December 17, 2014

December 13, 2014

December 12, 2014

Feinstein's Report

So, Sen. Diane Feinstein wanted this report to come out despite the fact she was on the Intelligence Committee and heard a good deal about the “enhanced interrogation” program in real time? The question the $40 million report did not answer - of course! - is “what did Feinstein know and when did she know it?”

And the whole debate about whether there was actionable intelligence or not strikes me as the height of irrelevancy. You can't torture for a "good cause".

I do wonder sometimes if there's a bit of chronological snobbery though. Because, deep down, we think we're so much better than those poor, benighted folks in the '40s when the decision was made to round up people of Japanese ancestry and lock them up after Pearl Harbor. Or any of the myriad of other horrendous errors the country made in its history. That's not supposed to happen now because we're all sinless these days, at least Democrats are (according to Democrats) as are Republicans (if you're Republican) and Independents (if you're an Independent).

December 11, 2014

Random Observations

When I was a kid I saw the exposed, sacred heart of Jesus and Mary as another indicator of sainthood (or divinity in Christ's case). It served a similar function as a halo, and was a signifier of their personal goodness.  Maybe sort of the way the Grinch's heart grew three sizes in one day. In other words, it was a barometer for holiness having little to do with me. But today I got to thinking that Mary's heart is quite different from a halo, that Heisman trophy of the spiritual life. The bulging heart depicted in art has a lot to do with me, with all of us schlubs, because it's directed at me and you, for me and you. The hearts of Jesus and Mary, seemingly bursting from their chests, do so in order to help us, each one of us, get to Heaven. And that seems something to celebrate and cherish.

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Interesting TED talk on NPR radio. Somehow they did experiments with monkeys such that the primates were found to prefer to get less chips if the chips were evenly distributed (unless they personally got more than other monkeys). The sense of loss/comparison is so keen that they would prefer getting 3 chips to 5 chips if another monkey got 6 chips. It didn't matter that they would get more chips under a less equitable system; they would actually prefer there be less overall wealth. Thus the railing against the 1% and the politics of envy seems partially the result of our animal brains.

The other interesting tidbit was a researcher wondering why certain countries - namely, Japan, the Scandinavian countries and China - save at a much higher rate than other countries like the U.S. And the researcher stumbled upon linguistic differences: the countries with good savings rates didn't parse out future, present and past. In other words, “it rain yesterday, it rain today, it rain tomorrow” all are normal for those languages.

The supposition is that when someone is constantly differentiating past, present and future, then the future looks more abstract. Seems like a stretch but interesting.

This, of course, is important not just in savings but religion, because one of the big problems today is we don't live with the next life uppermost in mind, to say the least.

One company sent emails with pictures of employees aged 30 years in their 401k notification and lo and behold employees gave more. Something about having the future right in front of us that leads us to sacrifice more now.

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Eric Scheske on the artist and drugs/alcohol (I think it's interesting to think of cocaine as a help given that so many writers like caffeine, both stimulants):
….we have the example of Roger Miller, who wrote a lot of great stuff while piped on cocaine. He kicked the addiciton and, the story says, never wrote another decent song. There’s also Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, which he cranked out while on Benzedrine…
So, bottom line? I don’t have one. Just a few educated guesses: A moderate amount of alcohol opens up the creativity; excess kills it. Marijuana and acid kills it. Bennies and cocaine? A moderate amount fuels the physical component necessary to create (a guy can’t write while asleep), but doesn’t contribute much to the creative element, except perhaps in a handful like Roger Miller.
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Speaking of a whole different sort of intoxication, really found Psalm 65, Knox translation, heady yesterday:
Let the whole world keep holiday in God’s presence, sing praise to his name, pay homage to his glory! Cry out to God, What dread, Lord, thy acts inspire! How great is that might of thine, which makes thy enemies cringe before thee! Let the whole earth worship thee, sing of thee, sing praises to thy name. Come near, and see what God does, how wonderful he is in his dealings with human kind, how he turns the sea into land, and lets men cross a river dry-shod; ours to rejoice in his mercy.
Noticed again how beautiful Baronius Press offerings are. Specifically the Knox Bible but also the Roman Missal, so I went through their website yesterday and bought a “pocket-sized” (not really; more accurately compact) Douay Rheims, which is one of the main translations I don't have in a nice format.  To make up for the buy sold my hefty Little Rock Study Bible. Put it up on our company classified site and lo it sold for $20 in twenty minutes.

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Read a lavishly long and interesting New Yorker story about the rise of Germany's Angela Merkel. Mini-biography, full of the telling anecdote. Cool and detached, she's something of an enigma which is why she's interesting to me. Very enjoyable read, though it seems she makes fun of/ does impressions of/ other world leaders, including Pope Benedict! Hey, leave my Pope alone!
A snippet:
A political consensus founded on economic success, with a complacent citizenry, a compliant press, and a vastly popular leader who rarely deviates from public opinion—Merkel’s Germany is reminiscent of Eisenhower’s America. But what Americans today might envy, with our intimations of national decline, makes thoughtful Germans uneasy. Their democracy is not old enough to be given a rest.

“We got democracy from you, as a gift I would say, in the forties and fifties,” Kurbjuweit told me. “But I’m not sure if these democratic attitudes are very well established in my country. We Germans always have to practice democracy—we’re still on the training program.” Kurbjuweit has just published a book called “There Is No Alternative.” It’s a phrase that Merkel coined for her euro policy, but Kurbjuweit uses it to describe the Chancellor’s success in draining all the blood out of German politics. “I don’t say democracy will disappear if Merkel is Chancellor for twenty years,” he said. “But I think democracy is on the retreat in the world, and there is a problem with democracy in our country. You have to keep the people used to the fact that democracy is a pain in the ass, and that they have to fight, and that everyone is a politician—not only Merkel.”

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Germans told me that anti-Americanism in Germany is more potent now than at any time since the cruise-missile controversy of the early eighties. The proximate cause is the revelation, last fall, based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden to Der Spiegel, that the National Security Agency had been recording Merkel’s cell-phone calls for a decade. Merkel, ever impassive, expressed more annoyance than outrage, but with the German public the sense of betrayal was deep. It hasn’t subsided—N.S.A. transgressions came up in almost every conversation I had in Berlin—particularly because Obama, while promising that the eavesdropping had stopped, never publicly apologized.
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Remembrance needs a focus, a rallying point. Perhaps this is part of why Jesus left us the Eucharist.

Evil needs a grave, a body too. From Wikipedia on one of the most cold-hearted of Nazi's:

"The exact burial spot is not known—a temporary wooden marker that disappeared when the Red Army overran the city in 1945 was never replaced, so that Heydrich's grave could not become a rallying point for Neo-Nazis."

December 04, 2014

Quick Takes, a Day Early


Wow, Heather King went all Ferguson on the notion of branding in a recent post. Anti-branding is her brand! Anti-anti-branding is mine.  Or perhaps anti-anti-anti-branding.

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It's sad when a beer has to come to an end. I don't like it. Even growlers end and that's not right.

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Oh how like a dream it feels now, that Labor Day week camping trip in the mountains of southern West Virginia. The electric sensation of lacking electricity, the walks down the calm and peaceful road, the kitschy but childhood-evoking Smoky the Bear sign. The pluperfect privacy, woodsmoke, the chill nights, crackling stream, the adventure of it.

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Stymied this morning by a sty on the eye. (This non-interesting tidbit offered for purposes of alliteration.) I know almost for sure how I got it - I was doing pushups yesterday and got dust/bacteria in my eye.

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Rung low, sweet daddy-o!
The sloop beneath the clouds
Western winds be-fresh the tide
Where mansions froth and play.


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The whitecaps
The wind
The call of Brandy
You're a fine girl…


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Sea-breast of brine-wind
dosing 'cean-addicts with
brazenheaded figurines:
Ship talismans to lead the way.


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Read a necessary dollop of An Unnecessary Woman last night. Also some of Joseph Pearce's argument on what Shakespeare intended by Romeo and Juliet (i.e. not “romantic love hampered by families' paternal”, not “fate uber alles”, but the far-reaching effects of everyone's individual action).

December 01, 2014

Martin Luther King & Stonewall Jackson

Interesting to see the parallels and contrasts between Jackson & King.  Both were devout Christian Southerners, one a deacon the other a pastor.  Both died at the age of 39 with birthdays just six days apart.  Both died in early spring, a month apart. Jackson was strictly abstemious as far as drinking and women, King not so much.

Both were fiercely loyal to their cause and courageous in pursuit of it. Jackson was a warrior, King a pacifist, yet King died at the hands of an enemy and Jackson by friendly fire.

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals. -Martin Luther King, Jr.

The time for war has not yet come, but it will come, and that soon; and when it does come, my advice is to draw the sword and throw away the scabbard. - Thomas J. Jackson

Interesting Pie Chart Showing Americans' Discretionary Spending 2000-2005

Gratitudes and Non-Platitudes

I continue to slake my new interest in Martin Luther King by finishing Tavis Smiley's Death of a King: Dr. Martin Luther King's Final Year. He's  fascinating given the gulf between his piety and womanizing, but then people are flawed and complicated. But I have new respect for how much he suffered. Riveting book in that you sense he died at the right moment, before his reputation had a chance to completely collapse given the turn to  violence and riots and away from his non-violence. Even blacks thought he was irrelevant that last year. Too bad he had to see some of it - the last year just pounded him. Had lots of bouts with depression such that I wonder how he functioned as well as he did.

So it was a downer read yet oddly inspiring, like the stories of the saints who persevere through desolate situations. It was semi-spiritual reading given all the references to Scripture. King was supremely motivated by faith in God, something that history books, of course, don't emphasize.

Interesting to do research around the topic, including on killer James Earl Ray. I can't help wondering if there was no George Wallace, there'd be no MLK murder, at least by Ray given the influence Wallace seemed to have on him. The uncanny thing is how King seemed to know he'd get killed soon. He was pushing himself so hard that last year of his life for that reason; his last day was poignant: he was uncharacteristically light-hearted, he saw his brother, his lover. His last words were to a musician he was just introduced to: "Play it real pretty," meaning his favorite gospel song "Precious Lord".

He was so depressed that last year, with thoughts of suicide, that his death doesn't seem quite so tragic, almost as if Ray was an instrument to end his suffering. King seems to have been a Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet,  focused on this world's injustice and not taking a longer view or to spiritualize the concrete. The "poor" to him always meant financially poor, not the spiritually poor, for example.  Dignity was not something innate but seemingly conferred. I wonder if him being Baptist and thus lacking a monastic tradition if there was a weaker emphasis on anything shy of liberation theology, where liberation is of this world. But ultimately given how much good he did it's hard to argue he wasn't acting according to God's will. "Proceed calmly through life," Pope Francis advised recently but King had about him, in the words of one biographer, a "frantic melancholy". He was born to die young it seems, to flame out at just 39, and in that he seems entirely in tune with musicians like Joplin and Hendrix. Hard to imagine any of them living the bourgeois life that middle and older age tends to induce.

Good thoughts on gratitude in MLK book:



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Beautiful reading from Isaiah yesterday that echoes the oft-lament against human free will:
Why do you let us wander, Lord, from your ways,
and harden our hearts so that we do not fear you?

So affecting and poetic, the Knox version of yesterday's reading:
Majestic power, that led Moses by the hand; that parted the sea at their coming, to win his name renown. Through its waters they passed, sure of their foothold as horse that is led through the desert; carefully as driver on some treacherous hill-side, the Lord’s spirit guided his people. Thus didst thou bring them home, and win thyself honour….Where, now, is thy jealous love, where thy warrior’s strength? Where is thy yearning of heart, thy compassion? For me, compassion is none.
Yet, who is our father, Lord, if not thou? Let Abraham disown us, Israel disclaim his own blood, we are thy sons still; is it not thy boast of old, thou hast paid a price for us? And now, Lord, wouldst thou drive us away from following thee, harden our hearts till worship we have none to give thee?
Powerful on many levels. First, the thought and fear that our lover not loving us anymore. But then the "on the other hand": “Yet, who is our father, Lord, if not thou?”

Later, more angst-poetry:
No better than the clout a woman casts away; we are like fallen leaves, every one of us, by the wind of our own transgressions whirled along. There is none left that calls on thy name, that bestirs himself to lay hold of thee. Thou hidest thy face from us, broken men caught in the grip of their wrong-doing. Yet, Lord, thou art our father; we are but clay, and thou the craftsman who has fashioned us.
*

St Augustine writes potently on a familiar morning prayer psalm I've long wondered about:

To tell of Thy mercy early in the morning, and of Thy truth in the night. What is the meaning of this; that the mercy of God is to be told us in the morning, and in the night the truth of God? The morning is, when it is well with us; the night, the sadness of tribulation. What then did he say in brief? When thou art prosperous, rejoice in God, for it is His mercy. Now, perhaps thou wouldest say, If I rejoice in God, when I am prosperous, because it is His mercy; what am I to do when I am in sorrow, in tribulation? It is His mercy, when I am prosperous; is it then His cruelty, when I am in adversity? If I praise His mercy when it is well with me, am I then to exclaim against His cruelty when it is ill? No. But when it is well, praise His mercy: when ill, praise His truth: because He scourgeth sins, He is not unjust. Daniel was in the night-season, when he was praying: for he was in the captivity of Jerusalem, he was in the power of enemies. Then the Saints suffered many evils: then he himself was cast into the den of lions; then the Three Children were thrown into the fire. The people of Israel suffered these evils in the captivity: it was the night-season. During the night Daniel confessed the truth of God: he said in his prayer, We have sinned, and committed iniquity, and have done wickedly…He told of the truth of God during the night - what is it to tell of the truth of God in the night? Not to accuse God, because thou sufferest anything of evil: but to attribute it to thy sins, His correction: to tell of His lovingkindness early in the morning, and of His truth in the night-season. When thou dost tell of His lovingkindness early in the morning, and of His truth in the night-season, thou dost always praise God, always confess to God, and sing unto His Name.

Controversialist Commentary Un-Imprimatur'd

The thing about Ferguson (now being used as a verb, as in "I went all Ferguson on him" as seen in my in-box) is how telegraphed it was. It was as predictable as Tuesday following Monday. And yet still, somehow, even with plenty of advance notice, the "long" arm of the law couldn't stop looters and rioters. It seems another sign of the decline of the elites given that they are just incompetent enough to not be prepared when the verdict came out.

The other interesting case is the individual business owners. They too had a zillion weeks advance notice but apparently didn't a) sell, b) hire private security, or c) buy additional insurance. Maybe some of them did one of the above but surely some didn't. To be caught flatfooted in Ferguson this second time is like being caught flatfooted by Christmas Day.

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Jacques Barzun: “Of all the books that no one can write those about nations and the national character are the most impossible.”

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St Cecillia is one of those early Christian martyrs we know little about, but according to a book of saint biographies her cult suddenly increased, for reasons unknown, in the 6th century. And my reflexive thought was that someone made up something about her and her fame increased. But faith reminds us that she's still alive - now as well as in the 6th century - and there's no reason she couldn't have "reached out" as they say in the business world. There's no reason saints can't become famous post-humously given that they can act post-humously, often in the form of miracles of healing or apparitions.

You think about some of the miracles attributed to ancient saints and there's sometimes legends attached. Legends that are factually inaccurate but the underlying truth secure. I think of this with regard to the Ferguson riots: an underlying truth that blacks are treated worse than whites by cops. And yet the wildly inaccurate symbol of this, i.e. the thuggish Michael Brown and his "suicide-by-cop" act. Fascinating how wide the gulf between symbol and reality.

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Headed to OSU campus, the mecca of impossible parking situations, but found one and left Buddy in charge of guarding the car and its contents. Located the Wexner Center and entered into the Picasso collection. The billionaire businessman Lex Wexner exhibited his personal art collection (and had reproductions made so that his house wouldn't look empty for the months-long exhibition). His taste in art certainly doesn't much coincide with mine and I stood befuddled, a bit, at why/how these works appeal so greatly to him and so many others. I'd say there were about four or five works that I really gazed at and felt appreciation for.

Wexner related, via a film at the exhibit, that one Manhattanite society lady walked into his house and her jaw dropped. "You have this in Columbus?" Gotta love the provincialism of the elites.

Quote in the gallery: "We were created to look at one another, weren't we?" - Edgar Degas

November 21, 2014

New Drinking Game

Drink everytime you see a mainstream media reference saying that Pope Francis is breaking "new ground" despite the fact Benedict did likewise.

Here are a couple starter shots, first from syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker:
The result, [Francis] said, has been to create an ecological crisis for social environments that need protection just as natural environments do.

“And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat, as well. … It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology.”

A new human ecology — what a concept.
Compare to what Benedict wrote years ago:
"We now crusade with an understandable and legitimate passion against the pollution of the environment, whereas man's self-pollution of his soul continues to be treated as one of the rights of his freedom...As long as we retain this caricature of freedom, namely, of the freedom of inner spiritual self-destruction, its outward effects will continue unchanged. Man too is essentially a creature and has a creaturely order. He can't arbitrarily make anything he wants out of himself. He must recogonize there is a spiritual ecology too."
Another: A marketing manager of Henry Holt publisher writes that Pope Francis has forged a new leadership path by "apologizing to victims of sex abuse."

You can't make it up given this.

November 20, 2014

Asides and Alliterations

Swallow, New Kingdom, ca. 1479–1458 B.C.

Wow, who knew that Winston Churchill was only 5'8" and weighed almost 300 lbs? Like Howard Taft and William McKinley, one could be very productive despite the fatigue caused by carrying so much excess weight.

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Read some surprisingly rough-ish statements on Pope Francis from Vatican scribe Sandro Magister, I think that's the name. A familiar one though because he's a main Vatican reporter/translator. Critique is that Francis is contradictory (he does seem to contain multitudes) and that he's completely silent and uncritical of militant Islam, Isis, etc… - compared him to public perception of Piux XII's supposed silence on the Nazis. On the latter, I'm not sure what Francis can say that won't merely inflame an already horrid situation.

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It's fall and a middle-aged man's thoughts turn to... death.  The operation that was intended to give my uncle 3-5 years instead of one year, ended up giving him zero years. Science giveth, science taketh away.

My wife sees him as already amid the angels and there's something innocent about that, and in some ways a rather logical assumption that follows from the fact that a) God made him, loved him, and counted the hairs on his head and b) God doesn't need anything. Put these two facts together and God could be welcoming him into Heaven at this minute. (Of course that ignores that we have free will and can cooperate to varying degrees with God.)

I thought about how true for my uncle is the prayer I say to St. Joseph for a good death:
“…my natural strength [then] will be nil, I won't have any human help, so from now on I invoke you, my father, to your patronage…I plead you to drive away those enemies of my soul so I can end my life in peace and in love with Jesus, Mary and you, St. Joseph.”
Indeed there was no human help for Bill; his doctors failed him and he likely had no access to the sacraments.  But it's then God works most powerfully, in our ultimate weakness, at our death, in the absence of “sense reward”. St. Joseph, pray for us!

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Sad to read of escalating tension and violence in Jerusalem.  I wonder if you haven't gone, you'll eever get to go now.

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A nice readerly weekend this past one. I have a Pavlovian response to print. Just seeing someone reading a full page of photo-free text is invitingly tingly. The star turn was glorying in the depth of St. JP II's encylical on life and Erasmo's Fire and Mercy. World-bending, mind-bending, soul-crunching offerings. But around that strong meat, I tasted a lot of articles found here and there, including a particularly pleasing short fiction piece in the New Yorker by David Eggers about a mother with two kids going to Alaska in a rented RV. So right up my wheelhouse.

A nice stretch with the kiddies. We ate, played silly games (Will loves it where I pretend to eat something and just before I do he tells me, 'It's poopy!“ and I cringe and make a face like it's horrible. We do that over and over ad nausea, and for effect, to vary it a bit, I start coughing and acting like I'm literally nauseated.) Then we headed over by car (too cold to bike) to the ice cream place, where the usual frivolity ensued.

Also enjoyed the diversion of an exciting OSU game yesterday. Beat Minnesota there, a MN team that has a fine record and a good coach. Nice to tape the 3.5 hour game and then watch it in 1.5 hours by cutting out commercials, half-time, replays, huddles, and the last five game minutes when the outcome was clear. Technology is spoiling.

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Read myself into the dreamy, intoxicating abyss of new fiction - not only the Eggers, but the Richard Ford novel Let Me Be Frank about an East Coast real estate guy in his upper 60s, facing the quandaries and vagaries of aging. The author is that age and some of the references are clearly more meaningful to that generation, such as a riff on Lemon Tree by Peter, Paul and Mary and words like "blower” and “crapper” as were hot words of that generation.

It feels just shy of stealing to be able to read New Yorker articles for free. I feel an irrational bloom of gratitude that makes me want to give the New Yorker some money, much as I'm always on the brink of signing up with ad-free version of Pandora merely as a way of saying thanks.

Of course same could be said, for that matter, concerning the wisdom of the ages, real wisdom, given that the Scriptures are online and free to those fortunate enough to have internet access. And every papal encyclical as well. We live in the greatest of times information and resource wise.

Rantasaurus Rex

Seems Obama was against an executive order on immigration before he was for it. Just like with gay marriage.

He, like Bill Clinton, has a streak of shamelessness. He's following the Clinton line that it's “better to be wrong and strong than right and weak.”

And as a pure power play it's a thing of beauty. Republicans can do nothing; if they protest too much they'll drive Hispanics (the crucial constituency) away. Rock, meet hard place. So Obama's got his nose pressed up against the proverbial glass with his tongue stuck out sans fear of Republican retribution.

He neatly - elegantly even - laid waste to the rules according to Hoyle (and the Constitution), i.e. that immigration reform was a congressional issue. The years of jockeying and negotiation between the parties has been upended by Obama stealing the ball and going home. Silly Congress, tricks are for presidents.

Whoda thunk that Republicans, burned in 1986 by amnesty in exchange for promised but ultimately illusory border control, would again get burned on the same issue? They look like Charlie Brown after Lucy stole the ball.  And so presidential executive power continues its inexorable increase. “I didn't know he could do that!” is a line we've grown way too accustomed to with this administration.

It used to be in times of war presidential grabs of power occurred. Now in times of peace we see it, but that's the trouble with making a narcissist president. Rules don't apply.

But we elected him even though he was an unknown quantity at the time.  Our blindness was wilful - we saw what we wanted to see.  And it's amusing to see white voters who tried to expiate the guilt of their forefathers by electing Obama deal with learning there's yet another small hurdle to leap to avoid the tag "racist": you can't criticize him. Newsflash to these voters: there will always be another hurdle.

November 14, 2014

Retreatant

Wow. Met Bob R*, fascinating guy, on a retreat last weekend. He grew up in Canada, found Christ, moved to England, became a missionary overseas, met his wife (a fellow missionary) who was from Ohio and that's how he landed here. His dream was to become a US citizen (which made his parents more distraught than his conversion to Catholicism!). The passport alone was $10,000, so it's not a cheap process to put it mildly. But he has the fervor of a convert on becoming American. Said that he requested a flag that flew over the Capitol (they fly a different one every hour and send them out to willing buyers). He wanted the one for the exact date he became a citizen but was disappointed when it came not tri-folded as is respectful way but folded in quarters. I was fascinated that he was so crestfallen over such a minor thing; he was so upset he actually wrote John McCain or some other bigwig about it.

But the really fascinating part was the questionnaire he answered truthfully. “Never tell the government the truth!” he exclaimed. The question was an oath before God saying that he'd never committed a crime whether convicted or not convicted. Some such language. And he said that no one except Jesus could answer that in the negative. Speeding for one thing immediately comes to mind is example of an unconvicted crime.

So he answered it honestly because it was an oath before God, which upped the ante. Well seems no one has ever answered that question truthfully before! He was sent to a locked-down FBI facility and grilled for two hours by an agent who tried to break him. He said she would build him up one minute and tear him down the next, that he will be deported and never see his American wife again. He eventually hired a lawyer and the government backed down, although apparently the thinking was that he could've set a precedent, and that real criminals will answer “yes” on that question and get through.

He had to gather tons of supportive letters saying he should not be deported, including many local priests.

The other chilling thing was his car was broken into while in the locked-down facility. He thinks it was the FBI. (“Ya think!?”)

Unreal. That's our government in action - a most dangerous entity to put it mildly. You don't want to get on the wrong side of it,  innocent or guilty.

He spoke with Irish loquacity, speedily and with faint echoes of actor Carroll O'Connor. His parents hailed from the Emerald Isle.

* - name withheld to protect the guilty

Seven Takes Friday as Made Famous by Jennifer Fulweiler

The night flew, augmented/distracted by 40 minutes I'll never get back listening to energetic young lady talk about the importance of play in the life of older adults. It was an alumni webinar, free of charge, and momentarily I was disturbed by seeing faces from others at home on screen. Could they see me? Could they see me drinking a beer, 5-o'clock shadow, double-chinned? After some poking around I determined that they couldn't because there's a button you have to push in order to be viewed. Apparently the default is not to be seen, which is good. Later I thought it would've been “playful” to have pushed the camera button and then placed iPad in front of our dog Buddy. (The thirty other folks in the seminar would find him listening carefully with eyes closed.)

Anyway, cool of the alumni office to offer it even if the subject matter was a bit obvious. Play means doing something you can get engaged in, something you enjoy doing, be it a puzzle, card game, water aerobics, etc… And it's healthy for us to do something we like doing. (Presumably not drinking to excess though, darn.) It's sort of impressive people get paid (the lady is an instructor) to tell us that doing something we like is good mentally and physically.

She also mentioned that play at work increases productivity. But if we're playing simply in order to increase productivity, doesn't that make the “play” utilitarian? And isn't utilitarianism the opposite of play? I overthink it and that's not playful!

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Current earworms, via amazon prime's service “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke” and “Cigarettes and Coffee Blues”.



Satisfying ol' country music.

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Speaking of entertainment (hey, I didn't even need that asterisk segue!), a recent 60 Minutes piece on country singer Blake Shelton was interesting. He said he learned early in his career that you can't just sing, you have to entertain. Tell jokes, have big production values, etc.. He's no Alan Jackson, the old-school singer who simply sang stories, sans pyrotechnics.

I thought of how that entertainization of American life is coming to all spheres.

Politics obviously. We've become focused on the horse race aspects rather than the substance. Who's up, who's down, what's the scandal du jour? John Stewart as primary news source. Drudge reporting that Michelle Obama just danced with a turnip.

Religion, obviously, in the that rock band and health and wealth gospels are now famously omni-present. Telling sports stories during Baptism homilies (yes, actually happened at one I attended.)

Sex, of course. While intrinsically entertaining, the procreation aspect now incidental given that the goal is only to have fun in bed.

Funerals. Instead of a somber liturgy intended as prayer for the dead, we celebrate the life and tell funny anecdotes in extended eulogies. Sometimes there's a slide show.

Meetings at work. Yes meetings! This is the big shocker. You know something culturally crazy is going on when it reaches staid Midwestern corporations. We have off-sites to places like the Columbus Zoo. We play “games”, such as seeing what team can make the highest paper structure using only two 8x10 pieces of paper. We even get surveys on the meetings in which we rate the entertainment value of the speakers. The fact is, over the last five years meetings have become less boring. Which is an incredible thing. It's sort of like wooly mammoths suddenly coming out of extinction.

I'm sure there are a myriad of other examples.

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So last night Bill O'Reilly mentioned the cold, hard stats of how out-of-wedlock births among blacks skyrocketed between 1970 and present-day and white out-of-wedlocks have followed (although still behind 70% to 30%).

And I got to thinking about this as a cultural indicator, how whites often steal black culture, both good and bad things. For example, back in the '50s Elvis Presley was said to have basically just stolen that type of music already trendy among blacks. And Pentecostalism, now a huge religion among whites, came out of African-American services.  The beauties and improvisations of jazz music.

In other words, maybe black culture leads white culture. We see it today where hip-hop, once primarily African-American music, has become popular everywhere. I used to think California was the leading indicator for the rest of the country, i.e. as hip CA goes, so eventually goes the East, South and Midwest, but I wonder if black culture is the leading indicator. 

November 04, 2014

Thoughts Conjoined by Asterisks

Listened to Richard Norton Smith talk about his biography of Nelson Rockefeller, a tome that took him 14 years to write. (My thought was why would you spend fourteen years writing about anybody except maybe Jesus?) The Brian Lamb interview was interesting enough despite the subject matter. I've long had zero interest in the wealthy liberal Republican; many say his decision to divorce and ruined his political career - John F Kennedy couldn't fathom that, saying he can't understand why any man would choose love over politics (telling us a lot about JFK). Smith said that the key way to understand Rockefeller is he believed every single problem could be solved. Thus he spent years fruitlessly trying to end the drug problem in New York as governor. Not everything has political solution or can be "fixed" externally via force. The human heart isn't as simple as he made it out to be (Jeremiah 17:9). Smith says that draconian NY state drug laws are a legacy of Rockefeller. Apparently he didn't learn the lessen of Prohibition...

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On the recent feast of Sts Simon and Jude, and I thought about how Jude Thaddeus is listed second-to-last among the apostles (Judas Iscariot being listed last), and I thought about how his low ranking is turned upside down by his reputation concerning impossible cases. There's something of the last shall be first in that. St. Peter's miracles might seem to have ebbed but St. Jude keeps on going.

Made me hungry to read about these obscure fellows and so I turned to Pope Benedict's book on the apostles. He's allergic to legends or pseudo-historical material that may or may not be true, so there's mention of what became of them other than the book in the Bible attributed to St. Jude. That book was not candy-assed - Jude was fierce in his denunciations of pseudo-Christians and heretics.

In the gospels, Jude asks only one question, that of why Jesus manifests himself to them but not others. Jesus replies "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

Pope Benedict writes that this is very relevant to the modern world:
"The Risen One must be seen in a way so that God may take up his abode within us. The Lord does not appear as a thing. He desires to enter our lives, and therefore his manifestation is a manifestation that implies and presupposes an open heart. Only in this way do we see the Risen One."

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Seems like an undeniable side effect of modern universalism and denial of free will is co-dependency. How can one say "no" to an irresponsible brother or sister if they're not responsible for their actions? So while the downsides of traditionalism are well-known, i.e. that of a harshness and lack of mercy, there could be danger in the other side as well.

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The downside of romantic literature is it sets up unrealistic expectations. For men, serial infatuations, for women loneliness or cynicism. But the upside is a vision of self-sacrifice, aka Humphrey Bogart in Casa Blanca.

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Listening to a Jimmy Buffet song on the radio in which the singer expresses his not untypical loathing of religion. Reminds me of poet James Wright's unforgiveness of God for a world that includes suffering. Sometimes I think being a believer comes down to whether a person believes he or God is more guilty of crimes against humanity. And a great proof of our own guilt, as if we need it, is the death of the innocent Christ. I think he was probably killed because man cannot tolerate being called a sinner.

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On the road saw car with high-laire bumper sticker poking gentle fun at folks who have either a "13.1" on their cars (indicating they ran a half-marathon) or 26.2 (full marathon). This sticker said "0.0". Got ridiculously vested in this joke and found one on 'net to buy.

October 23, 2014

Lead Me Chat

So this afternoon our company had an online "leader chat" , a post-meeting interactive session concerning the happiness speaker (as mentioned on this blog!). I commented, hopefully anonymously (because later I learned our VP was in the room with head honcho Eric). I said basically that choosing the optimist over the competent when you can't get both (as was asserted by Mr. Happy, er, the speaker) seems like what we tend to do electing presidents in recent years. Obama, Bush and Clinton all seemed like optimistic, likable fellows you'd want to have a beer with. Unfortunately they were impressively incompetent. See health care (Obama), Iraq (Bush), and allowing bin Laden/Al Qaeda to flourish (Clinton). Give me competency or give me death!

(Aside: Who were competent presidents in recent years? Reagan. Bush the Elder.)

Eric didn't answer the query, of course, it being way too opinionated, negative, and political. A pluperfect trifecta of reasons not to answer. Leader chats are intended as substance-free cheerleading sessions with astute comments like, "I'm fired up about engagement and our new 2020 vision for creating value!" and "What can you tell us about synergizing the eschaton?"

But I'd kind of wish now I'd written something like, "I truly see the value in positive thinking, but wonder how far before that becomes a sort of Stepford mentality?"