steak, baked potato, salad and chicken bites. And that was just for me. Steph got a fish dinner. Dang it was good to get some good quality food in me given the incipient cold virus. Read some of history of Nantucket in book on the tragedy of the 19th century whaler Essex.

Tuesday:

Coolish morn, 60 degrees, at least when coupled with the common cold. Remarkably susceptible to colds this year for reasons that escape. Perhaps not enough germ-killing beer on Saturday. I’m guessing I had it then sans symptoms (the latter came late Sunday afternoon). Made it to 8am mass despite leaving at 8:02. Got there in time for first reading - they really are maximalist at Holy Family, starting mass with Angelus and prayers for vocations. 45 minute weekday mass!

Then an earthly divine breakfast: French toast (the only worthwhile thing besides fries and wines they gave us, ha), bacon, cereal, orange juice. Feed a cold.

Lazy time extended infinitely. “King” chair next to front door is ridiculously comfortable, so I read and slept there. Amazed by the richness of the Cardinal Sarah book on silence. It reads like lectia divina. Made it out in the “quiet forest” (back deck) by noon for a cigar. Took dogs on walk past some multi-million dollar homes, then looked them up online to see pictures of interior.

Max has been 100% better today and yesterday. Really calmed down, maybe in part due to long run I gave him Sunday afternoon.  First full sun day; normally we’d have a day and a half of sun under our belt by now. But today was forecast as cloudy so we’re fortunate. 73 and sunny here now, 53 and cloudy in C-bus. I’d take that trade all day.

So a goodly beach time, 1:30 till 4:30; from 4:30 till 5:30 I unleashed the hounds - picked up Maris and Max and they frolicked the beach scene for ten minutes - on the walk back they actually pooped in unison, which was a first.

Read more of Essex story, some National Review. Really great day despite the head cold. When you’re just laying around reading, a virus (short of fever) doesn’t impede much. And I did a ton of laying around. I can feel my fitness level diminishing.

*

Only two days left already, Wed and Thurs given we’re thinking of rolling on Friday morning. Five day vacation is pretty decent length, and there’s the big benefit of having some decompression time at home before back to work.

(Later): Steph cooked up a delicious late dinner of spaghetti and fake meatballs, only they weren’t fake. They were as real as meatballs can be. Vegetarianism never tasted so good. Also had salad and Brussels sprouts. And they say nothing good ever came from Brussels - fake news!

I think it’s really hard for Steph to go from 100mph to 0mph in terms of busyness.

Wednesday:

Much easier night of sleep due to the cold breaking up already. Seems like it really helped to just take two complete days off workout-wise. Now the trick is not to overdo the next workout and re-ignite it.

Great hunger to read.  Got some wisdom literature, more Cardinal Sarah, more Russell Kirk biography. Reading is best part of this vacation.

This morning was cool and loud: 53 degrees (60 now, at 11am). Leaf-blower man destroyed the peace for an hour. Not exactly a monastic retreat, ha.

*

Reading Steph’s book Y in the Workplace. A couple of interesting quotes:
“Work ethic needs to be judged relative to a generation and a culture not relative to the way another generation was raised. Work ethic is developed from the upbringing, lifestyle, and the cultural pulse of a generation...The philosophies between Boomers and Gen Y in the workplace are clearly different and clearly influenced by the differences in child-rearing philosophies and school philosophies established in each generation… Every generation develops their idea of what work is based on the reaction and experiences of those who raised them. Gen Y learned that working hard, long hours and saving your money leads to getting laid off or not being able to retire due to the stock market crash of 2008 or the loss of all of your hard-earned money when your company filed for bankruptcy... So to sum up the formula that Gen Y witnessed: work hard + work hard + be obedient + save money = get screwed… Gen Y has shown us that work still gets done when integrated into life, rather than when it is forced into the confines of a 9 to 5 work day that supposedly creates ‘balance’... Perhaps if more of us adopted this philosophy, the zombie-like culture of the overworked, stressed out, and irritable would benefit."
*

Interesting quotes from article in Catholic mag:
“I [visited] Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Gaudí, Benedict XVI said at that very spot in 2010, “accomplished one of the most important tasks of our times: overcoming the division between human consciousness and Christian consciousness, between living in this temporal world and being open to eternal life, between the beauty of things and God as beauty.” 

And from Russell Kirk biography concerning Ray Bradbury:
“ [Bradbury said in a letter] each person hides ‘a private keep somewhere in the upper part of the head, where from time to time, of midnights, the beast can be heard raving... To control that, to the end of life, to stay contemplative, sane, good humored is our entire work, in the midst of the cities that tempt us to inhumanity, and passions that threaten to drive through the skin with invisible spikes.’ Clearly, a Stoic speaking to a Stoic.”
“Not just the ‘greatest science fiction writer in the world,’ Kirk claimed, Bradbury is ‘a master of style and of the high ancient art of parable and allegory.’ He made it a point to buy and read every single one of Bradbury’s books, believing the author possessed a singular power to demonstrate that ‘grim truths are lovely.’ 

Wow, surely that’s what we need these days, to make “grim truths lovely.”

*

This neighborhood is sweet. I love walking the path to the ocean past the rapturous multi-million dollar homes. One of the houses on rents for $10k a week. And I much enjoy the jungle foliage of the place; some of the palm fronds remind me nostalgically of Gilligan’s Island.

Thursday:

I checked my Yahoo account and got a blast email from Bai M., the abandoned spouse of Bud M., and I thought about how this case feels like mercy versus justice and how hard it feels to square the two.

I checked out Bud’s site and he has two new posts up, one about how he has found time to exercise in smaller increments (12-15 minutes) and recommends that to busy folks. The other is how he quit smoking after 30+ years via reading a book on how to quit smoking painlessly. But the post was far more self-revealing than that, talking about how he hasn’t gone to a big Catholic media event in 13 years (since the divorce perhaps, which he doesn’t mention) and how he finally went to this year’s. How he began going to daily Mass 13-years ago during “a time of trouble” (again the divorce). How he was at Medjugorje in 1987 and asked the visionary to answer his plea to stop smoking and it was answered 30 years later only after he had given his full trust and assent to the veracity of the apparition.

*

A lady remarked to me after church how chilly it was but that it was “refreshing” after so much recent “heat and humidity”. Drats.

The problem with the last day of vacation is that it gets really hard to suspend disbelief that you won’t be here forever.

I was taken by the fact there’s a 360-400 year old oak tree, perhaps planted by Native Americans, here in Sea Pines. So I headed out on bike and think I found it in Six Oaks park inside Six Oaks cemetery near the stables. It was shrouded with Spanish moss - is that why Low Country cemeteries look creepy, because the moss looks like shrouds? Or maybe like big living cobwebs?

Anyway, amazing to think of something so old and yet alive. The pines and live oaks of Hilton Head too oft get overshadowed by the beach and sunshine.

And taken again by surprise by how starry the skies look here. Definitely not used to so many star lights at night.

(I suspect I could read Dick and Jane in these soaring natural surroundings of Hilton Head and find it a delightfully lyrical caper... Context matters: except to dentists perhaps, beautiful teeth on a pretty girl provoke a different reaction than beautiful teeth on a skeleton.)

*

Shocked to hear one of my favorite TV journalists, Mark Halperin, has allegations that he groped women and pressed his member against female co-workers. Shocking inasmuch as he always seems so under control, so un-slaved to appetites. It looks like his problem years for this was ‘95 to ‘05, or when he was 30 to 40 years old.

*

Got to thinking about how early memories can be so elusive.

The Ebbs of Memory
The blue light of the bug zapper
Near a lake - or not
There was music - or not
On a black summer night.
The creosote scent of a timbered hall
George Washington slept here (or not)
History smelt of creosote and
Looked of long old planks
With knots and notches and iron fixings.
Memory melts into the imagination and back.


Thirst
They had a drive-in, not for movies,
But you parked your car
Near trays attached to swinging bars
And a waitress appeared and you ordered
Root beers or lemonades in frosted mugs
That looked to hold five or six ounces
With a good pour, in my mind’s eye
And never before or since have I longed for anything more than a second root beer
On a sweaty day when I was nine.

City Envy
The city next door had old world grace
But no prophet is welcome in his own land.
There was an ancient Tower called “Power house”,
Medieval stone bridges ovalled
Over a grand Rhine river.
They had a store just for cigars,
A dam, century-old churches,
A library named Lane (but not on a Lane Avenue).
They had biblical floods while
our road’s sewer overflowed,
They had a gallant soldier atop a courtly courthouse,
We had a Mac’s steakhouse.
They had trains and German towns,
Restaurants and ghostly haunts,
Winding roads and scary slums
But we, alas, lived in Fairfield...

Friday:

So we left our place a day early; we were on pace for a long while for 7:15pm finish but made it back by 8:30 due to a stop at beloved Camp Creek. Steph got emotional there, spurred by memories of taking Buddy right after his cancer operation.

It was just otherworldly beautiful - I’d wanted to get home but glad Steph prodded me to do it. Well worth the half-hour or more to walk down to the waterfall. Dogs had a ball, at one point climbing a sheer wall of dirt like it was nothing - it looked like about a 75 degree angle. Scampered up after some wildlife and then came down the eight feet or so, fortunately not hurting themselves. It’s the coming down that worries.



The dogs were giddy with the return and if there’s ever a chance to see who can run faster it’s as they’re released after a trip. Maximum speed to the fence-line. Maris lit out and Max second since they couldn’t exit door at same time. Max gained on Maris eventually but I’m not sure that’s because Maris wasn’t slowing down as she entered area close to fence.

Saturday:

Back in Hilliard, a snowy morning, big flakes like a long girl’s lashes falling like tufted graces. I feel the earthly lift of being in the familiar.

From novelist Joan Didion:
“I grew up in a dangerous landscape. I think people are more affected than they know by landscapes and weather. Sacramento was a very extreme place. It was very flat, flatter than most people can imagine, and I still favor flat horizons. The weather in Sacramento was as extreme as the landscape. There were two rivers, and these rivers would flood in the winter and run dry in the summer. Winter was cold rain and tulle fog. Summer was 100 degrees, 105 degrees, 110 degrees. Those extremes affect the way you deal with the world. It so happens that if you're a writer the extremes show up. They don't if you sell insurance.”

October 20, 2017

Ol' Bush & Romney Looking Mighty Good Now

NRO's Jim Geraghty shoots and scores:
Most of us are old enough to remember the Bush years. (Some of us are old enough to remember the first Bush presidency.) We remember “Bushitler,” “Chimpy McHalliburton,” “Bush doesn’t care about black people,” the awards for films depicting Bush’s assassination, Howard Dean speculating that the Saudis warned Bush about 9/11 and the president letting it happen, MoveOn.org running ads comparing Bush to Hitler, Keith Ellison comparing the 9/11 attack to the Reichstag fire . . . 
One of the reasons Trump became president is because a sufficient portion of the electorate tuned out or disregarded the criticism of him from the Left. One of the reasons people ignored that criticism is because at least three good men – Bush, McCain, and Mitt Romney — were demonized as the irredeemable epitome of all evil by liberal voices for almost the entirety of their public lives. One could throw Sarah Palin in there as well — whatever else you think of her, she’s not a monster, and she’s done so much for families with children with Down Syndrome – as well as the ads featuring Paul Ryan pushing a grandmother off a cliff. When every single prominent Republican figure is the WORST MONSTER IN HUMAN HISTORY, people stop believing the criticism.

A few voices on the left recognized this. Right before the election, comedian Bill Maher had what appeared to be a painful moment of clarity:
I know liberals made a big mistake because we attacked your boy Bush like he was the end of the world. And he wasn’t. And Mitt Romney we attacked that way. I gave Obama a million dollars because I was so afraid of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney wouldn’t have changed my life that much or yours. Or John McCain. They were honorable men who we disagreed with, and we should have kept it that way. So we cried wolf and that was wrong. But this is real. This is going to be way different. 
But I don’t want our friends on the left to merely regret the past, I want them to learn from it... We don’t fix this by praising retired members of the other party, or wishing that everyone in the other party could be as reasonable as the one who deviates from party orthodoxy the most. We fix this by reasserting the unwritten rule in our political discourse that our opponents are not to be treated like inhuman monsters unless they actually do something monstrous. And mere disagreement on issues does not make one a monster! We think poorly of Harvey Weinstein’s donation of $100,000 to Planned Parenthood because an impassioned disagreement about when human life begins. But it’s his long history of sexual exploitation and cruelty that makes him a monster.

October 16, 2017

Marriage According to a Futurist

Rarely do you see how different the Judeo-Christian instinct is from someone like the futurist guru who came to talk to our corporation recently.

His take was simple materialism: that which does not benefit us in this life should be discarded. Marriage, he says, was an institution designed when people lived to age 25, not to live together for 150 years (when our lifetimes expand to that point, assuming they do).  He said marriage is not tenable any longer because people can't be expected to live together that long.

Marriage has always been hard, at least going back to Moses’s time. But marriage, like water, isn’t an end in itself. Most people view water as simply something that enabled life on this planet. But you could view it as having been created by God expressly for the sacrament of Baptism - i.e. eternal life - and in order to symbolize its life-giving properties God made it earthly-life-giving as well.

In other words, water’s function as thirst-quencher is a byproduct of water’s role in Baptism rather than the other way around.  We view the spiritual as negligible, the earthly as all important while God does the opposite.

Similarly, with marriage. It’s meant to signify God’s relationship with us. The prophet Isaiah wrote that “your creator will marry you”. And that’s partially the significance of Sunday's gospel about heaven being a “wedding feast”. The point of marriage is less that it’s an end in itself but a pointer to the true marriage, the eternal one, with God. The permanence of earthly love in marriage is meant to show the permanence of the love God has for us. Without that pattern we are left much the poorer for it.

Ultimately God really wants us to mirror Him so we can show Him to others. Often I don’t like this much, preferring he show Himself to others (and myself) directly. Cut out the middlemen. But that’s obviously not God’s plan given that Jesus said to Paul on the road to Damascus, ‘Why are you persecuting me?”.  But what I miss is that it's not Pelagian; God gives us the grace for marriage or to mirror Him.

But if your supposition is that God doesn’t exist or is an impersonal Spirit, then you may be left with scratching your head thinking marriage is inexplicable, assuming you ignore the toll divorce takes on kids.

*

There is something about Eucharistic Adoration on Thursday that sets me up to better appreciate Communion in the following day or two. The one Host, in the gaudy monstrance, drives home the reality of the One Bread. To look at it from a distance, seemingly unattainable or untouchable in its glass protection, makes me realize the generousness of Sundays. Unless something is withheld from us for awhile perhaps we can’t appreciate the gift.