February 13, 2016

Annie Dillard and Art

From Atlantic article on the writer Annie Dillard:

To use a pair of terms that Dillard introduces in a later book, she is not a pantheist (as Thoreau was) but a panentheist. God, panentheism says, is not coextensive with, identical to, the physical world, the world of nature. He is a being that transcends it even as he dwells within it. Get rid of nature, for the pantheist, and you get rid of God. Get rid of nature, for the panentheist, and you see him all the clearer.


 “There are two kinds [of sight], she explains. The common variety is active, where you strain, against the running babble of internal monologue, to pay attention to what’s actually in front of you. That’s the sort of seeing that produces perceptions, and phrases, like twiggy haze. But, she tells us, “there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go.” You do not seek, you wait. It isn’t prayer; it is grace. The visions come to you, and they come from out of the blue.


The distinction is akin to Proust’s two forms of memory. His holy grail, you might recall, is the involuntary kind, the kind that bursts upon you unexpectedly, as when the narrator’s entire childhood unfurls from the madeleine. That is the epiphany; that is the miracle.”


She elsewhere calls “this feckless prospecting in the dark for the unseen,” the lifelong effort to know the unknowable and to say the unsayable, is likened to the polar expeditions of yore. To most of us, as Dillard knows, the effort seems completely pointless. To her it is the only thing that gives our life a point.


Dillard, like Thoreau, is never shy about pronouncing wholesale condemnation on the way her fellows live. To her the mass of men lead lives not of quiet desperation but of superficiality, insensibility, and rank illusion. We live as if we think we’re never going to die. We live as if our petty business counted. We live as if we weren’t as numerous as sand, and each of us ephemeral as clouds. We live as if there hadn’t been a hundred thousand generations here before us, and another hundred thousand were not still to come. Yet all around us holiness and grace, freely given every moment for the taking.


 “I had a head for religious ideas,” Dillard reports in An American Childhood, her chronicle of growing up in postwar, upper-class Pittsburgh, a book that is largely concerned with the development, in solitude, of the writer’s own consciousness. “They made other ideas seem mean.”

I might extend that last to say, "I had a head for reading….which makes talking seem mean.”


Whole thing here, but interesting this Atlantic writer mentions how morality - people - never enter too much into her thinking. She's so much like the naturalist writer in that regard.


*


From Image Journal on the need for art:

Art shapes the ordinary so that we’re “struck dumb” by it, so that everything starts to matter. Can I leave that string quartet concert and say something nasty on the way out? Like “Hey, you’re blocking the aisle; move along, move along.” This is inconceivable. The music has ennobled me, ennobled us. Everyone leaving the concert hall is smiling with gratitude. Or, as Craig continues in the poem: After you’ve been “struck dumb by the ordinary,”

    You’ll start helping dogs across the street,
    be careful not to cycle over worms

Sanders or Clinton? A Tough Decision

Since Republican voters seem bound and determined to punt this election by nominating Trump (or less egregiously Cruz), my mind naturally if horrifically turns to whom I would prefer as president: Clinton or Sanders. (Not that I would ever vote for either but more as who to “root” for between them.) 

Something of a dilemma. A slow poison administered by a liar or a quicker poison delivered sincerely? A sincere socialist or an insincere socialist/moderate/progressive/whatever-label-will-get-me-power? (Insert mad laughter sound effect here.)  

A few years ago I thought character in a president wasn't crucial given the pains the Founding Fathers took to engineer the separation of powers. But Obama, along with other chief executives over the past six decades, have worn away at this fabric, have made it almost a fiction. It's now up to the executive not to further usurp power and that's just not in the nature of an executive. Which is precisely why historians admire and praise the self-restraint of George Washington. 

I recall the preternaturally wise Tom of Disputations blog say years ago (paraphrasing from memory) that his voting pattern is to look at voting for a man or woman of good character rather than on studying position papers. That looks prescient. 

And of course the founders were explicit in saying that the republic was dependent on the goodness and character of the people and representatives. 

Finally I recently came across a quote from Edmund Burke that puts the icing on this cake:

Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part must depend upon the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state.

Rut-row. Houston we got a problem. There's no prudence in Sanders or uprightness in Clinton. 

February 10, 2016

Scapegoating as the New Black

Good post-NH analysis from National Review columnist John Geraghty:

*************************************************************************
Take a good look at the supporters of the man who won the most votes in New Hampshire, socialist Bernie Sanders, who had more than 138,000 votes as of this hour:
At a Feb. 7 rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Sanders made it clear that unlike Obama, he would channel, rather than deflect, anti–Wall Street anger if elected president. To a throng of 1,500 voters packed into a community college gymnasium, Sanders vowed to crack down on Wall Street bankers. As he spoke, Sanders was continually interrupted by shouts from the audience of “Break ‘em up!” and “They should go to jail!” . . .

Mathew Pitman, 34, of Portsmouth, said a combination of higher taxes and smaller banks was the only thing that could bring Wall Street to heel. “Subject them to the same level of taxation as people like me,” he said, “and break up the big banks.”

John Joyal, 59, of Sommersworth, New Hampshire, was pushing an all-of-the-above plan. “Taxes, fines, jail, manacles--I’m for all of it,” he said. “Citizens United needs to be overturned, too.”

Others took their cue from how bankers have been treated abroad. “We should do what they did in Iceland,” said Keiran Brennan, who had driven up from Wellesley, Massachusetts. “Put them in jail.” Added Nora Hussey, also from Wellesley, gesturing toward a giant “Bernie Sanders 2016” posted, “Or just elect him.”
Notice these folks aren’t brimming with specific charges, or a sense that anybody they dislike must be proven guilty before a jury of their peers. They just want to see rich people go to jail. From a separate article:

Mauza, 71, said his condominium’s value is still down a third from before the financial crisis, that his property taxes have nevertheless gone up, and that “people are mad at Wall Street because of what happened to their retirement savings.”

“All those banks got bailed out, after they all went overboard,” he said. “Not as many people went to jail as probably should have.”

Either no one remembers, or no one cares to admit, the banks paid back the money. (The American people lost $11.2 billion on the General Motors bailout, making sure the car company could continue to sell cars that would kill you if your key chain was too heavy.)

From Sanders’s victory speech:
Listen to this, when the top three drug companies in this country made $45 billion dollars in profit last year, that is an obscenity, and let me tell you something. When we make it to the White House, the pharmaceutical industry will not continue to rip-off the American people.
That $45 billion seems like a lot . . . until you realize country spends about $375 billion on medicine each year. That’s a profit rate of 12 percent. Still seem so outrageous?

How many lifesaving drugs has Bernie Sanders developed?

In an earlier appearance, Sanders said, “We’re going to have to make the decision to say, I’m sorry, we can’t make money out of health care.” Never mind that doctors, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, drug researchers, and specialists of all kinds spend years and small fortunes learning their skills and developing their treatments. Bernie Sanders has decided they’re charging too much because they’re greedy!

(As a senator, Bernie Sanders makes $174,000 per year. According to Payscale.com, the average general practice doctor makes $143,000.)

The Payback Election
Continuing the theme, John Podhoretz offers a look at the ugly future a Sanders and Trump-dominated general election will bring:

Sanders says he’s going to throw bankers in jail, raise everybody’s taxes -- and provide universal health care.

Trump says he’ll deport every illegal immigrant, keep Muslims out of the country until “we can find out what the hell is going on,” force Mexico to build a wall, levy a 45 percent tariff on China -- and provide universal health care.

Simple, straightforward and catchy -- that’s the key. And none of it is your fault. Everything bad that’s happening, everything that makes you nervous and worried and uncertain about the future, is the result of a great wrong that is being done to you.

Sanders says it’s being done by malefactors of great wealth. Trump says it’s being done by morons and idiots who run Washington and are getting their hats handed to them by canny malefactors in Beijing and Mexico City.

Will this message carry beyond New Hampshire? Of course it will, whatever happens to the candidacies of these two men. Don’t look for uplift. Don’t seek vision. This is probably going to be the payback election -- America at its worst.

February 09, 2016

Life and Health

I wonder if health care will wreck our politics as much as abortion has. (Assuming it could be wrecked further.)

In the abortion issue you had a rogue Supreme Court usurp the rights of the legislative branch, and with Obamacare you had a partisan congress without support of the other party ram it through via bribes to its own members (i.e. “Cornhusker Kickback”).

Both issues attract a lot of single-issue voters. Both have only one of the political parties representing them. Supporters of both see it as a basic human right (to life, and to free universal health care) with the attendant moral dimension, making it much easier to see the other side as evil rather than mistaken.

February 04, 2016

The Cruz Arranged Marriage with Conservatives

So I try to like Ted Cruz, seeing him as an alternative to The Donald.

But it feels like an arranged marriage, a marriage of convenience to get a green card.

Every time I try to like him more he does something that suggests he's as ambitious as Satan, to quote the late great Shelby Foote on Jefferson Davis.

I get whiplash following him.  First I think, "gosh, he's taking a brave, principled stand against ethanol in Iowa! Bully for him."

Then I hear he's changed positions on various issues near and dear to the base.

Then I read an article by a National Review writer I respect who counts Cruz as a close friend and sees him as trustworthy.

Then I read Cruz gives less than 1% to charity (no crime,but goes to the phoniness issue.)

And then in Iowa we learn his campaign staff said Carson bowed out of the race, and learn of the "Voter Violation" scare-the-seniors tactics.  Plays into the ambition narrative.

But then I have misgivings about lots of candidates.  Rubio seems way too hawkish for my taste. Chris Christie seems a tad desperate, calling Rubio a “bubble boy”. Combined with Christie's latest debate in which he said he'd shoot down Russian jets, I'm thinking he's too belligerent to be potus. Jeb seems running now just to try to pique Rubio.

I could lodge a primary protest vote with Randian Paul, no relation to Ayn Rand. (Later: oh, no, he dropped out!)

Looks like Kasich for me, if he's still in.  Bottom line, I'm glad I don't have to vote for awhile. Leave the tough decisions to Iowa, NH, SC voters.

February 02, 2016

Florence King on Housewife-ian Angst

Interesting perspective from a National Review story on the late Florence King:
"She subverted the feminist account of the middle-class home as a comfortable concentration camp, for instance, by pointing out that the homemaker had socially isolated herself by choosing a life of leisure and labor-saving devices. As a result, the parade of tradesmen, from knife-grinders to encyclopedia salesmen, who used to appear at her mother’s backdoor and accept a cup of tea or coffee as partial reward for their company gradually tailed off, leaving the homemaker with only a washing machine or a fridge to talk to. It wasn’t capitalism but comfort that had destroyed the social life of the kitchen — a bad bargain, in her view, but one made by Woman in her own sphere."
On the other hand, much less chance of hanky-panky with salesmen not visiting...?

Paul's Conversion

Recently we celebrated the feast of St. Paul's conversion, and it was nice to recall he was converted not for himself, but for us, as it says in one of his letters:
"I [God] have appeared to you [Paul] for this reason: to appoint you as my servant and as witness of this vision in which you have seen me, and of others in which I shall appear to you. I shall deliver you from the people and from the pagans, to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light..." 
The individualist American tendency is to see a conversion like St. Paul's and see it as, "oh, so lucky for him!" (albeit with side effects of beatings, shipwrecks, legal problems, stoning and having your head cut off) and not see it as something primarily for us as much as him. And given the treasure chest of NT writings he left us it feels so.

Trip o' Log

"Here palms, alpacas, and volcanoes; sun’s disks and stars; ecliptics, horns-of-plenty, and rich banners waving, are in luxuriant profusion stamped…"
--Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Saturday:  Am I really here? Can it be true I'm reading James Michener's Mexico novel on the balcony of a Cozumel inn? Is it possible that I can actually drop something and leave it on the floor (like a sock or hand towel) and not be immediately punished for it by having our pup Max steal it and take it in the yard for me to retrieve, a yard with inhumane wind chills? Yes I think it's true. I take pictures for documentation purposes. I'm not worthy.

We had time at O'Hare, so I checked out the little bookstore “Barbara's Bookstore”, originally situated in downtown Chicago, and found any number of winsome offerings, like a new history of Rome by Mary Beard and the Meachem biography of George H. W. Bush. I looked at the index of the latter to see if St. John Paul II was mentioned with respect to his opposition of the first Gulf War. I thought the pope was wrong at the time but in retrospect he seems something of a prophet. I've also wondered if George W. pointedly ignored the same pope's warning in 2003 due to writing him off as being against his father's war.

The three-hour flight to Cozumel and then land ahoy! Customs, where a dog sniffed our bags but didn't seem concerned about my dark chocolate stash. At the hotel it was love at first sight when we opened the door to our place and saw the vast two-toned ocean, green and blue. Goosebump city, the white-capped waves crashing against the walkway below.

Later I walked the beach, a rather rocky road it was. The fascinating thing to me is this looked like some of the most valuable real estate in the world - beauty untold, coast-line, mild temperatures, gorgeous Caribbean seas and yet…. there's this fascinating decadence two places down from us. A building molding and decaying, looking like the third world. From our first world hotel, a few hundred feet and: decrepitude. (Later I found out it was caused by Hurricane Wilma and they didn't have the money yet to rebuild.) 

I can understand why Detroit, a comparatively un-scenic oasis of lost hope, is what it is. But here? I can only ascribe it to the same reason that parts of Appalachia are startlingly beautiful with poverty to match: it's too inaccessible. It's too remote from developers and the money to take care of a property.

SUNDAY 

Mass at St Miguel in the same-named town. Distinctive crucifix above the altar where Christ has black, wounded knees, reminding that he fell three times on the way of the cross.

Mix of English and Spanish in a sermon on St Paul's teaching about different parts one body - very appropriate! Different languages and cultures but one body of Christ. First time I recall any English in a Mexican homily. 

Saw a elderly gentleman turn towards the line of communicants as if to hug and say hi to those whom he knew. He seemed a sweet old man with a face of brown, wrinkled leather, a throwback to the past.

How nourishing to hear these devout children of God recite the Rosary (in Spanish of course) before Mass. After awhile I appreciated the lilt of Spanish as a language, especially at calling Mary “Maria”, which sounds somehow warmer and more familial.

They were pitch perfect on the sign of peace for me: eager and initiating a handshake but not fake-smiling or pretending we weren't strangers.

Oddly, the saint statues, like Jesus to the left of the altar and St. Joseph towards the back, were encased in glass. It made the statues stand out, like precious jewels under glass. Perhaps due to fear of theft which, come to think of it, is sort of a backhanded compliment to the Faith since in America there's not exactly a big market for religious statues.

Afterward we wandered around downtown Cozumel on a delightfully sunny and warm morning. Dark-skinned, broad-nostrilled pleasant women act as street saleswomen, asking heavyset whites to check our their wares. The bright colored buildings were enlivened by Mayan hawkers; one woman sat holding the over-sized thumb of a life-sized, cartoonish Fidel Castro statue. I bought a 5-pack of Cuban cigars; she said $45, i said no. She said $35 and i said $30.  We agreed to $32. Later I impulse bought sunglasses at $10 after he started at $25. Not a good buy but I had forgotten my sunglasses at the hotel.

Lines from the hawkers to our crew:

“Everything almost free for you.”

“Come in, no one will bother you inside” (just outside, eh)

“Come on sexy momma, buy a dress, one more dress.” (Said to Steph, not me.)

*

Swam with the fishes which is better than sleeping with the fishes. Saw one of the bluest blue fish smiling up at me.

From Michener's novel:

    …a remarkable evocation of the cactus and the maguey as contrary symbols of the Mexican spirit. Cactus was the inclination to war and destruction. In contrast, “maguey,” he had written in a much-quoted passage, “has always been the symbol of peace and construction. From its bruised leaves our ancestors made the paper upon which our records were transcribed; its dried leaves formed the thatch for our homes; its fibers were the threads that made clothing possible; its thorns were the pins and needles our mothers used in bringing us to civilization; its white roots provided the vegetables from which we gained sustenance; and its juice became our honey, our vinegar and after a long while the wine that destroyed us with happiness and immortal visions.” Cactus, my father wrote, was the spirit of the lonely hunter; maguey was the inspiration of the artists who had built the pyramids and decorated the cathedrals. One was the male spirit so dominant in Mexican life; the other was the female, the subtle conqueror who invariably triumphed in the end.

*

Those cigars are burning a hole in my pocket figuratively. I'm ruffled by want of a Cuban cigar. Or more likely, knockoff Cuban.

We headed back upstairs at 5pm, me sun-burnt already. Damn Irish skin. We came to a room of order, clean and tidied. It never fails to amaze me when we come back to a room made up. It's like magic, like faeries came.

MONDAY

Emerald waves fading to translucence upon the shore. Walked down about 10 mins left of us and found a fabulous new snorkel trail. Strong current, so took the trail and walked back. Great numbers of fish, so many that I wondered if they were expecting a handout based on previous snorkelers. Large groups of people were starting where I did. Nice to explore some new “land” here at Cozumel. Saw electric blue fish.

Come 1pm I started thinking I should bike and Steph came along reluctantly out of a misplaced concern foe my safety. Poor does not equate to crime, especially in Cozumel.

We headed downtown on a pilgrimage to two of the other Catholic churches in town we'd not seen: Sacred Heart and Guadalupe. It was also an excuse to drink in the colorfull (literally!) local flavor. We biked past bright yellow shacks with primary-colored laundry hanging. Past many a dog, often laying flat on the street curb, the only front yard to speak of. Past a lot of Mexicans just hanging out, perhaps bereft of job. We went by two lively cantinas with loud Mexicano music. (I wanted to stop for a beer, but that was out of the question for her - Steph was as nervous as an escaped convict as it was).

We did tend to make up own rules as we went along, riding up the wrong way on one way streets out of expediency. But the locals were friendly, giving us none of the hard looks you'd see in many an urban American city, which Steph mentioned later as a big plus. 

TUESDAY

Holistically delightful! This clime chimes!

We've found our groove. Good dreams drove out bad dreams like a reverse Gresham's law. At home, too much exercise and drink and and too little sleep. You can have two of the three and get by but not have all three for too long. 

So what a grand bargain this is, to have this rarefied treat. Listened to Neil Diamond's “Longfellow Serenade" while walking the shore, waves like white fireworks when the high surf met rock. "Wing-ed flight” (three syllables) sings the balladeer, an affectation I like but now realize it wasn't an eccentric choice since it was something Longfellow would've said and surely wrote.

After breakfast we fed the turtles out front. They'd take pieces of banana or apple but only after they sniffed them, then taking them literally out of your hand, not deigning to eat what was dropped before them.

Nice run early, 11am, direction north, to the nostalgia playlist. “Jennifer, Juniper”, “Brandy You're a Fine Girl”. My goal was to transform myself from a typically fat American to a fatly-fit American. Or fitly-fat.

*

Last night the Internet let us down. There are some things inaccessible even using that magic tool. Like how we heard an instrumental song from the '70s or early '80s at the restaurant, a tune tantalizingly familiar. Uncle Mark thought it was from Elton John and I pooh-poohed that notion immediately, knowing it didn't sound like Elton, even more so when he thought it came off the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. I later played snippets of that Elton album on Youtube but found none that sounded like it. Steph really took it seriously, google searching like a mad woman, eventually finding someone who recorded himself whistling that very tune and querying listeners to “name that tune!”. But, it seemed there were no correct answers in the comments so that was a dead end street. So close and yet so far.

Mark's memory, like the 'net, also let us down. He thought they'd moved the adjacent-to-us thatch hut and chairs much closer to us. But Steph recalled that area from last time, how there was a topless woman there and how she couldn't have seen it had this woman been where Mark thought they were.

(Later): The Internet taketh away, the Internet giveth. That whistled tune DID have a comment/guess which we initially thought was wrong but turned out to be right: the piano exit of Layla by Derek and the Dominoes. Didn't sound anything like beginning of Layla, hence the cognitive dissonance. It's a vacation miracle!

*

Well today is tragically cloudy, if one can use that oxymoronic phrase. But warm and not too windy so beach-ish weather. Weather reports here are laughable; “partly sunny” is a stone's throw from “all cloudy” I guess. It's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get. But, like chocolates, delightful no matter the variety.

Two fine snorkel trips, second one with down to the start of trail ten minutes away. Again saw a large order of magnitude more fish down there; just blissful to float with the current and enjoy this underwater zoo. Learned a damselfish is the beauty I saw yesterday, the one with a field of pale stars against a deep blue body.

*

Read some of the Fr Barron's commentary on 2 Samuel (say as “two Samuel” in the hot new Trump parlance). Read out of duty, it not feeling particularly beach lit escapist. 

But inspired to learn that we are about 40-50 yards from the spot where Hernan Cortez celebrated the first Mass in Mexico (three years shy of exactly 500 years ago – what a difference a few hundred years makes!). The first-hand account of this first Mass, by Bernal Diaz:

"The island of Cozumel, it seems, was a place to which the Indians made pilgrimages…They burnt a species of resin, which very much resembled our incense, and as such a sight was so novel to us we paid particular attention to all that went forward. Upon this an old man, who had on a wide cloak and was a priest, mounted to the very top of the temple, and began preaching something to the Indians.

    "We were all very curious to know what the purport of this sermon was, and Cortes desired Melchorego to interpret it to him. Finding that all he had been saying tended to ungodliness, Cortes ordered the caziques, with the principal men among them and the priest, into his presence, giving them to understand, as well as he could by means of our interpreter, that if they were desirous of becoming our brethren they must give up sacrificing to these idols, which were no gods but evil beings, by which they were led into error and their souls sent to hell. He then presented them with the image of the Virgin Mary and a cross, which he desired them to put up instead.

    "The priests answered, that their forefathers had prayed to their idols before them, because they were good gods, and that they were determined to follow their example. Adding, that we should experience what power they possessed; as soon as we had left them, we should certainly all of us go to the bottom of the sea.

    "Cortes, however, took very little heed of their threats, but commanded the idols to be pulled down, and broken to pieces; which was accordingly done without any further ceremony. He then ordered a quantity of lime to be collected, which is here in abundance, and with the assistance of the Indian masons a very pretty altar was constructed, on which we placed the image of the holy Virgin. At the same time two of our carpenters, Alonso Yaiiez and Alvaro Lopez made a cross of new wood which lay at hand, this was set up in a kind of chapel, which we built behind the altar. After all this was completed, father Juan Diaz said mass in front of the new altar, the caziques and priests looking on with the greatest attention."

WEDNESDAY

It already feels like it's been awhile since that first gasp when we got to the room and walked out on the balcony. Water spreadin' out so far and wide, to paraphrase the theme from Green Acres. Wonderful to be able to drink in this view, no pun intended, for a week.

This morning I thought about how I could replicate some of the meditative silence and rest I feel in the mornings here to mornings at home. But I immediately remembered our puppies at home and thought, “what am I thinking!?” 

My Mexico reading includes Manana Forever, thus far a look at the strongly individualistic tendencies of Mexicans. I also want a more micro look: to read more about Cortes in Cozumel, and I found The True History of Cozumel via Kindle and that looks promising.

Intro to another Cozumel history book:
“There was a time when people accepted the proposition that our souls were so precious and beautiful that the devil would do anything to lead us astray in order to deprive God of the precious beauty of our souls.”
*

(Later): Well we stepped outside our comfortable beach routine and hired a driver named Gerry, an older gent, for four hours. A good time was had by all.

We started with a bang: a tequila tasting tour at the sharp-looking museum/shop that had opened last week, starring our host, a manic man named Manuel. He's a great fit for the job, personable, fast-talking, a jokester. Married three times with “seven kids, none of whom are my own.”

He showed us examples of the magical agave plant, which carries within it all the ingredients for tequila. God's gift to the Mexican people, no doubt. (Later I would notice one of their tequilas is named "Regalo de Dios", meaning Gift of God.) 

The tasting room was large and consisted of handsome wood glass-backed shelves of the fancily bottled tequilas.

We tested four kinds, from the clear liquid used for mixed drinks to the rich dark amber of the 11-yr vintage which Manny calls the “me, myself and I” drink, it being too expensive to share ($189 a bottle!) it went down smooth as silk, without the kick of whiskey. “If you use this in a mixed drink I will come over the border and shoot you!”

After that rousing tour we headed back to the van for the longish drive to Punta Sur Eco beach on the southern tip of the isle. There we climbed 133 steps to the top of the lighthouse, took a tour with a very locquacious guide who talked Mayan history and was obviously proud of his heritage, took photos of Steph with “Cozumel chickens” (parrots) taking a seed from her mouth, learned from the tour guide that sea turtles mate for 28 straight days and lose a lot of weight in the process due to skipping eating, learned the old bell above of was bartered for liquor during America's Prohibition (and then heard the same story inexplicably relayed to Gerry in Spanish - I think this guy thought he got paid by the word, no matter the language.) 

Then back to the beach to snorkel, where I saw a German shepherd gracefully paddling in the water towards his master, and a bottom-camo'd ray, busy burying himself in the sand.

Saw what sure looked like a barracuda, and tried to chase it. Like swimming in a giant aquarium. So many fish! Saw one who looks like he got beat with the ugly stick.

*

This unreal life, lived unreally. Temperatures with numbers in the vicinity of decent golf scores.


THURSDAY:

Ahhh….morning sun. A rare and enviable bird this time of year.  We've fallen into the leisurely, loverly mornings: up by 7:30, coffee on balcony till 9, breakfast, then to beach. With a “feed the turtles” interlude for the fellow 'cationers.

Dinners at 6pm, breakfast at 9am. No lunch other than peanut butter sometimes. Works well and maximizes reading opportunities.

I like this much better than cruising if only because it's so much easier to find a spot to lay out. Much more sustainable as far as having privacy here and being able to get into a rhythm.  This is pretty much the beach vacation ideal; hard to believe we skipped seven years before returning.  It's soooo much more interesting scenery-wise; San Miguel is much more explore-worthy than any beach vacation. And the snorkeling.  And even those Mariachi singers, I'll miss them and their happy-go-lucky tunes.

*

I've collected six journal entries down here and fear (accurately) the cumulative effect will soon lead to the end of my vacation. Studies show that the more days you've expended on a given vacation the sooner it will end. Sadness.

A rum-runner today! Wondrously ingenious concoction, by george and great scott. A tropical-hued drink to match the picturesque doors of downtown San Miguel. The greatest drink of all time. Or maybe that's just the rum-runner talking. A tautology? 

*

I dream of a world in which Donald Trump skips a debate and it's a three-sentence story at the end of section A. I dream big, yes I do.


FRIDAY: 

Last day, day last. A sobering 127 days till next vacation but who's counting?

I always feel on the cusp of a deep and insightful revelation while on vacation, something that if I just had a couple more days I could learn, but it's probably simply the revelation that I like vacations. So shallow. 

But I feel an almost chemical attraction to this gulf green water and brine-tossed wind. I'm going to miss it and now wonder, dumbly, if I spent enough time this week just staring at the waters. At least I have photos, methadone for the coming cold turkey.

Speaking of, I'm reading this book on the US heroin epidemic and it's fascinating if only because addicts take the pleasure principle to its far and grievous end point. Just as money doesn't buy happiness (witness the carnage of many Hollywood lives), so too drugs fail in their promise to put you in a place of endless bliss. Porn stars aren't any happier than those who get far less sex. There's just no “there” there despite the empty promise. We aren't designed, physically or metaphysically, to slake ourselves on pleasure. Including vacation pleasure. Not to mention how the addict is utterly unproductive and cannot help his fellow man given the obstacle of his fix. He is the least free of anyone, another example of freedom being conditioned upon self-control.

So I take pleasure in the fact that pleasure isn't all it's cracked up to be.

From the Dreamland book: "Levine had never forgotten the first rapturous feeling he got from heroin back in the 1960s. But through the years that followed, he also never felt that high again."

And yet, of course, he revisited the drug endless times.

In a way it reminded me of how Mother Teresa received the “drug” of a vision of God and consolations in the 1950s, before the long, dry period ensued. And yet she obviously stayed ever faithful to God, which is why Fr. James Martin calls her the greatest saint of all time. 

So I guess we're neither built physiologically nor intended for long-term euphoric pleasure in this life. (A startlingly obvious observation but there you go.)





January 25, 2016

A Colleague's Memorable Job

A co-worker of mine was interviewed on our company website and I found this inspiring:
What was your most memorable high school/college job and why?
Building custom-fit shipping containers in a factory. I loved working with my hands to build something, seeing that the machine being shipped fit perfectly in the container, and knowing that my work was essential to getting the machine to its destination. Also, there was something very philosophical about putting your best craftsmanship to work on something - that container was me personally delivering that product - while knowing that ultimately your work would be ripped apart and discarded. It was about "doing it right" even if the result of your work was short-lived.

January 22, 2016

Tell Me What I Want to Hear

I was talking to a Trump supporter who summed it up this way: "he's saying exactly what I want to hear."  

I think that's telling.  It's not: "he's telling the truth" or "he's got an excellent strategy to improve America".  And utterly not: "he will inspire us to a higher standard".  

And the message is "winning" to borrow from Charlie Sheen. It could be simply due to how we now choose media outlets - MSNBC, Fox - that say exactly what we want to hear and rarely challenge us.  

As a consequence we demand our leaders follow us instead of lead us. We don't elect someone wise and measured, we elect the immature and callow, like a Barack Obama in '08 or a Bill Clinton in '92 or a George Bush in '00. 

All the really popular candidates --  Cruz, Sanders and Trump -- have in common the pattern of saying exactly and precisely what conservatives, liberals and "Reagan Democrats" respectively want to hear - not what they need to hear.  Not to explain what is possible to accomplish.  Authenticity seems less measured by truth-telling as by how intensely you feel something to be true or wish it to be. To pick long-shot fights and then blame other Republicans when you're unsuccessful is one example.

And maybe telling voters what they want to hear is the way politics has always been but it seems more pronounced than ever.  At the very least leaders used to have to pretend not to be ambitious; Ronald Reagan used his acting prowess to pretend he was drafted to run in 1980, the homage vice pays to virtue sort of thing.  But now you have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who, to borrow from Shelby Foote's characterization of Jefferson Davis, seem "ambitious as Satan".  You could say they are authentic in their ambitiousness, I guess. 

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Addendum:

Holy cow that Mark Helprin can write:

"A diet, caffeine-free Marxist (really, the only thing wrong with being a Marxist is being a Marxist); a driven, leftist crook; and an explosive, know-nothing demagogue — all are competing to see who can be even more like Mussolini than is Obama. But in the caudillo department, surpassing even our own Evita, the Donald wins."

"And forget trying to determine whether Trump's a conservative. Given that, at the suggestion of Bill Clinton, he has like a tapeworm invaded the schismatically weakened body of the Republican party, it’s a pointless question, because, like Allah in Islamic theology, he is whatever he pleases to be at the moment, the only principle being the triumph of his will."

January 20, 2016

Politics, Schmolitics

As cynical as Donald Trump is in his shameless position changes (and stabbing other candidates while humorously feigning concern for them), Jeb Bush might rival him simply because of Bush's complete disregard for anything but money.

Jeb couldn't even be bothered to prepare what he'd say when the Inevitable Question came up: that of  the Iraq War his brother engaged in.  His fumbling, defense of the war before his non-defense was, in its way, as telling a moment as way back when Ted Kennedy was running for president and stumbled over the simple question of "why are you running?"

That's pretty insulting to voters, not to take the run seriously enough to have more than a half-baked thought on the Iraq war.

Jeb was focused on money not message while Trump was focused on message, not money.  Of course that's easier to when you're a billionaire but certainly the optics of it was: Jeb is courting big money donors while Trump is courting Joe Six-pack.

What's truly brilliant about the Trump campaign is how we all thought he was winging it as he went along but apparently it was planned.  Who knew he had that sort of discipline? He is treating the campaign for president like a long TV series, presenting a hot, new plot twist each week.

Someone should've predicted this awhile back since the line between entertainment and politics (or pretty much everything) has shrunk to the vanishing point.  So Trump is ideally situated.

Isn't it hard to believe there's no one in a Republican party, no conservative think tank, not National Review or the Weekly Standard, smart enough to come up with a 21st century political strategy like Trump's?  And wasn't it Barack Obama and the 'Crats who pioneered the use of big data analytics?  Do you ever get the feeling that the Republican party is the ultimate amateur, junior-high school production? (Disclaimer: sorry to 7th graders everywhere for comparing them to the Republican party.)

On the other hand, maybe it's that the party wants to try to firewall the partition between politics and entertainment even at the risk of not winning the presidency ever again.  Nah, I don't think so.

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Interesting take in National Review:
As [Sowell's] Wealth, Poverty and Politics comes to a close, the author focuses his attention on controversies closer to home. He has much to say about the persistence of black poverty in the United States, and the role that the welfare state has played in perpetuating it. African Americans are, according to Sowell, a lagging group that has been ill served by its leadership, not entirely unlike the Malays in Malaysia. I can’t say I agree with every aspect of Sowell’s take on the contemporary American scene. For Sowell, the chief obstacles facing poor native-born blacks looking to better their lot are ghetto culture and a welfare-state ideology that rewards idleness. My own view is that many of the pathologies Sowell identifies can be explained at least in part by the failure of governments to protect African Americans from violence. For much of U.S. history, officialdom turned a blind eye to “black-on-black” violence, which in effect meant that predators routinely got away with murder and innocent victims knew they could not trust the state to protect them. People who live in fear are often less productive than those who live in peace. Nevertheless, Sowell has done us a great service by placing our current controversies in international context. We may be thankful that the U.S. is not yet a society in which productive minorities are despised. One wonders whether this will still be the case a generation or two hence, when there is a very good chance that racial disparities in wealth and income will have grown even more pronounced than they are today.

 Read more at: https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/429377/causes-wealth
Elsewhere in National Review:
Among all the other candidates, only Ted Cruz — who has gone out of his way to avoid alienating Trump’s supporters, while declining to embrace Trump’s toxic rhetoric — seems to understand this. (It is no coincidence that Cruz has by far the best data operation of any candidate in the race.)  Meanwhile, many a Republican Candidate Ahab seems to be haplessly chasing the great Hispanic whale, which, even if miraculously caught, wouldn’t do much to improve the party’s 2016 electoral prospects.
Strong establishments take insurgencies’ best issues and co-opt them. Weak and stupid establishments don’t. Right now, the GOP establishment is weak and stupid. Rather than attempting to present a forward-looking agenda that would appeal to a large number of Trump supporters and draw them into the Republican coalition, the establishment is seemingly working overtime to alienate them. Rather than pursuing an immigration policy that would protect vulnerable American workers and bring in skilled immigrants while disavowing Trump’s divisive tone and his impractical and overbroad prescriptions, it is promoting a quasi-open-borders policy that will perhaps keep maid service cheap for GOP donors — while electing a generation of Obamas. Rather than thinking through what a strong 21st-century Reaganite American patriotism would look like, too many candidates have embraced a hyper-militaristic nation-building strategy of which GOP voters have wearied, and that a national electorate decisively rejected in 2008 and 2012."
  – Mr. Carl is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

January 19, 2016

Following Jesus with Jugs of Water


One of Russell Kirk's favorites, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, took pains to educate his son Commodus in the Stoicism and virtue and asceticism, which completely and utterly failed to take. Edward Gibbon writes:
Nothing, however, was neglected by the anxious father, and by the men of virtue and learning whom he summoned to his assistance, to expand the narrow mind of young Commodus, to correct his growing vices, and to render him worthy of the throne for which he was designed. But the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous.
Gibbons's pessimistic line about the efficacy of instruction feels sort of truthy but I'm not sure how a Christian can subscribe to that given the pains Christ took to instruct us. I suppose it's a “both/and” - we need human and divine instruction but also Grace.

I found out who the priest is at our local St. Patrick's is, the one with the wonderfully and preternaturally calm voice and manner: Father Cassian Derbes. Turns out he was interviewed on National Review Online for the 800th anniversary of the Dominican founding. Makes me want to support NR more!

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On my way to UPS Store Saturday I listened to Catholic radio personality Jennifer Fulwiler on the radio talk about how when she was an atheist she found the argument against having children (i.e. that they're a lot of work, they annoy you, etc..) persuasive, but now she sees the meaning of life being to live with those who annoy you. That the only way to have a long-lasting, meaningful relationships is to be at peace with your plans being disrupted and being annoyed. Makes sense. The meaning of life is relationship since that's what God is (Father, Son and Spirit) and obviously humans have differing wills, priorities, personalities, peccadilloes.

Luke's gospel makes it sound so easy:  “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth.”

I love the nonchalance of the statement that it's God's pleasure to give us the kingdom, i.e. everything.

I like the archaic language in this version. “Sell what ye have” - and what do we have of value besides Christ? Thus the imperative to evangelize and “advertise” Jesus.

Luke 12:32 is a pretty awesome verse and it could stand up well as being anyone's fav in my opinion. Matthew chapter 7 has a verse that a confessor once told me to memorize, and rightly so: "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things…."

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I read In Cold Blood in high school. Does that even count? Does any classic I read then count given how completely different I am now after two trillion words read and innumerable experiences behind me? Was I so much in my own dream world then that Capote didn't really reach me, just as Moby Dick was a “non-experience experience”?

They say youth is wasted on the young but the classics were mostly wasted on me. I had not reached the depths of despair that I would on college - in high school I was still an innocent little burgher. The dark notes of classic books either played tunes too low to hear (like how humans can't hear dog whistles). To quote from Capote's classic, “Drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.”

The only thing I read then that resonated at all was Great Expectations. Would I be immune to its charms now? I think so, given I picked it up recently and wondered why it so captivated. I guess to every time there is a season, or a book. Great Expectations for the young, Bleak House for the middle-aged perhaps.

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Fun adventure Sunday - took the grandkids to a kids symphony concert. We got there around 2:30 for about 20 minutes of pre-concert goings-ons, specifically a temporary tattoo table. Tried out a violin as well.

Then we went into the concert and heard a good variety of great music and story-telling. “Pop Goes the Weasel” was a highlight, but by 3:20 the bloom was off the rose for the boys. Heck by 3:05pm Will was asking for my iphone, which I gave to him with the sound turned way down. So he got nothing out of it at all, other than a temp tattoo. Sam was initially enthused but soured and tired and by 3:35pm we were outta there. I think it was scheduled till 4 or 4:30.

The highlight for the boys was likely the escalators, which they enjoyed mastering. It was like a ride at King's Island.

All told a bit of a fail as far as introducing the boys to the joys of classical music. It was intended for ages 3-10, but kids of any age are pretty hard to entertain consistently, it seems to me.

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From a WaPo article:  "Voters 'do not want the truth,' Shenkman writes. 'We want hope. If the truth robs us of hope, we don’t want to hear it.'  With Christianity, truth and hope are conjoined.

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Ben Franklin: “The only thing that hurts about a rebuke is the truth.”

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Sighted on FB:
"I have no problem believing the Miracle at Cana. What's implausible is how there weren't people following Jesus with jugs of water for the rest of John's Gospel."
"Until about 200 years ago - and really until about only 85 years ago, most people were mostly drunk most of the time, for most of their lives.” [I was obviously born in the wrong age.]
“Christ turned water into wine, not wine into water. Too bad for Southern Baptist teetotalers.”
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Someone thought I'd be outraged by what Peggy Noonan wrote about Cardinal Law and the bishops who allowed abusers to continue their crimes in her collection of WSJ columns.  I don't get it because I don't see my job as cheerleading the hierarchy.  A misconception about the Church, I think, is that the misbehavior of its members somehow undercuts either her authority or her truth.

It's not “pro-Catholic” to defend Cardinal Law's inexcusable behavior around the sex abuse crisis. It's not “anti-Catholic” to excoriate him. Jesus was not being anti-Jewish when he excoriated the Pharisees in his own church – and he said they lost not one iota of their authority (“You must be careful to do everything they tell you to do,” he says in Matthew 23:3).

We live in a hyper-politicized culture, so it's natural to think of the church as just another political organization but: “If I see the Church only under the aspect of power, then it follows that everyone who doesn't hold an office is oppressed… If belonging to the Church has any meaning at all, then the meaning can only be that it gives us eternal life. We are not in the Church in order to exercise power as if in some kind of association,” as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote.

I have no problem with seeing the Catholic hierarchy in great need of change. But what I don't understand is seeing the Catholic Church as equivalent to the hierarchy. That would be like seeing America as simply the president and Congress and Supreme Court. If faith means anything, it means the Holy Spirit can act through flawed instruments. If America is much more than just Barack Obama, how much more is the Catholic Church, with Christ at the head using flawed instruments, than a mere earthly nation?

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From Scott Hahn's Catholic Bible Dictionary on sacrifice:
Sacrificial themes are not confined to the actions of Christ in the NT but are likewise applied to Christians. In one sense, this is implicit in the teaching of Jesus, who summons his followers to “take up the cross” in imitation of him (Matt 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 14:27). Once he describes his own crucifixion in cultic and sacrificial terms, it follows that the life of Christian discipleship would have this character as well.
This theme is developed mainly in the epistles of Paul, who uses sacrificial images and ideas to describe an array of Christian activities. For instance, he urges believers to present their “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). This is an appeal for such things as chastity, temperance, mortification, and other actions of gospel morality and spirituality that surrender the body and its cravings to the will of the Lord. Other forms of sacrifice include monetary giving, such as the gift that Paul received from the church of Philippi, which he calls “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
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After reading the recent liturgical readings about Saul, I wondered why David was forgiven a much worse sin than Saul? St. Augustine said God isn't showing favoritism, but their results differed because their hearts differed, and we can't see their hearts, only God can. Not overly comforting, given my fickle heart.  Thank God for 1 John 3:20.

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I don't quite understand why Pope Francis is so polarizing in the Catholic community. I don't understand why some are giddy over him (if he was performing miracles of healing or drawing huge numbers of new people to Mass I might understand it better), nor why others think he's the anti-Christ or a heretic. He's human. (Update: I was reminded by someone that "Joy is contagious" concerning the giddiness. Yes.)

January 18, 2016

Goldberg Quotes

Jonah Goldberg:
"....All of the talk about how our political system has been bought by the “billionaire class” is simplistic nonsense. If “big money” rules, why is Jeb Bush at 6 percent in the polls? Why is Bernie Sanders poised to beat Hillary in New Hampshire and maybe Iowa?

I definitely think the system is designed in a way that benefits rich people (that’s a significant theme of the book I’m working on), but that has not much to do with the preferred policies of a bunch of  mustache-twirling fat cats. Indeed, the whole notion that rich people are ideologically homogenous is little more than the grimy, greasy, stain left behind from Marxism’s departure down the toilet bowl of history. There are rich people -- and some big corporations -- that are for limited government and there are rich people -- and far too many big corporations -- that want to expand the role of government.

My very short, partial, explanation for why the system seems rigged for the benefit of rich people has to do with the fact that complexity is a subsidy. The more rules and regulations the government creates, the more it creates a society where people with resources -- good educations, good lawyers, good lobbyists, and good connections -- can rise while those without such resources are left to climb hurdles on their own. On this basic point, Donald Trump is indisputably right. Bribing politicians to come to your wedding may seem insecure and weird, but there’s no doubt the ability to do so comes with payoffs. Big government by its very nature helps people who know how to game the system."

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Also from Goldberg, on the strangeness that the Left sees a boogeyman in the Koch brothers despite the Kochs being friendly to their values:
Concern Trolling Liberal: I just wish Republicans would get rid of the religious crazies and become socially liberal, fiscally conservative.
You: Oh, like Charles and David Koch?
CTL: No! Not those right-wing whackos. I mean Republicans should be pro-choice . . .
You: Like the Kochs?
          CTL: . . . and pro-gay rights! . . .
You: Kochs, Kochs, Kochs.
          CTL:  . . . And pro-immigration . . .
You: The Kochs are way to the left of Bernie Sanders on immigration.
CTL: . . . and they should oppose all of these foreign wars and being the world’s policeman.
You: Kochs again.
CTL: But they’re racists! They support the drug war and locking up young black men!
You: Actually, they oppose the drug war and . . .
CTL: But, but, but…
[ End scene.]