May 19, 2018

Somebody's Knockin'

Jonah Goldberg has often made the case that with identity politics it was only a matter of time before backlash ensued and whites began to think in similar terms; as long as every other group gets credit and authority based on an accident of birth, then whites will want that as well.

And that led me to think of the old Gibbs' tune "Somebody's Knockin'", here with new lyrics:
Somebody's knockin'
Should I let him in?
Lord, it's the devil
Would you look at him
I've heard about him
But I never dreamed
He'd have blue eyes and orange hair
Well somebody's lyin’
He's whispering to me
Your tribe or their tribe,
Well, which will it be?
I'm gettin' weaker
And he's comin' on strong
But I don't wanna go wrong
He must have tapped my twitter feed line
He must have known
I'm spendin' my time
Aggrieved
He says we'll bring one heavenly fight
My fever's burnin'
So he ought be right at home..

May 11, 2018

2016 Election Book

Of 2016 election books there is no end.  My preference is for minute-by-minute (second-by-second even better) descriptions inside the Clinton campaign on election day.  That stuff is like crack cocaine. The dawning horror of anchors and anchorettes that Trump would be president are likewise as rich a repast as you’re going to get in the world of politics.

But there’s also the other side of the equation: how Trump won.

Part of it I think is due to how the presidency is an entry-level job now given the Obama and Trump wins.  Since resume is irrelevant and past performance precludes getting elected, it makes the campaign the end all and be all. 

A simple theory is that the person with the most media during a campaign wins.  Obama won in ’08 by hacking the media via charm and leftism, while Trump won in ’16 through outrageousness.  But that doesn’t really explain how Bernie Sanders ended up a stone’s throw from the Democrat nomination.

Part of the common denominator might be shamelessness.  Bernie promised free tuition without paying for it, Trump promised to make Mexico pay for a border wall.  Shamelessness helped Bill Clinton win in ’92 as well, since any candidate with an embarrassment gene would’ve bowed out due to scandals.

Amanda Carpenter has a new book saying that Trump's gaslighting was the  feature, and ground zero was birtherism.

I think birtherism won him the nomination in that it was the precipitating thing that gave him instant appeal to about a third of the Republican electorate.  Birtherism allowed me to rule out voting for him immediately, which felt odd: the very issue that knighted him was what repulsed me, not because I think there's anything racist about it, but because it showed a casual disinterest in facts, which doesn't seem a promising thing in a president.

But the gaslighting he did was effective as Carpenter's book attests:
The most surprising thing [about 2016]? How Trump’s political playbook has been hiding in plain sight all this time. He keeps everyone, not just Republicans, spellbound in a rote and methodical way. Donald J. Trump is president, but he’s also a professional gaslighter.

Trump’s birtherism gambit is a textbook example of the technique he uses again and again. Let me walk you through the steps. The very first thing he does is stake a claim over political terrain other candidates consider risky but has a lot of potential. This is Step One. Remember, Trump is a real estate man at heart. He knows how to find an empty building that might look unsavory but can be developed into something valuable. In this case, it was birtherism.
             
When Trump started dipping his toe into the conspiracy waters in 2011, the birther fervor, which had broken loose during President Barack Obama’s first presidential election in 2008, had mostly died down. Sure, it was something Republicans still cracked jokes about, but no one was seriously willing to indulge in it for more than a laugh. Most considered birtherism a nonproductive waste of time, if not totally racist. Conservatives, by and large, thought it was only something promoted by liberals to make Republicans look like stupid tin-foil-hatters.
             
Fast-forward a few years later. Along comes Donald Trump, calling himself a Republican and on a mission to become the biggest birther in America. But Trump didn’t go full birther at first. No, no. He had to create some interest. He started slow, by raising questions about what other people were saying and thinking. This is Step Two of his gaslighting method. This is how Trump slyly both advances and denies the very claim he has staked out in Step One. See how this works. “Everybody that even gives a hint of being a birther . . . even a little bit of a hint, like, gee, you know, maybe just maybe this much of a chance, they label them as an idiot,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America on March 17, 2011. Trump wasn’t exactly coming out and saying he was a birther, but he was using his platform to express sympathy toward the large number of birthers who could be watching. He was advancing the narrative without committing himself to it. Gear up the presses! “Is Donald Trump a Birther?” asked Inside Edition. His gaslighting was catching. He got everyone to start asking questions about birtherism. He didn’t have to answer them to make his point. You see, when Trump is gaslighting, he rarely tells an outright lie. When pressed, he avoids specifics but keeps everyone chattering away with speculation on the topic.
             
The press egged him on, as did the Democrats who thought birtherism would help them by drawing sympathy to President Obama. Obama’s re-election campaign even sold T-shirts and mugs mocking the movement. Trump made himself available for all kinds of high-profile interviews on the subject, denying all the while that he was a real “birther.” He just had a lot of questions about it, you see. “Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate? There’s something on his birth certificate he doesn’t like,” he told the women of The View on March 23, 2011. On March 28, 2011, he told Fox News, “I’m starting to wonder myself whether or not he was born in this country.” Do you see how this advance-and-denial step works? He was only “wondering” about Obama’s citizenship. When this step is carried out correctly, it generates lots of attention. It induces intrigue, laying the groundwork for a much grander narrative. Then he did something that you will learn to recognize as Step Three of his method; he created suspense to keep the media’s interest in him and the subject. Trump promised evidence would come out “soon” to support his inquiries. He told Morning Joe on April 7, 2011, “His [Obama’s] grandmother in Kenya said, ‘Oh, no, he was born in Kenya and I was there and I witnessed his birth.’…

Obama, however, did finally produce his birth certificate on April 27, 2011, after Trump stoked questions in the press over it for six weeks straight. In doing so, Obama lectured the press for having their priorities wrong. He pointed out that he was in the middle of a big budget debate with Republicans but “the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we’re gonna have to make as a nation, it was about my birth certificate.” Without saying exactly who was responsible, Obama vented about the “carnival barkers” and “sideshow” that had been created. The people who pushed “just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts,” Obama said. “I have been puzzled at the degree to which this thing just kept on going.”

A rational person would have thought the story would end there. But Trump had no interest in rationality. The issue was too politically fruitful to let go of so easily. Besides, Trump had found other GOP politicians who were willing to play along. In October 2011 Texas governor and then–2012 presidential hopeful Rick Perry had dinner with Trump. No one knows for certain what they talked about, but pretty soon after that Perry was on the birther bandwagon, happily taking cheap shots at President Obama. Perry told CNBC, “It’s fun to poke at him a little bit and say, ‘Hey, how about—let’s see your grades and your birth certificate . . . it’s a good issue to keep alive.” It sure was. For Trump.

In 2013, ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked Trump if he had taken birtherism too far. Trump said, “I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular, if you want to know the truth, OK? So, I do think I know what I’m doing.” That’s exactly why he kept stoking the fire. In 2014, Trump was still pushing it. He tweeted: “Attention all hackers: You are hacking everything else to please hack Obama’s college records (destroyed?) and check ‘place of birth.’” (Note: this wouldn’t be the only time Trump called on foreign hackers to help him cast aspersions upon a political opponent, either.) What did all this do for Trump? A poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University in May 2016 found that 77 percent of those who supported Trump believed President Obama was “definitely” or “probably” hiding important information about his early life.
             
In September 2016, Trump summoned the national press corps to his newly opened Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., with the tantalizing promise that he would make a “major statement” regarding the circumstances of Obama’s birth. Reporters had long grown tired of the birther shtick and resented being marched into the hotel, calling the charade an “infomercial” for his property. But Trump had a way of guilting them into it. Medal of Honor recipients would be attending, reporters were told. Before Trump’s remarks, there would be a serious discussion about national security. Trump was giving the media a dare. Would reporters turn down a major event with decorated veterans? If they skipped it, Trump would accuse them of not respecting the military…
             
At the end of the event, Trump made his long-awaited statement regarding President Obama’s birth certificate. Here he would unveil Step Four and Step Five of his gaslighting method. The discrediting of his real opponent and the declaration of victory. “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy,” he said. “I finished it. I finished it. I finished it, you know what I mean. President Obama was born in the United States period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again.” That was it. Trump tossed the conspiracy off as an unfortunate incident propagated not by him, but by his opponent, Hillary Clinton. That’s Step Four, the discrediting. “Finished it,” he said. He won. Trump told the world that the single most defining issue of his political career-to-be was someone else’s mishap that he fixed. That’s Step Five, the victory. Reporters who covered the issue for five long years were exasperated.
             
STAKE A CLAIM: Trump finds a political issue or action that competitors are unwilling to adopt and that will ensure a media frenzy. Such as: “President Obama is not a U.S. citizen.”

ADVANCE AND DENY: Trump casts the issue into the public realm without taking direct responsibility. He does this by raising questions about or discussing what other people are saying, reporting, or thinking. Tabloids, YouTube videos, tweets from unknown origins, and unverifiable Internet news stories are often used as sources.

CREATE SUSPENSE: He says evidence is forthcoming that will soon get to the truth of the matter. Trump can remain in this mode for weeks, months, or even years.

DISCREDIT THE OPPONENT: If critics gain traction, Trump attacks their motives and personal character.

WIN: Declare victory.
_

He won ugly.  But I have to say that I'm hard-pressed and chagrined to realize today that I can't think of one thing a President Rubio would've done better than Trump as potus from a policy standpoint.  And probably a lot less right.  From North Korea to Iran deal to the economy, judges, tax changes, rolling back extraneous business regulation, etc... the dude has produced despite his poor character.  But it's still perilously early of course. Having Trump as potus is like having a sumo wrestler walking a tight rope.  You brace...

April 24, 2018

John Ch. 6 Condensed


Jesus feeds 5k, everyone excited to find out their flesh taken care of. New Moses same as the old, good stuff.

Jesus contemplates overnight, sees he needs to take the next step now that they are maximally open to his message (bellies full,  trust in his miraculous powers high).  Now is the time to test them like the angels, when God revealed his plan of becoming man to them and many rebelled since they didn’t see much use in humans. “Don’t go slumming Lord”, Lucifer said, “I ain’t gonna worship no lowly human let alone a piece of bread.”

The Jews go look for Jesus, wanting more Moses-food, and Jesus says don’t work for that kind of food.

They say whatcha talkin’ about Willis?

He says work for the eternal kind.

They ask how can we do the works of God (i.e. get our own food then via our own miracles)?

He says the work of God is to believe in me. Full stop.

They ask “why should they go out on a limb and trust you if no free meals?”

He says I am the free meal.

They say hey now, we know your parents.

He says my flesh is the life of the world, your flesh is useless.

He sees this offends them and says “what if I ascend to Heaven then where you going to be if you don’t see eternal life, meaning real life, is what matters?”

April 23, 2018

The Secret Key of Washington's Dysfunction

So the Jonah Goldberg podcast struck gold around the discussion of why the Congress is so dysfunctional.

Jonah averred that the Founding Fathers made a mistake in not anticipating a time when one of the three co-equal branches of government would not stand up for itself, would not try to assert it’s power and prerogatives but simply lay down and capitulate and settle for being a Morning Joe guest pundit. This is what the modern Congress has done and thus the executive and judicial have become disproportionally powerful and the legislative very weak.

Sen. Ben Sasse said he asked the retiring Obama folks what was their biggest surprise when working with Congress, and he said it was almost verbatim what the George W. Bush folks said - that the Congress begs the executive to do things that are within the purview of the legislative.

Sasse:
“The biggest surprise is when a senior senator of the majority party comes to me and asks us to do something by executive order that is a 70-30 issue [70% of public in favor]...we say, ‘Senator, that’s a 70-30 issue and we’re not even sure it’s constitutional, whether it’s executive overreach, and you have the gavel so why would you not want to do this thing?’ and they’d say, ‘oh absolutely you’re right, it’s a 70-30 issue but the 70% just want the outcome, and if I can call and tell them you’re going to do it by executive order, all the people in my state or district are going to be happy that I delivered the good news, but the 30%, they’re going to be pissed, and I’d rather ‘em be hacked off at you than me, you’re a nameless, faceless bureaucrat.’"

"So incumbency became a really powerful thing and that’s weird. I don’t think the Founders were wrong about much, they certainly weren’t wrong about human nature, but they didn’t think that people would want to be in D.C. for the rest of their life, like this was the center of the universe, they really thought the place you’re raising your kids, or where you’re a member of the rotary club or where you’re designing the next widget or the next app that that would be the compelling place you’d want to be, and there are a whole bunch of people right now whose local communities are hollowed out enough that being in D.C. feels like a really compelling way to be at the center of the universe. I don’t think the Founders wanted D.C. to be that interesting.

"And I think that’s a product of the moment we’re going through where the digital revolution and the changing nature of work is hollowing out the sense of 'place' for a lot of people, so D.C. feels more like a place than the place many people come from, and the Founders certainly didn’t anticipate that problem.”
Jonah half-joked that it was air-conditioning that ruined the nation, since it was only a/c that made D.C. bearable.  The British ambassador used to leave the city in May every year in protest.

April 20, 2018

Reverse Tourism

I like researching trips after I take them, sort of like how Nancy Pelosi likes to pass bills to see what's in them.

I spent some time re-absorbing my cruise pictures one-by-one on a February day in mid-April. The temp was mid-30s, flurries in the morning. Heavy cloud-cast as ever. I needed to look at those sunny pictures.

There was a picture of a poster on a run-down building taken in Falmouth (not pronounced "Foul Mouth" fyi) with a picture of three black women with words partially obscured: “arm ueen”. I deduced “Farm Queen” (call me a genius) and then googled and sure enough there’s a Jamaican agricultural queen contest, sort of like the queen of the Ohio State Fair.


There was also a large mural that advertised various varieties of spirits which also had images of Jamaican heroes, unknown to me before googling. A slave named Sam Sharpe, and a legislator William Gordon to name two.  Good amount of history on the Caribbean island.


Learned that the rosary I bought at the Mexico port was made of cubed hematite. Hematite is a blackish mineral. The stone is said to bring inner peace and dissolve negative energy into love and lower blood pressure. Nice I won't have to take BP meds anymore lol.

The man below looks like he's chiseled of hematite.  He's what I imagine the biblical character Job would look like.


Beautiful downtown Falmouth with an old church in the picture twice, once as inset. I jogged there and found it closed alas:


In Jamaica, where all the traffic barriers look phallic:


This seems like an old Victorian house that's almost completely falling down but was used as a backdrop/lounge area for the newer house added on:


This looks like a grounded UFO of some sort:


April 09, 2018

Cruise Trip Log


“The sea is the land’s edge also; the granite 
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the hermit crab, the whale’s backbone.”   --TS Eliot

Saturday: Day uno, all aboard going abroad for the Norwegian Western Caribbean cruise to points Costa Maya, Falmouth Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Nassau, Bahamas.

Smooth as silk transport and directly we headed for the buffet, delicious and comprehensively appointed: basil pasta, salad, turkey Parmesan, bratwurst, steak and a chocolate desert. And that was just my load. Definitely had some hunger going on given the skipped breakfast and yesterday’s fast day. We also tippled beers between us since we’d prepaid for them. Dos Equis and Modelos.

Just before 2 we were in our stateroom, enjoying the comforts of the balcony and donning swimsuits. The muster drill (painful disruption) is at 3:30.

We explored the pool area on 16 (next to dining area) and unfortunately it was obnoxious in every way, mainly the noise. Lousy music played loud and crowds of people like it’s Coney Island beach. Not our speed.

Just now looking over the aqua-green water on a sunny Miami day and reading some of Amy Welborn’s Mexico trip log. Funny to be drinking a Modelo while she mentioned she was drinking a Modelo.

There seem to be a fair number of bars and the alcohol package seems to include all of them so far, even the expensive IPAs. I guess we’ll see when we get the bill. There’s a self-service wine area just outside our door - too bad I’m not a wine fan. And there’s also a lounge with a big screen TV that we might go to tonight to watch the Loyola Chicago Final Four game.

The muster was predictably painful. Thirty minutes of people crammed and overheated and listening to painfully long monologue by disembodied speakers saying perfectly obvious things like “don’t throw anything overboard”. I don’t recall Royal Caribbean being quite so overbearing. I think you really have to upgrade cruise lines to get people who prefer a quieter atmosphere. With Cardinal Sarah’s book I feel like it’s okay to be fuddyduddy. (Using “fuddyduddy” is a sure sign of fuddyduddyism.)

*

Oh the glorious insouciance of having unlimited food and drink at your beckon call. Limited only by body and not wallet, we imbibed in dinners at 1 and 7, with beers, bloody mary’s, and a “Mango meltdown” in between.

NCL not covering itself in glory so far to put it mildly. The food is good, better than RCL, and of course the “free at sea” deal where we get free alcohol is nice (although the tips we had to pay on the “free” deal are probably close to what we would’ve spent on alcohol, so there’s that). But I’m annoyed by:

-No Catholic priest on board to offer Easter mass. I guess only heathens like me vacation over religious feast days.
-TV: sad! Called service desk and they rebooted and it worked for awhile and we were able to watch Final Four game. After Final Four game TV frozen again. We spent a lot of tinkering time on it over the week.

On the pro side:

-Better buffet food, more easier dining option (not forced into straight jacket of 5:30pm dining)
-Free alcohol package but for tips.

They are similar in the lack of privacy on sundeck, party atmosphere, general, etc..

It's possible I’ve introverted past cruise vacations. This is heavy on crowds - after the muster we mustered up to the sundeck on 19 and I finally just put my headphones and listened to some Respighi. At any rate it seems criminal Norwegian is playing music so out of sync with the visual soundtrack of glorious sea and harbor.

Wait long enough and good thing’s will happen, namely sweet relief on our precious balcony. The Norwegian ship called Escape, balcony at cabin exposes the sunset while traveling south as we are now; we’ll get morning sun on the return.

Sunday: So no Mass on Easter. A first for me alas. They have a TV mass, their weak tea imitation of having an actual priest on board. I said I’d go with Steph to the interdenominational service at 9.

Went to short 20 min interdenominational service at theater. No formal readings, just couple guys from India and Columbia doing a sermon kind of thing and a short but intense prayer (a lot of "Lawd Fodder"). It’s seems indicative of how controversial Christianity has become that the men explained how grateful they were that we could even meet in the theater on board and how they were fortunate the secretary in charge is a believer. We both missed music and hymns. First Easter without “Jesus Christ is Risen Today”.

Reading this book about silence by a cardinal of the church makes me think Grandpa C. and Uncle M. had/have a lot of wisdom in being men of few words.

Walked around ship, mostly shopping, for 40 mins. Found cigar lounge on 8th floor, midship. Important since Steph not approving balcony cigar smoking as it’s forbidden.

Worked out on elliptical overlooking Melvillian ocean before lunch at overcrowded cafe. From overcrowded cafe to cramped sun deck, where we lasted only 20 minutes before back to the sweetness of balcony.

People seem to like a natural backdrop for social activity. Maybe this explains the inexplicable popularity of campgrounds, where people get away from it all by pitching tents and campers 20ft from strangers likewise pitching tents and campers. Cruises, like a subway rides, require a cool indifference to having a stranger three inches away.

Saw one octogenarian reading a book poolside while a racket of “music” accompanied a male sexiest leg competition. My heart went out to him, poor devil. His wife likely forced him there.

It’s “elevator roulette” here where you hit a button and hope that, when the car arrives, it’s not already full. Odds not in your favor except when ship in port. I’d gladly do only stairs but Steph is a fervent believer in elevators.

Nice dinner at the Manhattan room, inspired by 1930s NYC. Great jazz band offered music. Good steak dinner and Neapolitan Easter soup. Two cute little European girls did pirouettes on the dance floor.

Monday:

Did the free continental breakfast in room. Room service: that’s what I’m talking about!

Landed in Jamaica, and no excursions yay!  Read some of Russell Kirk intellectual bio.

Headed out solo off the ship to run: “Good exercise Bro,” said one stringy black man with a strong smell of marijuana about him. Another dude offered me beads and then weed. Surprisingly - or not - none of them vendors had rosaries and some hadn’t even heard of them. Not a big market for rosaries in Bob Marley country.

Around the port they were aggressive enough to jog behind me a bit, calling to me before giving up due to my lack of interest. One guy yelled, “hey white man!” which is descriptive enough.

But beyond the first couple blocks folks were mellow. A guy staggered by in the sun-heat drinking a morning Red Stripe. Five o’clock somewhere. Reminds me of CS Lewis saying in response to someone saying that giving to a beggar will only result in him buying alcohol and Lewis responding that’s all he would’ve spent it on too.

Another old guy walked slowly down the long road on crutches, with a missing right leg. There was the smell of jerk chicken cooking and later the surprisingly pleasant burning garbage and wood.

All told a 4 mile run and walk, much of it wasted inside the gated Norwegian community part. Only one exit for cruisers on foot and it took me awhile to find it.

Went past a couple of old stone churches — closed for Easter holiday. Instead, they were holding parish gatherings in nearby buildings praising the Lord and exhorting the faithful (one at 10:30am the other at 11:30am on a Monday - pious Jamaicans).

Then back on ship tasty lunch of basil pasta and seasoned chicken. Added slice of pizza because I could.

Then beer o’clock, or rather mixed drink o’clock. Got the ingenious drink o’ the day: vodka, white wine, triple sec, orange juice and blueberries.

Decent privacy on deck 19 due to cruisers on shore, with a friendly breeze to make the 83 degree temps feel more temperate. Snow at home!

Read more of “The March”, Civil War novel. Voyeured pictures of the great Russel Kirk’s house in Michigan. Looks like a castle, with eccentricities as well, like a dancing gal statue on the eave apropos of nothing. It reminds me of my suburban dream to launch a field of corn in my backyard in homage to “Field of Dreams”. Methinks that’s something I could do only when young and fit enough to accomplish.

Long listen to Willie Nelson live concert on satellite radio thanks to now unlimited WiFi package. Perfect. Plus that “all day” beer, Dos Equis. Winsome outdoor seating areas on 8; comfortable outdoor couches no less.

I head the (closet-sized) humidor and it’s all smoked up. I break the rules and find a semi-private spot on the starboard side (or at least the “other” side).

Dinner at Savor restaurant overlooking ocean. Delicious food expedited due to our having a show at 7:30. “After Midnight” it was called, a series of dance/song numbers set in 1920’s jazz club. Lots of swinging brass music.

Tuesday:

The ship has arrived at Grand Cayman, thus making Cayman grand again. Around 10:30 we caught a tender and then headed on 5-minute walk to Eden Point. Steph watched as I went into the water amid a half dozen intimidatingly large fish, each maybe 2’ by 6’. She was not eager to mix it up with ‘em - the water was clear and you could see them swarming the entrance steps.

I slipped in and saw it was really nice, like an undersea Japanese garden with picturesque coral “castles” and fish I’d never seen before. Slightly waving sea fans dotted the sandy bottom at regular intervals and a brain corral was perfectly round, like a brown bowling ball.

It all seemed very neat and tidy, with coral looking like leafless bonsai trees. Very zen fish exuded the otherworldly calm that fish often do. Saw an angelfish about the size of a dinner plate.

I climbed out to tell Steph to come in as the water was fine. She demurred and soon after a guy exited the water in a hurry saying there was a shark. At this point I thought we should just take a cab to a seemingly more official spot to snorkel, Smith’s Cove. So we walk back and talk to the taxi person and she says a really good spot is where we just were (!) and that there’s a friendly nurse shark that frequents there. So we headed back, no longer scared of Casper the Friendly Shark, and I snorkeled while Steph ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking the spot.

Another tender boat ride before we were back on board. So about a 2-3 hour self-excursion.

After lunch it was already 2:30 before we could enjoy the laze of rays on 19. Rum runners were soon aboard us. Later up to 20th deck to find refuge from the loud and restless.

Sea-borne, aloft, a lift, and alit, like Oxford circa ‘81:
The drumbeat of brew and languor
Long sun-crystalled afternoons
In the begetting heat.

Another fine and surprisingly swift dinner at Taste or Savor. Then back in cabin to watch action movie “The Commuter” starring Liam Neeson.

Wednesday: 

Enjoyable morning spent on balcony. Got full breakfast delivered. Read a good selection of Peter Hitchens’s “Rage Against God”. He’s a gifted writer (to hold my vacation-fractured attention) and convincingly describes what went wrong for Christianity in Britain. Relaxing 3 hours that felt like 10 minutes. Getting into the “cruise state”. Helps that I’m getting over news and Twitter addiction given the general dearth of WiFi.

10am elliptical to make up for dietary (mortal) sins. I’m feeling the gain, and little pain.

Water the color of tanzanite; the shore sounds visual tambourines. The ship wakes’ horizontal fireworks of whites and blue-greens.

We walk to the new-built port. The obligatory shopping area was attractive, at least for Potemkin villages. I looked up how to say “rosary” in Spanish and forgot as quickly.

By 12:30 we shuttled to the small 10-block town, sparse of buildings. We landed at an overcrowded beach, guided by hawker waiting new arrivals like New York locals guiding incoming Irish immigrants in the 1800s. We decide to walk down the beach looking for something better and find a hotel renting loungers in the shade: Caballo blanco at Costa Maya, Muhaula. Walked the beach strip and bought 5 cigar set ("Cubans", yeah, right) for $15. Tons of beach massages going on, plied by mostly heavyset Mexican women, perhaps hefty to give the impression of strength to unknot those knots. Like Russian babushkas. Massage on vacation is perhaps overkill on the relaxation front.

All told about 3 hours in our paradise cabana. Wasted time getting lunch at a noisy and incompetent grill. First they missed Steph’s order entirely and then gave her chicken instead of veggie quesadilla. Not cheap either - Costa Maya costa lot.

But just stunning natural beauty. Mexico Quintana Roo, is just otherworldly. Has to have my favorite beaches, not just sand but lots of tropical plants. And I’m a sucker for the thatched umbrellas atop palm trees.

Back aboard an hour earlier than needful as the cab ride was beyond easy. Every port has 4-5 people missing at sail. On a ship of 5,000 I guess that’s not unexpected, but you must really be three sheets to the wind to miss the boat, literally. We sailed without them, 7 minutes later than scheduled, yesterday. Today just 3 minutes.

Thursday:

Minutes after waking up a song I hadn’t heard in decades comes to mind. Part of the lyric goes: “There’s something about America...”. I google it and it seems a relatively obscure song:
“I also remember the patriotic America song that was sung daily on the Uncle Al Show: ‘There's something about America, that makes me shout with joy – It's a land of opportuniy for every girl and boy...There’s something about America that’s wonderful to see – And do you know what that something is? We are…really… free!’”
Wow, the Uncle Al show. That’s going back a ways! Early ‘70s is probably the last time I had this much free time, ha.

An At Sea day, which means a heavy balcony day; the natives will be restless. Didn’t do much reading in Mexico as I was just dumbly taking in the natural wonder.

*

A morning oxymoron sentiment from T.S. Eliot:
“Years of living among the breakage
Of what believed in as the most reliable —
And therefore the fittest for renunciation.”
*

“I will run the way of thy commandments when thou hast set my heart at liberty.” - Ps 119:32 (KJV)

NRSV rendering:  “I will run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding.”

“Our victory isn’t the moment we stop struggling. It’s in grittiness of the struggle.” - Therese Borchard

*

A nice thing about a cruise is the relaxation process begins Saturday around 2pm (or 4pm, allowing for the muster). That’s about a whole day earlier than Hilton Head’s Sunday post-grocery 1pm start. Plus the dream of the Caribbean - except it’s no dream - is the sunshine so steady you can be spendthrift with it. Our last two Hilton Head trips had days of clouds and rain. An extra day and no sun makes up for crowds...

Elliptical followed by lunch, then 2:30 to District Craft brewhouse since the decks are hopelessly crowded and not fit for visual consumption (is it a coincidence that “skin” and “sin” are so similar?)

We walk around later and move chairs to sunny rear of ship on 8, enjoying sun and wake. Many a passersby complimented us on our fine location. And oh that wonderful sun! Even after 4 days of it it still attracts.

Stray thoughts: We’re in the reason, the planet is blue.  There are no landmarks in the sea which i guess is why they call them “land”marks.

*

Saw excellent ‘80s music show at 7:30. Great music, especially “Turning Japanese”, “In Your Eyes”, Melt With You” and others. Impressive lights display as well.

Friday:

Last day of cruising. We’re off to Nassau in the Bahamas, arrival by noon. Around 8am I see an island south of us, southwest of Great Abaco I island. It’s probably Great Abaco II. (Or not.)

Later, about 15 miles northwest of the port of Nassau, I see a little white sail boat in the wild blue yonder.

Ports of call are God’s gift to introverts on cruises. Unfortunately we had to interrupt the sun coverage for a long but needed lunch: jerk pork chops, salad and red velvet cake for dessert for me. Yum. Best week of food I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Come 2pm we were back out and decided to go on the water slide rides. I did the one where you get sent down a tube nearly ninety degrees, a roller-coaster-like free fall I have no desire to do again. Steph said it was too much for her so I went solo.

Come 4pm I head to port and do a 40minute speed tour, jogging in the mad dog and Englishmen sun. The Bahamas are formerly British, with the bobbies and the drivers on the wrong side of the road. The architecture is frayed Victorian, with a decent amount of 19th century. Some derelict buildings and poverty. A neglected wall with peeling paint announced “Ministry of Health”, not inspiring trust. An old church had an official sign that even I obeyed: “poison gas - do not enter grounds”. Political signs saying “It’s the People’s Time” populate the area, showing the popularity of populism. (Say that five times fast.)

I see a mural in Nassau of a black man and a bit abstract, by artist Allan P. Wallace, and find more on the web, appropriate for so close to the Triduum:
The body of a man forms a cross, showing the sufferings of mankind while his environment is supporting him.
The mural refers to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and to how he made a difference in this world. This death is depicted as a Christian victory because he saved all mankind with his sacrifice.
___________________________________________________

Cuba

Jamaica



















March 29, 2018

Douthat's New Book

I lost sleep last night compulsively reading Ross Douthat's new book To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism.  It's not surprising this would be a good one given it offers intrinsically interesting subject matter via a writer of great gifts.

It starts with Douthat's openness about his spiritual journey (in the interest of transparency as it necessarily impacts how he views things) to a short history of the papacy, including how Benedict XVI chose to go the route of the obscure pontiff from the 1200s who made resignation an option.

But really the price of the book was worth it just to open my eyes to the fact that I’ve been looking at the papacy wrong, that I’ve been seduced into thinking like the Church needs someone who will turn things around when, in fact, all periods of restoration and evangelization have come from the grass roots, St. Benedict, St. Francis, etc... It’s saints who really change things for the better by their fealty to God, not popes.

And it’s only a modern thing where we canonize popes and have a cult-like allegiance to them. Once you get past the papal-martyrs of the first 300 years, papal saints have been few and far between.

I feel rather relieved in some ways. I feel like the Church is not doomed with Francis just as it was not saved by John Paul. There’s no greater proof, to my mind, that popes are extremely limited in power by the fact that St. John Paul II and Benedict led no great rebound.  Ultimately the only salvation is the breath of God restoring his Church with radical saints.

Douthat makes the case that while church “liberals” have obviously accelerated the downfall of the Church by any objective measure (vocations, Mass attendance, birthrates, etc..), church “conservatives” have not made any significant difference, just slowed the rate of decline a bit.

So he says both liberals and conservatives share blame in the ineffectiveness of our witness. Conservatives are too insular and have compromised themselves by identifying too closely with right wing politics (such as approving of George W. Bush). Liberals have failed by not recognizing the failed experiment of Episcopalians, who have gotten everything that Catholic liberals want with disastrous results.

*

The conclave vote was interesting. Bergoglio started with about 20% of the vote on the first ballot and moved to about 85% of the final fifth ballot. So I guess almost perfect bell curve of opinion: 20% totally enthusiastic about him from the beginning of the conclave, and 15% couldn't bring themselves to vote for him even in the final "rubber stamp" vote.  The penultimate vote had him at 64%, which means about 36% apparently had some misgivings even at that relatively late stage, or simply preferred their candidate and weren't willing to compromise.  He benefited likewise from a certain malleability, of seeming to be all things to all groups:
Not all of the Bergoglio distinctives were apparent to the cardinals in the conclave, and perhaps a fuller sense of Bergoglio’s background and perspective would have changed the outcome of the vote. But perhaps not, because once his candidacy gained momentum, different pieces of his biography seemed to be arranged to suit what different electors wanted to see in him. The St. Galleners canvassed for him because they saw hints of their own worldview in his focus on poverty and social justice, his seeming weariness with certain culture war battles, and his decentralizing instincts. Conservatives came around to him because they were reassured by what they knew of his wars with left-wing Jesuits, his earthy supernaturalism, his conflicts with the Argentine president. Latin and African cardinals appreciated his non-European, from-the-peripheries perspective. North American cardinals saw a fellow New Worlder and an experienced manager whom they could back against the Italianate corruptions of the curia.
*
             
Douthat also gives a spirited and touching defense of the "Pharisee" Catholics whom Francis regularly rails against:
To be sure there were legalists in their ranks; to be sure there were stone-throwers and nostalgists and bigots; to be sure the temptation toward self-righteousness was ever-present, ever-real. But looking at the big picture, it seemed unfair to treat their beleaguered subculture—the homeschooling families raising five children on a modest budget, the young men joining the priesthood in a world that sneered at celibacy, the clusters of Catholics praying the Rosary at abortion clinics, the elderly parishioners sacrificing to keep eucharistic adoration going—as if it shared in all the authoritarian faults of the church in Franco’s Spain or Eamon de Valera’s Ireland. Especially since it was this subculture that in many cases had kept Catholicism in the West going, kept it from sharing Mainline Protestantism’s fate, kept parishes from closing and seminaries from emptying, kept the church’s schools from going under and the church’s charities from becoming simple clients of the government, kept the church’s scandal-plagued bishops from becoming generals without an army.

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.