March 15, 2018

World War 2 Hero

My great uncle Donald’s first cousin, Richard, enlisted in the army straight out of high school in WW2.   He entered the service on 11/27/1943 and was shot by Germans on 11/27/1944, dying of his wounds the next day.  He was just 19 years old. The funeral was held by my great uncle Fr. Cogan and is buried at St. Stephen's Cemetery in Hamilton.

He died in one sense simply because General Patton wasn’t in charge, as he ought to have been had the army been truly a meritocracy.  Instead you had the mediocre Omar Bradley, who let the carnage go on in an unwinnable situation (horrible terrain of deep forest and mud towards the goal of a useless target against dug-in German defenses – basically a foreshadowing of Vietnam.   Patton was not in favor of 'exposing oneself to the prolonged enemy fire', had recommended against it, and blasted the Hurtgen forest battle as a “collossal waste”.  

Richard, the son of an Austrian immigrant would die at the bloody Battle of Hürtgen Forest, a three month protracted battle, the "longest single battle the U.S. Army has ever fought."   In Richard's German heritage he was not alone – ironically half the U.S. fighters had German blood. 

He was a member of the 18th infantry, company M, in the elite First Division (“The Big Red One”, mordantly referred to colloquially as “The Big Dead One”) and survived the D-Day invasion at Omaha beach.

The Hürtgen Forest cost the U.S. First Army at least 33,000 killed and wounded; German casualties were 28,000.   The Battle of the Bulge gained widespread press and public attention, leaving the battle of Hürtgen Forest largely forgotten, although in 1998 a movie was made about the battle, “When Trumpets Fade”, and in 2016 another titled “1944”. 

The commander was Major General Clarence R. Huebner (from Wikipedia):

“In 1943, General Huebner relieved the popular commander of the 1st Infantry Division, General Terry Allen, in a move engineered by General Omar N. Bradley. While the 1st ID, aka The Big Red One, had enjoyed considerable combat success under Allen's leadership, Bradley was highly critical of both Allen and Roosevelt's wartime leadership style, which favored fighting ability over drill and discipline: ‘While the Allies were parading decorously through Tunis,’ Bradley wrote, ‘Allen's brawling 1st Infantry Division was celebrating the Tunisian victory in a manner all its own. In towns from Tunisia all the way to Arzew, the division had left a trail of looted wine shops and outraged mayors.’  Despite this, Bradley admitted that ‘none excelled the unpredictable Terry Allen in the leadership of troops.’

Upon assuming command, General Huebner immediately ordered a series of close-order drills, parades, and weapons instruction for the 1st ID, including its veterans, who had just finished a bloody series of engagements with German forces in Sicily. This did not endear him to the enlisted men of the division, who made no attempt to hide their preference for General Allen. As one of the men of the Big Red One said in disgust, ‘Hell's bells! We've been killing Germans for months and now they are teaching us to shoot a rifle? It doesn't make any sense.’  Supported by Bradley and Eisenhower, Huebner persisted, and the morale of the division gradually recovered. As the commander of the Big Red One in World War II, Huebner led the 1st in the assault on Omaha Beach, followed by a successful infantry attack at Saint-Lô. The 1st would later repel a German counteroffensive at Mortain, and pursue the German Army across France, culminating in the Battles of Aachen and the Huertgen Forest.”

And what was gained in this battle?: 

“The Americans conquered 50 square miles of real estate of no real tactical value to future operations, and they had destroyed enemy troops and reserves, which the other side could ill afford to lose.  The Germans, on the other hand, with meager resources, had slowed down a major Allied advance for 3 months. At the end of November, vital targets, dams along the Roer River, the importance of which were not realized until late in the fighting in the the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, were still in German hands.

Had the First Army gone for the Roer River Dams early in the fighting, there would have been no battle of Hürtgen Forest.  That men must die in battle is accepted, and some fighting will always be more miserable and difficult than others.  If there had been a push directly from the south to take the Roer River Dams, the cost of lives could have been just as costly.  However, if that had been done, at least the objective would have been clear and accepted as important. 

Those who fought in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest fought a misconceived and basically fruitless battle that could have, and should have been avoided.  That is the real tragedy of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest.”

By late August 1944, the “Allied logistics system was stretched to the breaking point, and the advancing armies were on the verge of running out of ammunition and fuel. Allied military planners were faced with the two strategic options of attacking Germany - on a broad front or on a narrow front. General George S. Patton and field marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery were the two leading advocates of the narrow-front approach… Pressed hard by Montgomery, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower agreed in September 1944 to support the British plan for a combined ground and airborne thrust into Holland and then across the Rhine River at Arnhem. It soon failed and with supplies starting to dwindle to a trickle, the western Allies had no real choice other than to revert to the broad-front strategy of applying even pressure against the Germans all along the line.”  After the war was over, a Nazi general stated, “I have engaged in the long campaigns in Russia as well as other fronts and I believe the fighting in the Hurtgen was the heaviest I have ever witnessed.” 

The question of “why” is very similar to what would happen with Vietnam: 

“To some at the time and to many after the event, the question occurred: why did the First Army keep feeding more and more units into the Huertgen Forest? Throughout the fighting, the army commander, General Hodges, was acutely conscious of the difficulties his troops were facing in the forest… When the First Army first entered the forest, nobody expected any real trouble. After the hard fighting developed, the Germans had to endure the same kind of hardships as the Americans did and were infinitely less capable of replacing battle-weary formations with rested units. The expectation was always present that one more fresh American division would turn the trick.”

 Historian Ernie Herr writes: 

“Those that fought the battle from the American side were mostly from the high school classes of 1942, 1943 and 1944. These mostly still teenagers included championship high school football teams, class presidents, those that had sung in the spring concerts, those that were in the class plays, the wizards of the chemistry classes, rich kids, bright kids. There were sergeants with college degrees along with privates from Yale and Harvard. America was throwing her finest young men at the Germans. These youths had come from all sections of the country and nearly every major ethnic group.

 British General Horrocks (one of the few generals, if not the only general to do so) made a surprise front line visit to the 84th division and described these young men as ‘an impressive product of American training methods which turned out division after division complete, fully equipped. The divisions were composed of splendid, very brave, tough young men. ‘But he thought it was too much to ask of green divisions to penetrate strong defense lines, then stand up to counter attacks from first-class German divisions. And he was disturbed by the failure of American division and corps commanders and their staffs to ever visit the front lines. He was greatly concerned to find that the men were not even getting hot meals brought up from the rear, in contrast to the forward divisions in the British line. He reported that not even battalion commanders were going to the front.

These were the magnificent kids of the American high school classes of 1942, 43 and 44 and while over 50,000 German soldiers were executed for desertion during this time period, only one American soldier was executed for the same offense, remarkably demonstrating the patriotism and devotion to duty of this group.

That this patriotism and devotion was so abused and never recognized even to this day, should be cause for a heavy heart. If there were ever a group of Americans for which a tear should be shed, this would be the group.”

On 27 November the 18th Infantry renewed its attempt to take Hill 203, which for more than three days had stymied an advance into Langerwehe, Germany.  He likely took fire in the attempt, probably from German paratroopers or the German 47th Division, and died the next day in newly conquered Langerwehe.  

He posthumously received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

March 14, 2018

Jonah Goldberg on Youth Identity Politics

Good Jonah Goldberg rant:

Youth Politics Are Stupid

Let’s establish a baseline. I assume we can all agree that everyone is born remarkably dumb. Ever try to talk about the causes of the First World War with a newborn? So frustrating.

There are few things more settled in science than the fact that humans start out not very bright or informed and that this condition only wears off over time — i.e., as they get older.

Only slightly more controversial: Young people tend to be more emotional than grown-ups. This is true of babies, who will cry about the silliest things (hence the word, “crybaby”). But it’s also true of teenagers.

Again, this is not string theory. We know these things. And the idea that I must provide empirical evidence for such a staggeringly obvious point is hilarious to me.

Aside from all the social science, medical science, novels, plays, poems, musicals, and movies that explore this fact, there is another source we can consult on this: ourselves.

Every not-currently-young person reading this “news”letter has one thing in common: We were all young once.

This is what I mean when I say that “youth politics are the laziest form of identity politics.” Say what you will for racial-identity politics, there’s at least a superficial case that such identities are immutable. I can never be a black woman. And before everyone gets clever, even if I dropped a lot of coin on cosmetic surgery, I can never claim to know what it’s like to be a black woman.

You know what I can claim, though? Knowing what it’s like to be young. Sure, I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be young in 2018, but as the father of a 15-year-old, I’m not wholly ignorant on the topic either. On the other hand, my 15-year-old has no clue what it was like to be young in the 1980s.

And that’s why youth politics are such a lazy form of identity politics. (It’s also why generational stereotypes are lazy.) Here’s a news flash for you: There was no “Greatest Generation.” The dudes who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima and Normandy: badasses and heroes, to a man. The dudes back home in the drunk tank on D-Day? Not so much.

This is what I hate about all forms of identity politics. It’s an effort to get credit or authority based upon an accident of birth. The whole point of liberalism (the real kind) is the idea that people are supposed to be judged on the basis of their own merits, not as representatives of some class or category. Of course, one needn’t be absolutist about this. A little pride in your culture or ethnicity won’t do any harm. But reducing individuals simply to some abstract category is the very definition of bigotry.

There is no transitive property to age. If a 17-year-old cures cancer, that’s fantastic. But the 17-year-old who spends his days huffing glue and playing Call of Duty is still a loser. I’m a Gen Xer. I take literally zero pride in the good things people my age do. I also have zero shame about the terrible things people my age do. Why? Because age is as dumb a thing as height or hair color to hitch your self-esteem to. What kind of loser looks back on a life of mediocrity and sloth and says to himself, “Well at least other people in my age cohort did great things!”?

This is what I hate about all forms of identity politics. It’s an effort to get credit or authority based upon an accident of birth.

And yet, we constantly invest special virtue in young people. As Socrates explained to Meno, there are no special virtues for young people. There are simply virtues. If a young person says that 2 + 2 = 4, that’s no more right or wrong than if an old person says so. The bravery of one 18-year-old does not negate the cowardice of another 18-year-old.

And that gets me to the next of my supposedly outrageous points: Older people know more than younger people. I’ve been stunned by the number of people offended by this. A lot of folks are getting hung up on the fact that young people know more about some things than older people. Fair enough. The average young person knows more about today’s youth culture and gadgets than the average fogey. My daughter can identify the noise coming out of my car radio. When I was a kid, it was running joke that grown-ups couldn’t figure out how to make the VCR stop flashing “12:00.” It never dawned on me that knowing how to fix that problem meant I knew more about politics than my dad.

This isn’t just a point about technological know-how or public policy. There’s an emotional narcissism to youth. Because a rich cocktail of hormones courses through teenagers’ still-developing brains, young people think they are the first people to experience a range of emotions. But we’ve all experienced those emotions. It’s just that when you experience them for the first time, it’s easy to think it’s the first time anyone has experienced such emotions. The first time you fall in love — or think you’ve fallen in love — as a teenager is a wildly intoxicating thing. And there’s nothing more infuriating than when old people tell you, “It’s just a phase.” That, however, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Indeed, “You just don’t get it!” might as well be the motto of youth.

March 10, 2018

Bookstore Travelogue

So the other night I heard the sad news that probably the biggest and best Columbus used bookstore, Acorn Books, is closing after 25 years of business. Although I only went there maybe four or five times, it was nice just knowing it was there and the community will be poorer without it. Of course I was part of the problem as I didn’t go there often. (I like to think I would’ve had I lived close by.) They are going the way of all flesh due to the fact you can buy used books online of course, and that e-business is killing brick and mortars (almost wrote “brick and mortals”).

They are having a whale of a going-out-of-business sale, every book under $25 was marked down to $1.  I picked up over 25 books, and a couple of bookends for $5 each. Time evaporated under the “pressure” of trying to filter tens of thousands of books into a manageable number.

The joint was packed, as well it might. One eccentric old gentleman, dressed sportily in a vest and tie and tweed hat, thought to ham it up by singing, apropos of nothing, a ditty he made up. It went something like this: “Why doesn’t Trump go / on Fox News anymore / It’s because of Stormy Davis / a man could suffocate / between those bosoms....”. He added that he wished Trump would. People smiled to themselves but didn’t look at him, preoccupied by our book frenzy.  It helped that he had a British accent. Eccentricism is more tolerated in foreigners.

The place comes by its characters honestly since the owners themselves are rather unique, exemplified by the unusual decor.

I felt the obligatory amount of greediness. This was one of those rare situations where books are well-nigh free for the taking, as if dollar bills were floating down and people were grabbing all they could. I wouldn’t have minded filling up with a long row of 19th century books in old leather bindings, but I was intent on content uber alles.

Now I’m doing a sort of “reverse tourism” (call it “reverse book research”) in discovering what I bought. Shades of “let’s pass this bill and see what’s in it”. Pleasantly surprised by most of them.

The Mark Helperin novels look pretty keen. Scored a CEB Thinline Bible (sadly, without deuterocanonicals). The Nabakov “Speak, Memory” filled a big hole in my library. The poems of Francis Thompson cheer me, as it is indeed that Thompson, of Hound of Heaven fame.

The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve by Greenblatt. Thrilled I could get this for a song given I was tempted to get it anyway. Major find. Secular author of course, but that’s par for the course.

Mother Ireland by Edna O’Brien looks like a fail, a typical hit piece on Catholic Ireland.

The Maidens on the Rocks was written by an Italian 19th century poet and looks not so good:
“D’Annunzio’s literary works are marked by their egocentric perspective, their fluent and melodious style, and an overriding emphasis on the gratification of the senses, whether through the love of women or of nature.”
Interesting that the love of nature and women correlation. This volume: “featured viciously self-seeking and wholly amoral Nietzschean heroes.”

A Traveler’s Book of Verse - looks very promising, as it’s early 1900s descriptive anthology of Europe through the lens of poetry.

Portrait of Those I Love by Daniel Berrigan. Looking forward to getting his viewpoint of Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley.  Said to be delightful book tangentially related to bookselling craft. Mentions a rather lazy male which sounds like me:  “He spends a good deal of his time tramping about the countryside, chronicling the life of country folk, leaving Helen to take up the slack at home.”

The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture - unfortunately written by a Village Voice editor, so it’s probably safe to assume he comes at it from a pro-porn point of view, but this looks interesting inasmuch as a history of censorship and how pornography as a term exists only since the 18th century.

Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most - what an unexpected gem! Seems right up my alley, and written by talented author (WSJ reporter). Fish out of water story about Manhattanite forced out of her apartment by 9/11 and coming to small town in Ireland.

Dark Rosaleen - a historical novel about the Irish famine. Reviews suggest the writing isn’t that strong, alas, but I’m always on the lookout for a really good Irish famine novel.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft - George Gissing. Looks potentially like a gem. From amazon reviews:
What a pity most contemporaries, obsessed with the superficial chop suei from their laptops and cellphones, have forgotten this little classic, a fine collection of belles-lettres pieces which displays a keen sensitivity to Nature and to the subtle changing seasons. I recommend it to anyone who still keeps a longing for beauty and art in life...
And another:  “Gissing was not a Christian but in this book he shares a generally positive view of the influence of Christianity on England. He had in his own life also found solace in the Stoic philosophers.”

Irish Journal by Heinich Boll. It’s a translation from the German, so that’s not ideal, but still looks potentially very strong. From an amazon reviewer:
Amazingly, a native German, managed to distill Ireland down to its essence. Perhaps this is why Heinrich Boll is a Nobel Laureate. Such a concise work, yet so powerful and beautiful.

March 08, 2018

Book on '08 Financial Crisis

I'm reading interesting book called "Crisis of Responsibility" by Bahnsen that lays out the perfect storm that resulted in the financial crisis, basically covetousness on Wall Street and Main Street combined with loose monetary policy:

Here are the money quotes:
Wall Street’s use of the synthetic CDO—an investment device used to bet that mortgage bonds would perform and that Americans would keep paying their house payments—proved to be a weapon of mass destruction for our financial system. But no exotic CDO bet caused any Americans to quit paying their bills. Wall Street’s error was not in causing Americans on Main Street to stop paying their bills, but in making the wrong bet as to whether or not they would.

In October of 2009, I sat in the thirty-fifth floor conference room in the Fifth Avenue offices of one of the premier credit hedge funds in the industry. As I talked to the portfolio manager about the crazy twelve months we had just experienced, he said one of the most chilling things I have ever heard. “We had a financial crisis, David,” he said to me, “because 10 percent of the society had no conscience. The financial crisis only ended because it proved to be 10 percent and not 20 percent.” The implication was clear. Ten percent of the population walking away from responsibility was enough to cause the crisis. We managed to barely emerge from the other side at 10 percent. Had the number been 20 percent, we would not have been so lucky.
And here's the gist of it in context:
Society’s collective response thus far has been a sort of convoluted blame game, divided almost entirely along political lines. Most on the Right have accurately but incompletely focused their attentions on the flaws of government housing policy. A subset has gone after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for their excesses. Another subset has focused on the broader social policy objectives so instrumental in driving the housing mania. Still another subset has focused on easy monetary policy that proved to be gasoline thrown on the housing crisis fire. None of them are wrong, per se; they just aren’t enough. They are an incomplete assessment of the big picture necessary for a crisis of this magnitude.

But the monster at the core is the same—envy. While one is of a more institutional variety (corporate envy in the halls of Lehman) and one is of a more retail variety (neighborhood envy of “keeping up with the Joneses”), both capture the root cause of the 2008 financial crisis in a word we don’t hear much anymore: covetousness.

The bubble-like behavior—while doused with kerosene by a reckless monetary policy, accelerated by a dangerous government housing agenda, enabled by a failed regulatory framework, and facilitated by a short-sighted and incompetent financial system—was still fundamentally at its root a byproduct of human irresponsibility in a culture of insufficient thrift and virtue.
You can think of the Main Street players as four unique actors: 1. The Swindled. These actors were the very poor and naïve who truly did not understand any part of what they were doing when they signed loan documents obligating them to payments they could not afford. In short, they were duped by predatory lenders. 2. The Reckless. These people irresponsibly encumbered themselves through mortgages or cash-out borrowing they could not afford. But they understood the risk associated and proceeded anyway, out of either the belief that continuously rising home prices would fix everything or out of callous disregard for consequences.
Gamblers. This group was financially capable and reasonably educated. They rolled the dice and speculated all the way. When they lost the bet, they recognized the economic convenience of a strategic default. They chose to walk away from their obligations with the presumption that there would be no negative consequences to their income or balance sheet. And they were right. 4. The Diligent. The final players were those who missed no payments in the financial crisis and, therefore, added no stress to the financial system. They faithfully made the payments they had promised to make. The Diligent bear no responsibility for the financial crisis for the obvious reason that they fulfilled (and continue to fulfill) their financial responsibilities. In an indirect way, however, they may deserve some criticism for being inadequately agitated at the Reckless and the Gamblers. The Diligent seem to lack an appreciation for just how unfair the actions of the other players really were. Instead, many have joined the chorus criticizing easy institutional targets of earlier chapters. But my desire for righteous indignation doesn’t address the culpability of the other Main Street players, so I focus on the remaining three.
The Swindled refers to those cases where any reasonable person would see the borrower as a victim—where there was paper switching, direct lying, exploitation of language deficiencies, mental incapacity, and so forth. Let’s acknowledge that rare and despicable incidents such as these took place, but at nowhere near the level required to fuel a financial crisis.
The sad reality is that predatory borrowing was a far more systemic problem than predatory lending. The fact is that 70 percent of defaulted loans had blatant misrepresentations on their mortgage applications.13 The FBI estimates that mortgage fraud (by borrowers) increased 1,000 percent from 2001 to 2007. In other words, borrowers frequently made false claims to get loans, yet why did that reality not become part of the postcrisis narrative? Why is “predatory lending” a commonly used term, whereas “predatory borrowing” is the odd contraption of a free market economist?
If we combined all predatory loans—cases where the lender perpetrated fraud against the borrower by deceiving him or her about the loan—and all cases of predatory borrowing—cases where the borrower perpetrated fraud against the lender—we still have only 25 percent of the total defaults in the financial crisis according to the Journal of Financial Economics.14 That means 75 percent of all defaults came from people who did legitimately qualify for a loan yet defaulted anyway—the Reckless and the Gamblers.
Gamblers are most likely to engender irritation and least likely to gain your sympathy. Some were extremely bad actors, confident they could speculate en masse, keeping 100 percent of any upside and passing along 100 percent of any downside to their lending institutions and, eventually, to the taxpayers.
An intelligent and financially capable borrower simply walked away from debt they could afford. This morally questionable activity was not rare. It was commonplace. And this activity did not have a minor financial impact. The Gamblers on Main Street were major actors in the financial crisis drama.
The national credit bureau Experian worked with the consulting outfit Oliver Wyman in late 2009 to conduct an analysis on these strategic defaults.15 The results were damning for the Gamblers. Using a sample of twenty-four million credit files, they found that borrowers with high credit scores were 50 percent more likely to strategically default, thus debunking the myth that it was less creditworthy and capable people struggling through the financial crisis.
The proof for the Gamblers’ existence on Main Street and their role in first creating and then exacerbating the financial crisis can be found in two empirical facts: 1. 41 percent of all mortgage defaults took place in California and Florida, states that mandated nonrecourse financing (meaning, the borrowers could not be held personally liable for a failure to perform on their mortgage loans). In fact, the vast majority of all mortgage defaults came in nonrecourse lending states. Are we to believe that the exact conditions blamed for the financial crisis somehow magically plagued these few states, with no correlation to the fact that these states allowed borrowers to walk away scot-free?
And there was a crisis of culture that exacerbated the crisis, walking away from obligations without concern for personal integrity or collective economic impact.         

March 07, 2018

The Spiritual

The wondrous Fr. Charles at St. Pat's. He said today that Jesus told his disciples three times that he would be crucified, and the first reaction was Peter’s denial, the "heaven forbid this should happen" to which Jesus said, “get thee behind me Satan.” The second time the gospel says that the disciples were “distressed” by the news. And the third time, in today’s gospel, the mother of James and John, presumably on their bidding, offered to take up the cup of suffering so that they could be at Christ’s right and left.

And Fr. C said that so it must be with us. Our reaction to the cross - the fact that there is no glory without the pain - is first disbelief and denial. Then, accepting the reality, we fear and tremble. And finally we have the overconfidence and too much trust in our own abilities that James and John had. Fr. C said that at least in that third state we want to be on Christ’s side, we love him, and that’s no small thing.


The Ronald Knox version of Isaiah reads like poetry and is deeply affecting:

He will watch this servant of his appear among us, unregarded as brushwood shoot, as a plant in waterless soil; no stateliness here, no majesty, no beauty, as we gaze upon him, to win our hearts.
A victim? Yet he himself bows to the stroke; no word comes from him. Sheep led away to the slaughter-house, lamb that stands dumb while it is shorn; no word from him. Imprisoned, brought to judgement, and carried off, he, whose birth is beyond our knowing; numbered among the living no more!  Takes he leave of the rich, the godless, to win but a grave, to win but the gift of death; he, that wrong did never, nor had treason on his lips! 

The Political

One of the bigger surprises after the Trump win is how the mainstream media lacked introspection and doubled-down on the bias and hate. It’s another indication of how you can’t force humility (with the exception of Germany and Japan after losing a world war). Every action has an equal and opposite reaction in the world, and the reaction to Trump's win was not reaching out, but reaching back for a bigger knockout blow. It’s predictable I guess; follow the money, and there was money to be made in giving Trump airtime in the primaries as a gadfly who, as a side benefit, could upset the Republican apple cart by dividing the party and losing to Clinton, and there’s money to be made in trying to crush him now with the side benefit of getting liberals elected.

I just saw the cable ratings and how FOX News holds a narrow lead over MSNBC. Maddow is actually a close second to Tucker Carlson in the ratings, which is a sad commentary. But what the ratings fails to bring home is that MSNBC and CNN are really one crapulent network. So if you add MSNBC’s ratings with CNNs it crushes Fox’s. FOX is sort of like Trump in that there was only one Trump in the GOP primary and a bunch of suits who seemed similar. Just as Trump triumphed in part due to having his own special lane of Trumpdom, so too does Fox profit from being sui generis.

February 24, 2018

Tex Cobb and T.S. Eliot

Read something recently (an oral history of the short-lived magazine Inside Sports, familiar to only those of us of a "certain age") that created a sudden and almost holy interest in the boxer Randall “Tex” Cobb. Felt a reverence for the otherworldly story of a throwback.

Cobb was physically courageous and a practitioner of Stoic virtue when it came to taking a punch. He got in the ring with better, quicker (quicker a euphemism for “African-American”) boxers and took a beating but would not go down. And he won a fair amount of the time so he was no hack.

But more impressive was how he came to the rescue of a sportswriter - yes, a writer - who’d found himself in a predicament in a bad part of Philly. The writer was nearly killed, but Cobb came to his rescue against a mob of twenty or thirty and for his trouble received a broken arm via a tire iron. It cost him the chance to box Mike Weaver. In other words, an athlete risked a big payday to save a writer. Greater love hath no athlete...


T.S. Eliot, prophet of Twitter:
With slow rotation suggesting permanence
Nor darkness to purify the soul
Emptying the sensual with deprivation
Cleansing affection from the temporal.
Neither plenitude nor vacancy. Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.

Will not stay still. Shrieking voices
Scolding, mocking, or merely chattering,
Always assail them. The Word in the desert
Is most attacked by voices of temptation,
The crying shadow in the funeral dance,
The loud lament of the disconsolate chimera.

February 22, 2018

I Came for the Schadenfreude but Stayed for the Sympathy

I came for the schadenfreude but stayed for the sympathy.  Finished Donna Brazile’s Hacks and was unexpectedly moved by it, particularly the hell she went through with the DNC hacks and the fear and paranoia that ensued. Even her beloved dog died. Sure, some of hell was self-inflicted, like the infamous gift of debate question to Hillary, but then we all self-inflict pain.

Her fall from grace was so stark and humbling that she felt camaraderie with even her enemy, Trump voters:
In a way I want to thank Donald Trump for bringing me so low, because in that state of mind I was connected to my fellow Americans. Before the 2016 campaign, I had been doing well for a good long while, and then—poof!—it was over, and there was reason to think that it might not start up again. I know many of Trump’s supporters felt the same about their lives. This election burned it all down...—but after a firestorm passes what comes up first is hearty and strong.
Another interesting part was where after the election she gave the time to her students to educate her:
I wanted to know what the students thought. Since the pundits clearly had not known anything, perhaps these young people would be better at deciphering the loss than those of us who were paid big bucks to do this.
I learned two things from the students. One was that they disliked identity politics. They thought that Hillary spent too much time trying to appeal to people based on their race, or their gender, or their sexual orientation, and not enough time appealing to people based on what really worried them—issues like income inequality and climate change. 
Good to hear that even on the youthful liberal side of the fence identity politics is in some quarters passé.

The other thing Brazile “learned” was risible: “the misogyny of the media”, questionable on the merits and laughable because she said in the next sentence that she’d been preaching it to the class all year long, so I’m not sure how you “learn” something you’ve been teaching. And certainly if the press had even the faintest inkling that Hillary could lose they would’ve pushed her to victory. Bad polls were Trump’s best friend because though the media was fiercely against him it didn’t gloss over Hillary’s problems.

But ultimately this was a very human book and a siren call to end the tribalism that has infected our politics and which I am often guilty.

February 20, 2018

Memento Mori

Interesting that I read the following by Peter Hitchens (from his book “The Rage Against God”) so soon after a Mark Helperin passage about how Bach and Mozart wrote classical music that mixed joy and sorrow since for them death was omnipresent. 

Here Hitchens speaks of the time before he converted from atheism:

I sought out and preferred buildings without dark corners or any hint of faith in their shape..I did not know exactly what I was seeking or avoiding, but it was well described in John Buchan’s story Fullcircle. A character who lives in a seventeenth-century manor house muses by his library fire: 

In this kind of house you have the mystery of the elder England. What was Raleigh’s phrase? ‘High thoughts and divine contemplations.’ The people who built this sort of thing lived closer to another world, and thought bravely of death. It doesn’t matter who they were—Crusaders or Elizabethans or Puritans—they all had poetry in them and the heroic and a great unworldliness. They had marvellous spirits, and plenty of joys and triumphs; but they also had their hours of black gloom. Their lives were like our weather—storm and sun. One thing they never feared—death. He walked too near them all their days to be a bogey.

How close to what Helperin had his protagonist muse on in the novel “Paris in the Present Tense”: 

“The difference in the spirit of one age with the spirit of another,” he said, “despite the constancy of both nature and human nature, is legible in music. Death, pain, and tragedy still rule the world, though in the rich countries of the West we insulate ourselves from them as never before in history. But when death, pain, and tragedy were as immediate as they were to everyone, even the privileged, in the time of Bach and Mozart, you have darkness and light coexisting with almost unbearable intensity. Which is why in all of these great pieces... you have the tension between the most glorious, sunny exultation, and the saddest and most beautiful mourning.” 

I recalled recently about how terrifying it was as an 8-year old to consider there was a time before I was. Before I existed. That I was a state of nothingness with no consciousness. And I considered then the possibility that after this life there is no other and there’s a return to that nothingness.

The antidote is not to hold and grasp existence with a death-grip, as Christ cautioned against in saying that to lose our life would be to gain it. I am freed from terror from looking at the abyss of nothingness.

A tweet happened across my screen:

“Jesus saw a tax collector named Matthew...” (Lk 5)

“What do I have that you you pursue my friendship?”... (Lope de Vega)

Nothing you have attracts God, and by the nothing, you have everything; for in you having nothing he is drawn by love to give you everything.

January 29, 2018

Alchemizing Creek into Sea (in just a few hard steps)

I was born next to a creek.  Well, I was born in a hospital in the city but shortly thereafter spent my formative years exploring a creek about twenty yards from our backyard. It alternated wet and dry with the rainfall.

It never fails to amaze me (call me easily amazed) that with nothing more than a raft I could sail that nameless creek to the Great Miami river and from there make the Ohio and from there the Mississippi, and from there hit the Gulf of Mexico and, like, collect seashells and stuff, drink from coconuts, play in the surf, enjoy sublime weather.  Heaven.

That that tiny creek could take me to the ocean reminded me of how I was always convinced of that if I could just dig a deep enough hole in the backyard, I'd hit China.

So I was taken aback by the story of this guy - like me a Cincy native who lives now in Columbus area - and how he audaciously decided to enact what my brother and I had dreamed of when we were in grade school.

I found a map of his journey, and he ended up spending 4 days on the Scioto, 26 days on the Ohio, and 36 on mighty Mississippi till he reached Gulf.  The purpose was to raise money for drug and alcohol rehab.

There's a journal here:

Day 1 in Columbus:
Well this is it.  Here we go.  What I have been waiting on for years.  After shaving my 7 month beard and repacking my gear for the 100th time I was ready to go.  My brother and dog dropped me off along the Scioto River on the steps of the COSI (Center of Science and Industry) building with the backdrop of the skyline of Columbus.  After 3 tries to christen my boat with a red bull I was finally successful.   A few more pictures, and I was off.  My mind was racing as I paddled out of the skyscrapers that I have called home for the past 9 years.  The river flowed out of downtown two miles till I encountered a dam that I had to portage (fancy boating word for carrying my boat) around.  The route was about 20 feet up a bank, then a quarter mile down the bike path past the Fire Station to the river.  I stopped in the Fire Station to fill my water bags and got talking to one of the firefighters about what I was doing and their thoughts on the drug overdosing problem in the area.  He said that the fire/paramedics respond to calls all the time and it’s getting worse.  I would like to say that I am surprised but that would be a bold face lie. 
I continued on down the river leaving the 15th largest city in the country behind.  As I got outside of the outer belt loop it started getting more remote.  So remote that as I was paddling I caught something out of the corner of my eye falling down and splashing 5 feet from my boat.  It was a dead snake.  Not just a dead snake, a mangled eaten snake dropped by a hawk.  Other than almost getting smacked with raining snakes, it was a great paddle through central Ohio.  As the sun was setting I found an island to camp on.  When I got closer I saw it was already occupied.  By 3 deer.  They spotted me and took off splashing and swimming across the river.  I posted up on the island and settled into my new home for the next several months, and couldn’t be happier.
Later in Cincy: 
The prodigal son has returned to his birth city. It was an amazing experience getting to paddle through downtown Cincinnati.  I got an early start to try and beat the boat traffic. It seemed to work through downtown. Then I realized the whole downtown is a no wake zone. After I got out of downtown it was a whole different story. I was getting beat up pretty bad. After a while I saw a coast guard sub station and decided to stop. Sub station doesn't mean submarine if that's what you were thinking. I started talking to one of the guardsmen. I asked if they had drug or alcohol problems along the river. He could only speak for the people on the river not on the shore but he said not really drugs, but alcohol boating and alcohol go together. I couldn't agree more. One of my favorite things in the world is to be drinking on a boat. It doesn't matter what kind of boat as long as I was on the water with a drink in my hand I was happy. Sorry I got excited there thinking about drinking and boating. 
I continued on getting beaten up by the sun and wake.  It got to the point that I was mentally drained. I saw a riverside restaurant up on the hill on the Indiana side. I was close to the Kentucky side. I sat there for a good 15 minutes deciding if it was worth it to paddle across the river. I decided it was and got moving.  It was worth it. 
I finally found a place to camp. Right across from a riverboat casino. It was a really cool forest area. I did some exploring and saw 2 deer and a baby. I tried to get pictures but they ran off. As I was getting ready to get into my tent I heard a 4th deer. He crashed through the woods and started snorting at me. I yelled and threw sticks into the woods. The snorting went on for a good 15 minutes. I decided to use one of my ultimate deer defender devices before I went to bed. I lit a m-80 and covered my ears. It worked. I didn't even hear crickets for a good hour.

Over the weekend I was listening to Jonah Goldberg's The Remnant podcast and he had Charles Murray on. Jonah said the problem of our time turned out to not be the fascism of Orwell’s dystopia as the soma of Huxley’s (such as increasingly potent virtual reality, video games, drugs and alcohol). Goldberg mentions that many students come up to him and ask, “If everyone’s happy, what’s so wrong with Brave New World?”.  Murray answered “because you have an immortal soul” and Goldberg said “because you are needed.”

Jonah’s take was that it’s when you don’t feel needed that the soma seems attractive because you can “zone out”, live in your parent’s basement and otherwise inhabit an alternative reality. To the extent you make yourself needful to someone else, be it through marriage or parenthood or a job or voluteering, you experience the value or necessity in engaging in this world. Seems the views of Jonah and Murray are related - we have an immortal soul that requires the care and feeding of the care and feeding others.

Murray says the problem with the government doing things for you and on your behalf is then you aren't needed and you slide.

And today I came across this excerpt from the kayak river journal linked above that says basically the same thing:
We got to talking and I asked her why she thought the drug problem was so bad around here [Portsmouth]. She said it had to do with the government. I didn't know where she was going but she went on to explain and it made sense. She said that it's easier to be on government assistance then it is to have a job. Her friend was making about $8 an hour and got a .25 raise and lost their insurance. She went on to say you can get hundreds in food, stamps, discounted utilities, and other assistance that it makes it worth it. And when you are getting free money all you have to do is sit there and watch TV. And you get bored and look for some thing more. Then you need something more once you start. This made a lot of sense to me. She apologized for the long answer but I could see the passion that she meant what she was saying. And that is part of the reason I am out here is to find out what people think about addiction. It was a great conversation and gave me lots to think about.

January 23, 2018

Let Us Now Praise (Less Famous) States

Not enough praise or blame goes to individual states for their contribution to the national governance, specifically which senators it sends to D.C.

It's sort of surprising to me that the states that are regularly seen as powerful -- and have the largest populations to draw from - normally don't send the best senators (I'm thinking CA, NY, TX, IL, FL, the five biggest).

The states that have done pretty well in recent years, punched above their weight as it were, include Kentucky, Arkansas and Pennsylvania.  Kentucky has given us the majority leader (and adult) in McConnell, and another who at least talks a good game even if his tactics are sometimes head-scratching (Rand Paul, who voted against ending the Democrat shutdown).

New Jersey is an absolute wrecking-ball with Booker and Menendez; voters there have done the nation a continual disservice.  From Jon Corzine to Frank Lautenberg, one heaves a sigh of relief for a generic liberal like a Bill Bradley.

The small population states outside the lower 48 have had surprising influence in the past: Hawaii's Daniel Inouye and Alaska's Ted Stevens (both below-average senators).  Now both states have relatively new and untried senators, two of which look terrible and one uninspiring. Perhaps Alaska's Sen. Sullivan will shine.

Western states outside the left coast have done some good with folks like Ben Sasse.  California is perhaps a surprise for the sheer lack of gravitas - Feinstein has lost a step or three in recent years and Boxer and Harris are lightweights; you can see a big difference between CA and MA in terms of quality. Texas has done above average, certainly the best of the "big five". Oklahoma has done really well, with Tom Coburn a star (now retired) and with Cole on the House side. Okie is another example of a state deserving our gratitude.

VT predictably collects "most-stupid-but-earnest" award with Leahy and Sanders.

Iowa, with Grassley and Ernst, seem most down-to-earth and practical and perhaps winning the nation's "best people" duo.

January 08, 2018

GUTD Parody

I'm a subscriber to the daily devotional Give Us This Day despite its association with the controversial Fr. James Martin of liberal Catholic persuasion.

Oft times the "saint of the day" is of a non-canonized non-Catholic, such that I thought I'd parody it for your amuse-ification:
Blessed Among Us

Che Guevara 
Marytr 20th Century

Ernesto "Che" Guevara was an Argentine hero and major figure of the Cuban Revolution, a revolution that resulted in the finest health care system in the world (source: Michael Moore).

Guevara was instrumental in setting up assisted living facilities throughout Cuba (less generously called “forced-labor camps”).  Dissidents, gays and devout Catholics could be found in these accommodations, a wonderful early example of multiculturalism.

He was additionally headmaster of an educational facility for five months, also known as the La Cabaña Fortress prison.

While there are varying accounts of how many people were executed under his command during that time, and how many deaths could be attributed directly to Che as opposed to the regime overall, the many journalists and businessmen that faced death were treated humanely prior to execution and freed from all capitalistic debts.  Any assets they may have had were distributed fairly and equitably among the revolutionists.

Che was a such an effective advocate for the poor that generations of Cubans have been able to enjoy the poverty he fostered.