November 21, 2014

New Drinking Game

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

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

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

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

You can't make it up given this.

November 20, 2014

Asides and Alliterations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rantasaurus Rex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 14, 2014

Retreatant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* - name withheld to protect the guilty

Seven Takes Friday as Made Famous by Jennifer Fulweiler

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

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

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

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



Satisfying ol' country music.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 04, 2014

Thoughts Conjoined by Asterisks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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