December 31, 2015

Syria

Today I got slightly obsessed with the Syrian crisis. Because some sort of tipping point of my ignorance was reached such that I wanted to overcome it to some extent.

I really wanted to know who or what caused the Syrian mess. To assign blame, since I put the “J” in the Myers-Briggs INTJ.

Was it the dysfunctional Arab culture itself?  Islam and its despotic tendencies? Was it George W Bush, directly or indirectly? Was it Obama by pulling out of Iraq and punting on Syria?

The proximate trigger in Syria was simply a couple teenagers scrawling graffiti. The government killed them and that lead to massive protests. The teens had written pro-revolutionary sayings, a lesson in “be careful what you wish for" since sometimes the status quo looks awfully good, if only in hindsight.

The timeline:
    2003 - Iraq is invaded
    2008 - U.S. surge in Iraq ended; troop withdrawal in '10 and '11
    2010 - Tunisia protests begin; a man self-immolates and triggers overthrown of gov't
    2011 - Teenagers scrawl graffiti in Syria; gov't action triggers civil war
    2015:  Syrian civil war now proxy war with other countries participating
A few theories:

1) Iraq War and Bush Administration: Fall of Saddam was said to psychologically empower Arab activists. US government began funding “democracy promotion” agenda including training on social media, one of the top causes of effectiveness of protests. U.S. policy misled many Arab youth to believe freedom was possible in their societies especially given the expectations of US temporary “success” in Iraq post-surge.

Syria's Assad, not unbiased of course, blames the war:
“It was the Iraq war in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. We were strongly opposed to that invasion, because we knew that things were moving in the direction of dividing societies and creating unrest. And we are Iraq’s neighbors. At that time, we saw that the war would turn Iraq into a sectarian country; into a society divided against itself. To the west of Syria there is another sectarian country – Lebanon. We are in the middle. We knew well that we would be affected. Consequently, the beginning of the Syrian crisis, or what happened in the beginning, was the natural result of that war and the sectarian situation in Iraq, part of which moved to Syria, and it was easy for them to incite some Syrian groups on sectarian grounds…Why didn’t they lead to revolutions in the Gulf States – particularly in Saudi Arabia which doesn’t know anything about democracy?“
2) Unemployment with large youth populations

Large numbers of youth + unemployment = huge trouble for societies. If one simply looks at the unemployment rate of each Middle East country you can see where the dominoes fell. In general, the Gulf States had much lower rates of unemployment and poverty than Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.

3) Religious hatreds

Syria has Sunni/Shia combo, always a deadly mix.

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One of the comments that look particularly cringe-worthy in retrospect was made in 2005 by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither."

And she thought we didn't have stability then...?

And the other thing about Rice's comment that leaves me perplexed is the premise is that our policies will determine the fate of the Middle East.  Notice the huge tell: "we achieved neither" as if the people who actually live in the Middle East are completely impotent or in someway ancillary to the policies of our "empire".... I'm beginning to think Republicans are to foreign countries what liberals are to blacks: Paternalistic and condescending.

December 28, 2015

Isaiah


It's interesting to read all the readings for the various masses for Christmas. It's a biblical greatest hits collection, starring Isaiah, the poet laureate of ecstasy. No one does joy better than Isaiah which is why the Christmas readings, per se, exceed even the Easter readings despite Easter being on paper and logically, the greater boon. At Christmas, the Second Person of the Trinity came to earth. At Easter, we celebrate the defeat of death and the acceptance of the offering of Christ, so I've always assumed we weren't saved by the Incarnation so much as by the Crucifixion & Resurrection. And yet Christmas looms like a colossus. I've always puzzled why but figured it's at least partially because we can simply relate to a baby more than man and God. There's a reason St. Nick went from tough guy who punched a heretic to a harmless old gentleman with a big belly.

December 27, 2015

Un-imprimatur'd Thoughts

It seems like the typical religious error is either a semi-pantheistic view or a overly transcendent one. The transcendent view sees God as the only Good and therefore the only one inspiring of awe. The relationship is mostly vertical, God to man; other human beings are seen as so much lesser than God that they're hard to appreciate or love or serve. It makes God too confined, not able to vivify others or ourselves. "Emmanuel" gets a lost in the shuffle; the Blessed Sacrament is holy, our neighbor and us louts. 

The other view, that of emphasizing only the horizontal, makes it seem like God is an absentee Father such that his children need to love each other as proxies.  This is the dry theology like the one I grew up with in the '70s: "love one another" was the whole focus and there was little thought of God enabling or inspiring that love. We were on our own as the song American Pie went, and nothing better exemplifies this than the teaching that the miracle of multiplication of the loaves and fishes was not a physical miracle but a result of people sharing what they had. You can say that's a miracle, that everyone wanted to share what they had, but the way I read it back in the '70s was that it meant God was secretly a deist. 

As usual, it's "both/and".  God loves us enough to come into our temples and thus loving neighbor is loving God "in disguise".

December 23, 2015

Links


Interesting lines about blogging:
Most of the personal blogs I once followed have vanished, or haven’t been updated in months or years. The blogroll in my sidebar reads like an honour roll of war dead. But I keep on blogging because, compared to tweeting for thousands of followers or posting to hundreds of Facebook friends, the single-digit pageviews my blog now attracts are a paradoxically private way to express myself.
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What adults can mistake for narcissism – performing one’s intimate self as thoughtless, obnoxious "selfies" – is just kids larking about for their mates. 
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Blogging persists, of course. But it’s mostly for adults – professionalised to the point where the old "bloggers vs journalists" debates now seem hopelessly quaint. Maintaining a personal blog has become entrepreneurial: a job that earns an income through display advertising, network marketing, ebooks and blog-to-book deals.
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Ross Douthat on Star Wars and decadence.

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Everybody on earth is your cousin.

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From National Review:
From the medieval university through the colonial colleges, institutions of higher education aimed to teach “the best which has been thought and said,”in Matthew Arnold’s phrase. This vocation was political as well as intellectual. In studying masterpieces of Western civilization, students could cultivate virtues necessary to limited government.
Next, conservatives argued that influxes of students and subsidies after World War II diverted universities from this mission. Rather than educating citizens for self-rule, they prepared students for lives as workers and consumers.
“Educate me so that I may be a virtuous citizen and then a good job will follow as byproduct” reminds me of, from a religious perspective, “make me virtuous for your sake O Lord and then I shall be saved as byproduct”.

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Hey I made it through this post Trump-free,  er, ....doh!

December 16, 2015

Ross Douthat Nails It

Yes, yes. A cathartic howl. From here:

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In that quest for understanding, which politicians of both parties should pursue, I recommend lingering over one particular moment from last night, when Trump returned to his frequent theme of elite foreign-policy failure, and produced a rather-eloquent monologue on America’s recent misadventures in the Middle East:
In my opinion, we’ve spent $4 trillion trying to topple various people that frankly, if they were there and if we could’ve spent that $4 trillion in the United States to fix our roads, our bridges, and all of the other problems; our airports and all of the other problems we’ve had, we would’ve been a lot better off. I can tell you that right now.

We have done a tremendous disservice, not only to Middle East, we’ve done a tremendous disservice to humanity. The people that have been killed, the people that have wiped away, and for what? It’s not like we had victory.

It’s a mess. The Middle East is totally destabilized. A total and complete mess. I wish we had the $4 trillion or $5 trillion. I wish it were spent right here in the United States, on our schools, hospitals, roads, airports, and everything else that are all falling apart.
Then, when Fiorina interrupted to first accuse him of echoing Obama and then went on a riff attacking Hillary Clinton over Benghazi, Trump responded:
Well, there’s nothing to respond to … the fact is Benghazi was a disaster because of Libya, everything just fell into place. It could not have been worse.

What do we have now? We have nothing. We’ve spent $3 trillion and probably much more – I have no idea what we’ve spent. Thousands and thousands of lives, we have nothing. Wounded warriors all over the place who I love, we have nothing for it.
This is not the kind of thing that Republican politicians can easily say, because after all the Iraq invasion was the last Republican administration’s signature idea. But it’s also not the kind of thing that Democratic politicians can easily say — and not only, as Matt Yglesias suggests, because they’re afraid of sounding unpatriotic. It’s also that much of the waste Trump is condemning happened on the watch of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: Disastrous as the invasion was, George W. Bush did hand on a mostly stabilized Iraq to his successor, and it was under Obama that our troops pulled out, under Obama that Syria went to hell, under Obama that ISIS took over the Sunni Triangle, and under Obama that Qaddafi was toppled and ISIS rushed into the Libyan vacuum.

Of course one can dispute how much of this was actually Obama’s fault, and argue over what might have been done differently. But he has been the president during these multiplying disasters, which means that his would-be successor simply cannot go on the campaign trail and issue a sweeping indictment of the last twelve years of U.S. foreign policy; she has to reach back in time and keep blaming it all on Bush. Only Trump — the freest man in politics, the third-party candidate running inside the G.O.P. tent — can just say a plague on both your houses. And that line resonates because on the evidence of everything that’s happened under the last two presidents, a plague is what both houses eminently deserve.

Which, of course, tells us nothing about what the next president should do, and there Trump’s current ideas range from the absurd (“take all the oil”) to the monstrous (kill terrorists’ families). And over the course of the actual primaries, as opposed to these preliminaries, I persist in believing that most Republican voters will end up choosing between the genuinely-different foreign policy visions that Rubio and Cruz are offering rather than taking a flyer on Trump’s Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore approach.

But for now support for Trump on foreign policy isn’t an endorsement of his policy vision. It’s more of a cathartic howl against twelve years of failure, which neither political party can quite call by its deserved name.

And though I’ve called him a proto-fascist, I’m not immune to its appeal. What do we have now? We have nothing. Watching at home, that was only line in two hours of debating that made me want to stand up and applaud.

December 15, 2015

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Donald?

I bow to no man in my ability to say "what the f--k!', which is pretty much what Republicans have decided to do this election so far.  But I haven't decided to chuck it all yet, not with Hillary as the Dem candidate. The base responds, "we patiently offered moderates like McCain and Romney and look what it got us? So we just don't care anymore."

There's irony in how the reason for the dismay over the establishment is due to unfulfilled promises, given that Trump has upped the ante by making promises close to the level of "if I'm elected, I'll turn water into wine!"

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I'm transfixed that an Orthodox priest I know here in Columbus is supporting Trump and spoke before 15,000 people at a recent Trump rally. Pretty interesting to see a man of the cloth so into politics, and Trumpian politics at that.  "The Other" lives. People are complicated. It seems a cult of personality. People seem very susceptible to that, witness Pope Francis's popularity.

Jeb Bush said the Donald is a great politician and I'm beginning to believe it. One definition of a gifted pol is someone who can get away with stuff no one else could. Bill Clinton won despite a myriad of lies, bimbo eruptions and shady land deals. Obama won despite (what I considered at the time) fatal flaws of  the “cling to God and guns” comment (is that any better than Romney's 47% comment?), as well as the Rev Wright and Bill Ayers connections. And Trump has survived birtherism, flip-flops and a dust-up with Republican powerhouse Fox News. I think it comes down to all three being liked so much. You can't trump likability, no pun intended.

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On the subject of Muslim immigration, I've read of a proposal that gets at the heart of the problem: not religion but a need to vet our values. George W Bush famously went to free Iraq and remake the Middle East in his image -- into a freedom-loving paradise -- and the same problem seems to be present in our immigration policy in which we assume everybody is the same, all cultures equal, and nobody really wants Sharia law except for a few terrorists.

It's hard to get any sort of impartial narrative on something like Muslim immigration. People on the right are subject to prejudice. People on the left are subject to debilitating liberal guilt. So it's hard to get purchase on it.

One real-life experiment: Lewiston, Maine, a 99% white town until Somali immigrants came in huge waves beginning in 2001.

I found an article on Huffington Post that suggested this was the model for the country of beautiful integration and multiculturalism. While Ann Coulter pointed to increased crime and how the mayor said back in 2002 “no more, please! We can't take any more Somalis”.

So what's the truth?

The mayor did say that and has since retired.

Crime rate hasn't gone up. So in that sense the statistics, impartially, don't bear out the complaints of some whites there. Of course since second generation Muslims tend to be a bigger problem, so it's still way early.

A white, Republican anti-welfare mayor of the town just won a third term despite the place being mostly Democratic. This speaks louder than words: for all the pretend peacefulness, there's a whole lot of white Democrat voters there who are crossing the aisle because they like what they're hearing on the other side. Mostly they are sick, it seems, of Somalis gaming the welfare state. Is this a prejudice? Who knows, but it sure suggests ain't everything all hunky-dory.

Then I looked at the Minneapolis Somalis.  Nicht gut. The best intentions lead to Hell. A lot of Somalis were brought here by Lutheran Social Service back in the 90s and now even NPR has a piece about ISIS recruitment in Minneapolis. Our own little hotbed of potential extremism, which "has legs" since extremists generally come in the second generation of immigrants, not first.  Is it fair to laden our grandchildren not only with crushing debt but jihadists? Even Angela Merkel, no Donald Trump, says multiculturalism is a sham and a lie.

At war within me: safety versus generosity. It seems zero-sum. Taking in refugees is a noble and generous thing. I think of how life is not the greatest value, that God is, and that God chose love over life (in the short run). The Second Person of the Trinity was a migrant from Heaven, a migrant into a death-dealing world as vicious - at least to Jesus - as Yemen or Syria. And yet he chose to mingle with us.

I was musing on this as my grandson was lulling me to sleep with his cuddling next to me on the recliner, him watching YouTube videos of superheroes and me reading about one of my superheros, St. Francis, and in particular how he dealt with the Muslim Sultan when he famously ambled through the DMZ during one crusade talked to the Islamic chieftain. While history is different it rhymes, and so perhaps the key to the current predicament of how to deal with the Muslim headache can be answered by that saint of yore.

I see two promising books on the subject, one from a conservative side (mentioning immediately Pope John Paul's comment to Mother Teresa, "watch out for the Muslims!") and one from the liberal.  I'll probably end up more confused than ever.  Making it even worse is how the US bishops seem definitely on the liberal end of things.

December 11, 2015

Friday Quick Takes (ala Jennfer Fulwiler)


A few "why is my bookbag so heavy" entries:

Mark Ward on the Bible:
I have found that motivation for Bible study is circular: You can’t get excited about the Bible until you do some serious study in it. You can’t do serious study unless your excitement about Scripture motivates you to do so. Sometimes my circle breaks down. I don’t maintain a constant excitement (or study) level. I get tired. I get sick. I get busy. I drift. But because I have a new heart, good teachers, and the continuing grace of God, I can never stop trying to enter the circle again.
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Quote and interesting comment from Cath blogger Eric Scheske:
Professor Morson puts it: “Dostoyevsky believed that lives are decided at critical moments, and he therefore described the world as driven by sudden eruptions from the unconscious. By contrast, Tolstoy insisted that although we may imagine our lives are decided at important and intense moments of choice, in fact our choices are shaped by the whole climate of our minds, which themselves result from countless small decisions at ordinary moments.” At some point in life, I think, one has to decide if one is, in one’s belief in the shape of his or her life, a Dostoyevskian or a Tolstoyian. …I would think any person who has given it much thought is a Tolstoyian, whether one comes to such a worldview via the spirituality of St. Therese Lisieux or modern scientific studies about the cumulative effects of the ordinary on a person’s personality, spirituality, disposition, attitude, etc.

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From a 1921 Herman Melville bio:
With [America's] outstanding symptoms of materialism and conformity it drove Emerson to pray for an epidemic of madness: “O Celestial Bacchus! drive them mad.—This multitude of vagabonds, hungry for eloquence, hungry for poetry, starving for symbols, perishing for want of electricity to vitalise this too much pasture, and in the long delay indemnifying themselves with the false wine of alcohol, of politics, of money.”
Throughout Melville’s long life his warring and untamed desires were in violent conflict with his physical and spiritual environment. His whole history is the record of an attempt to escape from an inexorable and intolerable world of reality: a quenchless and essentially tragic Odyssey away from home, out in search of “the unpeopled world behind the sun.”
     
“Ah, muskets the gods have made to carry infinite combustion,” he wrote in Pierre , “and yet made them of clay.”
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This FB comment is exactly what I was musing on the other day. Not specifically torture, but how God hates sin because of what it does to self:
“I sincerely believe that the greatest victim of every evil act is the person committing it–which is one argument against torture, that it turns men and women into torturers, which is a deep and serious injury.”
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This, found via Verbum.com, was cool;
This is a difficult message to accept, for it means accepting not only the real humanity of Christ, but also our own humanity. And many of us do not wish to be human. Perhaps we would like our religion to be more “mysterious,” more other-worldly, less attached to the messy, complex realities of everyday life. Perhaps we would prefer a more majestic God, who becomes manifest in supernatural wonders and triumphal manifestations. But the Christian message—the message of Advent—directs our hearts toward humble humanity.
This does not mean that there is no glory, no mystery; but it means that we must seek them not in an external divine intrusion into the world, a triumphal interruption of human history, but rather in the transformation of that history from within by God’s presence in human hearts.
It seems to me that to have a visible or sensory experience of God, is not a cure-all: You still have to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. St. Paul received visions of Jesus but also went on to be beaten, shipwrecked, almost stoned, rejected and laughed at, etc… Surely he must've had some low moments when the experience of God seems like a hallucination. Similar Mary, who had a sword or sorrow pierce her heart despite receiving a visit from an angel thirty-three years prior. Jesus had the Transfiguration but still sweat blood on Holy Thursday night. So a vision can't seem to take away the harshness of life and human memory could erode even these visions to some extent. Perhaps it's like how you can't store up warm summer sun for a day when it's ten below. You may remember how great that 80-degree day was, but it can't really change the fact that you're freezing.

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I like Advent more in recent years for the most materialistic of reasons: Logos Bible website offers a free electronic book every day of Advent and the affiliated Verbum site offers a free one every week. Thus every day I hurry-scurry to the website and see what I'm offered, and 7 times out of 10 it's something I want. It's sort of like the 12 days of Christmas only there's a lot more days in Advent. I could wish they'd do something like this during Lent in order to make that season more palatable, ha.

Today I got The Word In and Out of Season, a collection of homilies for all the Sundays of Advent and Lent.  The other day The Blessings of Christmas by Pope Benedict.

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I'd always wondered why “Behold the Man” in the passion account seemed to be disproportionately emphasized. A google search helped illustrate a pleasing symmetry between Old and New Testaments:
John 19:5 Behold the man. Pilate, evidently trying to show the crowd that Jesus was a pitiable shell rather than a king (thus demonstrating the absurdity of their charge), urged them to behold Him in this forlorn state and ridiculous caricature of kingly apparel, thinking thereby to displace their hatred with pity. But when he said, sarcastically, no doubt, “Behold the man,” he was unwittingly using prophetic language. Through the prophet Isaiah, God had said concerning the coming Messiah, “Behold your God!” and “Behold my Servant” (Isaiah 40:9; 42:1). Through the prophet Zechariah, God said concerning Him, “Behold the Man” and “Behold, thy King” (Zechariah 6:12; 9:9). Note how these four scenes we are urged to behold correspond to the respective pictures of Christ in the four gospels—“King” in Matthew, “Servant” in Mark, “Man” in Luke, “God” in John. Pilate sarcastically used two of these titles: “Behold the Man” in John 19:5, and “Behold your King” in John 19:14.
Also like the one word pictures of gospels. Does it say anything about a person if their favorite gospel is Jesus as servant instead of King, or God instead of man? Be interesting if someone studied the correspondence of favorite gospels to Myers-Briggs personality results.

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The iPad-ization of the nation is turning kids into introverts, or at least poor conversationalists inadequately socialized says a 3rd grade teacher in the WaPo.

I can certainly see the truth of that both intuitively and experientially, but I wonder if reading does the same. Reading tends to get a pass merely because it's seen as a much higher value than, say, playing computer games on iPad. But in both cases the result would seem the same socialization-wise.
“Sherry Turkle, the author of 'Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,' writes about how we are sacrificing connections, one quick check of our screens at a time. Her research finds that college students, with their ubiquitous phones, 'are having a hard time with the give-and-take of face-to-face conversation.'
It can be hard for kids to sustain their attention in a small group discussion when their own personal portal beckons from the back of the room…Later, when I allowed their devices to hum to glowing life, conversation shut down altogether.
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Saw a coyote along the fence-line. Our dogs were barking at it like crazy but like Cool Hand Luke he just sauntered along looking attractive and majestic. When I went back he made himself scarce. They generally eat rats, mice, rabbits, cats. Not dogs fortunately.

We've seen now seen in the field behind our house at one time or another: coyote, red fox, deer, possum, groundhog, Coopers hawk, mallard ducks, geese.

December 10, 2015

Isaiah Variations


It's fascinating how the Church seeks to console us. For example, the first reading from Isaiah 30 the other day is textbook Christ:

    “The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst.”

But other translations are less, shall we say, generous, from the Jerusalem's “The Lord has given you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction.”  Knox has it: “Bread he will grant, though it be sparingly.”

So it's kind of a buzzkill to go to the other translations although the Church's generous translation I take as more definitive given the prerogatives she enjoys.

And Pope Benedict gave me permission tonight when I read this in his Blessings of Christmas:
Perhaps the right way to celebrate Advent is to let the signs of God’s love that we receive in this period penetrate our soul, without resistance, without questions and quibbling. Warmed by these signs, we can then receive in full confidence the immeasurable kindness of this child who alone had the power to make the mountains sing and to transform the trees of the wood into a praise of God.
(The preface to that was this:
It may be difficult for us to accept this joyful music when we are tormented by questions, when we are afflicted both by bodily illness and psychological problems, and these would tend to make us rebel against the God whom we cannot understand. But this child is a sign of hope precisely for those who are oppressed. And this is why he has awakened an echo so pure that its consoling power can touch the hearts even of unbelievers.)
I've come to see Isaiah as a primer for Jesus - it seems like it's what he read and memorized and understood to apply to him. Thus when the prophet says: “he will hear and immediately answer”, Jesus took that as gospel, such that when he heard someone crying out to him (the lame, the sick, the blind) he should immediately cure them.

It's always interesting to me to turn the Scriptures around and see them as God condescending to us to have them apply to him as well. It's more of a “we're all in this together” type of feeling.

December 09, 2015

To the Donald: Run Third Party?

I'm starting to see a real value in Trump running third party, if it should come to that. Because there's only one thing worse than Hillary as POTUS:  Hillary with a Democrat house and senate.  Which will happen if either Trump or Cruz heads the ticket. But if Donald runs third party, then more Republican choices = more Republican voters = more Republican seats saved in house & senate.

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What's fascinating to me is to watch talk show hosts like Limbaugh, Ingraham, Buchanan march to Trump's tune without going so far as to endorse him. (At least that I've been able to glean - would love to be corrected if this is not true!)

These three are sharp enough to know Trump's a RINO (Trump's flip-flops make Mitt Romney look like the “severe conservative” he claimed in '12 to be).  But they make their living on popularity with grassroots, everyday joes, and the grassroots (especially anti-illegal immigration folks) love Trump to death so it looks like these entertainers are wanting it both ways: wanting to live off Trump's popularity without sticking their necks out. (Kudos to National Review for being forthrightly against Trump from the start.)

As much as I loved Fox News when it first came into being I wonder now if it's not a mixed blessing. The inexorable domino effect has taken hold: mainstream media went left creating backlash. Fox News nourishes what is already a big chip on the shoulder of conservatives. Creates an opening for candidate Trump to blow up Republican party, securing Hillary as president and possibly a Democrat house.

“The enemy of the enemy is my friend,” goes the saying, and the mainstream media has become such an enemy that its enemy (Trump) now becomes our friend. It's as if the first plank of the Republican platform is not of limited government but “We are a party that is anti-mainstream media”.  The problem is even a broken clock is right....

Seems likely that Republicans in the future will serve not any sort of visionary or agenda-setting role (not that they are any good at either of late), but as foot soldiers on the ground, doing the dirty work of mayors and state governors, picking up in places where the default (Democrats) have made a mess of things. We've seen it in Ohio where Gov Strickland (D) was absolutely abysmal, leading to John Kasich to mend the state. Which, I suppose, is not a terrible role.

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Trumpbait: it's where we are.

December 04, 2015

Let It Be Known

Let it be known that on this day, 11 months out from the '16 election, it's all over. Hillary has it in the bag short of her being led away in handcuffs.

I'm coming to terms with it. I went through all the stages of grief: denial, depression, etc.., and now acceptance. Hail to the Hillary will be played at the inaugural balls. We'll have a new Liar-in-Chief, but I know it's all good because this world is temporary and persecution is good for the soul. “Love your enemies,” doesn't get exercised much, but conservatives will have manifold opportunities.

Democracy is like a wife: you must love and cherish her through good times and bad. Both when outcomes are good, as in Reagan's election and bad, like Obama's and now Hillary's.

I feel a bit of the prognosticator: In 2000, when Bush lost the popular vote to Al Gore - let that sink in: AL GORE! - I realized the country as I knew it was gone. I knew after that election that “W” would be the last Republican president in a generation. (So it's even more dispiriting when he turned out to be a lousy president.) When Hillary wins in 2016, that means a Democrat will have served for 12 straights years with a good opportunity for 16. Pretty close to a generation.

You can fight city hall, but you can't fight demographics. You can't win American elections when people with brown or black skin hate you.

Ultimately the Republicans had a very tough road even if everything went perfectly in the nomination fight. Electoral map greatly favors the Democrat, so Republicans needed to “run the table” .  But democracy is like that. Have to persuade other people, somehow, that your views make sense.

What probably needs to happen is that taxes need to go way up before people will again look at Republican presidential candidates.  As California goes, so goes the republic (eventually), so it's interesting that what drove California rightward in the '70s and '80s was, arguably, the tax revolt of 1978 ("Proposition 13", which became a nationally known phrase).

So it's going to take California going Republican again, which probably means another tax revolt.

Conservative journalist Robert Novak often said that "Republicans were put on this earth to lower taxes" - that's really the only carrot the party has - and truly hardly any people these days are motivated by "I'll lower your taxes".  Until taxes go up significantly and the burden is really felt, there probably won't be a desire for a Republican president.

Ultimately it speaks volumes that effective governors like Kasich, Christie and Walker are at 2%, 2% and 0% respectively in the polls. It's another indication of the ill health of the country and electorate, when competence is punished. If that doesn't show the hopelessness of the situation nothing will.  The two leaders in polls, Hillary and Trump, have in common deep problems with both truthfulness (as well as admitting they are ever wrong). I guess lying is the new black.

December 02, 2015

Ace, Deuce, and a Lovely....

Growing up in a gambling family, I often heard the phrase "ace, deuce and a lovely trey". Amazing to see that a google search produces a paltry five results for that famous, now apparently antiquated, phrase. I wonder why treys are so lovely?

Bottled Messages


The Word Among Us folks know me:
Be vigilant at all times.… Your redemption is at hand. (Luke 21:36, 28)
So begins another Advent—with words of warning to stay alert, but also with words of confident reassurance. Isn’t it funny how we are so quick to focus on the verses that sound threatening but lose sight of the ones that remind us how faithful God is and how deeply committed he is to us?
Reminds me of the line “Monarch of all things, fit us for your mansions.” This from the morning prayer hymn struck me with force. Instead of focusing on “fit us” as I usually do, with the negative connotation it invokes of having to change, be painfully molded, to be more disciplined and loving, I focused on the clause “for your mansions”. It would seem the heart of contradiction: “hurt us to help us.” He chastens or disciplines us only so he can give us more.  The irony is now not lost: he wants to give us future mansions, not pointlessly take away our today-pleasures.

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It seems a cautionary tale that one of Jesus's greatest gifts, the Eucharist, would be rejected by perhaps half of Christendom (in the sense of being downgraded to mere symbol, mere ritual, a reenactment as if it's a play remembering the Last Supper). This tendency seems a symbol, no pun intended, of our willingness and even eagerness to settle for less and to underestimate God's love and attention.

*

The fourth sorrowful Mystery has always been slightly mysterious to me, that of Jesus needing help carrying his cross. Why? Some say simply because otherwise he would've died on the way is certainly likely given how brief he lived on the cross. But there's got to be more. The lesson taken from one source:
"In this Simon represents all of us. As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, we should all help Jesus to carry His Cross. This is the one sure sign that we belong to Christ - that we carry our cross with Him." (From Mysteries of the Rosary by Blessed Columba Marmion)
*

 “Let us all therefore love one another in harmony, and let no one look on his neighbor according to the flesh, but in Christ Jesus.” -St Ignatius of Antioch

*

Then and Now

Wonder came in sealed bottles
sea-tossed by strangers
from faraway coasts.

Now, like chatter, it's cheap
gratis undersea cables.

Does wonder cease with too much proximity?
Does God hold himself at bay for our sake?

December 01, 2015

Noonan, Kirk, and the Local Diner


Potent line from new Russell Kirk bio:
"Just as the Incarnate Word voluntarily suffered for the goodness of the universe, he concluded, so we should voluntarily suffer for one another.”
This line also hit me:
[Kirk] was not a systematic thinker. As traditional advocates of the classical liberal arts tradition, Babbitt and Kirk rejected all systems as not only impossible to attain but dehumanizing.
This reminded me of what Avery Dulles wrote about how St. John Paul II saw the systematizer St. Thomas Aquinas:
“While enthusiastically affirming the teaching of Thomas Aquinas on most points, he took note of one weakness. St. Thomas paid too little attention to the human person as experienced from within. In a paper on “Thomistic Personalism” delivered in 1961 he declared:
…[w]hen it comes to analyzing consciousness and self-consciousness—there seems to be no place for it in St. Thomas’ objectivistic view of reality. In any case, that in which the person’s subjectivity is most apparent is presented by St. Thomas in an exclusively—or almost exclusively—objective way. He shows us the particular faculties, both spiritual and sensory, thanks to which the whole of human consciousness and self-consciousness—the human personality in the psychological and moral sense—takes shape, but that is also where he stops. Thus St. Thomas gives us an excellent view of the objective existence and activity of the person, but it would be difficult to speak in his view of the lived experiences of the person.
Wojtyla was satisfied that St. Thomas correctly situated the human person in terms of the general categories of being, as an individual subsisting in an intellectual nature. But he wished to enrich Thomas’s doctrine of the person by reference to our experience of ourselves as unique ineffable subjects. Each person is an “I,” an original source of free and responsible activity.
Free will is not overly attractive given human perversity, and grace uber alles isn't attractive because it leads to double predestinationism.  Sort of reminds me of: "We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn."

Systemizing can feel liberating but ultimately confining: liberating because it's natural to long for a comprehensive understanding, to limit mystery in the thirst for answers. But confining because you feel an individual loss of control, a loss of freedom somehow. Inchoately, I write.

*

Headed down Cincy way for Thanksgiving and listened to The Catholic Guy Lino Rulli's Thanksgiving dinner. Light entertainment ideal for an entertainment-full eve.

Brought a pecan pie from Der Dutchman and I was mesmerized by the thought of eating such authentic pie. Sweet as the dickens and crust like magic.

Later I compulsively watched Lino's periscope of his in-laws party (they're of German heritage, with a name that translated sounds like “Nine, but…”. Too cool to watch a periscope of Lino's periscope (how meta) - as one of the guests at the party was periscoping Lino! Got a better view of his girlfriend in that one.

The next morning we headed to breakfast at a mom & pop diner of singular personality and “Hamiltucky” atmosphere. Decor was a cross between redneck mancave (fish on the wall) and Baptist piety (wood-carved religious imagery). But also a dash of the eccentric, with a large picture of a racetrack taken in black and white with the word “Relax” above it.

Post-breakfast we headed to Half-Price Books where they were having a 20% off sale and I practically began salivating when I saw a black beauty: a compact 1966 Jerusalem Bible in shiny black leather. The $50 price tag was painful but confirmation of what a jewel I held in my hot little hands. I bought it on the theory that I would regret not buying it too much not to buy it.  When commercialism meets the spiritual, look out.  It gives me chills it's so cool. A glorious little number, it's the sleek hotrod of bibles both in terms of translation and form.

*

I love Peggy Noonan with every fiber of my readerly being, and the following, from her on Tennessee Williams, is an antidote to my pride, and to my feeling that it was tragic and unbecoming that Willie Mays (to use one example) played long past his prime:
 "Up until the end, Tennessee Williams got up every morning and wrote. He was 72 and long past his prime, long past his great moments. But he got up every morning and sat at the typewriter and wrote. That was his work. He wrote. And in the last 20 years of his life it couldn’t have been easy for him because his great triumphs were behind him and he knew no one was going to applaud when he got up. He knew what they’d say about his newest plays. They were going to say “Ah, his genius has abandoned him, he’s lost it, he’s not up to par.” He knew the critics would say this because he’d written masterpieces, Streetcar and Glass Menagerie, and his name had grown so big and the expectation had grown so heavy. Every play had to be a masterpiece. And of course that was not possible because talent is finite; it is not endless. Even a genius gets only so much genius. And if you live a long life, as he did, you will probably use your genius up. Other artists have reached this point and picked up a rifle, jumped off a ship or opened the oven door. Others have hung on to become talk-show intellectuals or sit in fat chairs and sell wine on TV. But Tennessee Williams never sold out, and he didn’t check out early. He got up every morning and wrote. For this alone you could call his life a triumph."
Because for me, sadly, the greatest tragedy is to embarrass oneself. Because I care what others think of me. Because I am proud. The greater risk is not to have tried at all, rather than to have tried too long.

I've always had a love/hate relationship with work, although it's safe to say that by "love" I mean "hate". There's this wondrous tension between work as a good and work as an idol. Between the American tendency to define people by what they do rather than who they are

They always say that on your death bed you won't be saying, "I wish I'd spent more time working on spreadsheets at the office!"  Which seems a healthy enough notion.  But Noonan tweeted, approvingly, this story of a woman who wanted to die at work, and there's something inspiring about it.  Probably because her job involves serving people so directly.  St. John Paul went out of this world similarly, giving that unforgettable address at the window during which he could scarcely speak. 

Deep in the Heart of December

Deep in the heart of 'cember!

The stars at night - are big and bright
Deep in the heart of 'cember!

The weather sucks - oh hockey pucks!
Deep in the heart of 'cember!

Life is bleak - so God we seek
Deep in the heart of 'cember!

At least there're hymns - a bar named Slims
Deep in the heart of 'cember!

The chill is crisp - can cause a lisp
Deep in the heart of 'cember!

The lights are gay - we used to say
Deep in the heart of 'cember!

Oh maƮtre d', a double please!
Deep in the heart of 'cember!

Tis the season, no need to reason!
Deep in the heart of 'cember!

November 24, 2015

Alliterations and Asides Adhered by Asterisks

It's an odd thing to be able to time travel via YouTube to the final New Year's Eve celebration of Guy Lombardo and his wacky Canadians. It was 1976, and he had 11 months to live before succumbing to a heart attack, but Guy was in his glory looking fit and full of energy and life.

The cheese quotient was high. Cheesy songs, cheesy hairstyles, cheesy clothes. There was also a kind of, perhaps barely definable, difference in mannerisms and faces. TV is a cool medium and the partiers didn't know that yet.

This was the heartland of my youth. 13 years old.  It was especially odd to think that the great majority of the couples there are now dead or in nursing homes. Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shall (soon) return. Even the pretty 30-year old girls are now 70, and the average age on television was probably 50, making for an average age now of nearly 90. There's definitely a jarring aspect to that. When I was 25 I knew, on paper at least, that people get old. But without the experience….unless I put my fingers in the hand of someone who was once young (or look at myself in the mirror), I could not believe it.

The greatest song of the '70s, according to Lombardo, was “Feelings”, a tune that never much appealed to me then, nor now, even with the hazy glaze of nostalgia. They did a cover version of "I Write the Songs" by Manilow. High sugar content.

24 degrees; ice on the patio. Time waits for no man. We get maybe 25,000 days, 35,000 at most. Or much less. Another one has sped by.

It is the time of death and disfigurement; the trees mourn their leaves and the Church remembers the end times now for good reason. I wonder how it is in the southern hemisphere, when the recollection of the souls departed, as well as the contemplation of our own death, occurs in sunny, spring-like November. Seasonally, it's a northern church we have.

*

I think God is anti-sin not only because it hurts others but equally because it hurts ourselves. I used to think he was mainly concerned about sin simply because of its deleterious effect on others but he loves us too, and he loves us individually such that anything that hurts us or our one-on-one relationship with Him is anathema to him. Certainly if we sin against a saint, as the Nazis did against St. Maximilian Kolbe by murdering him, it hurts St. Max not so much in the long run, but really hurts themselves far more, since Kolbe is in Heaven and they are in…an bad situation.

*

Last night was splendorized by goodly reading of Peggy Noonan's new book. The introduction was magical in how she talked about the summers she spent with two poor Irish aunts, one widowed and one never married, in the country. It, along with National Review (including book reviews of the Reagan fiction by Mallon and a bio of the mystical Russell Kirk, was much enjoyed.

*

A poor Buckeye outcome. OSU felt ill-fated all year given how they struggled constantly on offense and had misadventures like Cardale Jones going from world beater to egg beater and poor JT Barrett getting his DUI. It feels like it wasn't meant to be, and to be beaten by a MSU team at the Horseshoe with a second string QB sings volumes. Ain't the Buck's year.Given the good spirit of an MSU team down in the mouth, i.e. with an injured starting qb, you got to love their spunk and drive and there was a sense of justness about their win.

*

'Round 1pm I headed out with our dog Max for an old-fashioned Saturday walk, like the times of olde I took Obi to Darby Creek park. We came across bison in a field only a few feet away. Love seeing those big brown hulks with whale-like eyes and tusks that sound a bass note when they strike another's. They were so slow-moving that Max didn't even know they were alive or real, and totally missed them. I had to wait till one was moving towards us and lift Max up over the fence and boy did that got his attention. I let him down and he stared with his ears up, not making a move for a good thirty seconds as the curious animal slowly approached. Then Max started barking like crazy and I had to pull him away with herculean effort. Fortunately there was a fence between them lest he get gored.

*

Distracted by another shiny object: a farmer's almanac iphone app. Spent too much time setting favorites and exploring all the features that I will never, ever look at, such as where the constellations are tonight or the moon phase. Why the moon phase should be of importance I'm not sure, although the full moon brings out the wolf in people, so I hear. So that's important to know. Don't want to go to an emergency room during a full moon - plan your accidents or illnesses for another phase.

*

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” goes the famous saying.

Semen, of course, comes from the Latin meaning “seed”. And I got to thinking about the difference between blood and semen. Semen sows natural life, blood eternal life (especially Christ's blood). Semen, in most circumstances that lead to life, is the product of love between two people conjoined with intense physical pleasure. A martyr's bloodshed is the product of love between God and man conjoined with intense physical pain.

*

Russell Kirk quote:
"A truly humane man is a person who knows we were not born yesterday. He is familiar with many of the great books and the great men of the past, and with the best in the thought of his own generation. He has received a training of mind and character that chastens and ennobles and emancipates. He is a man genuinely free; but free only because he obeys the ancient laws, the norms, which govern human nature. He is competent to be a leader, whether in his own little circle or on a national scale—a leader in thought and taste and politics—because he has served an apprenticeship to the priests and the prophets and the philosophers of the generations that have preceded us in our civilization. He knows what it is to be a man—to be truly and fully human."
*

Cardinal Dolan mentioned the atrocities in Paris and remarked wearily that it's the same as it ever was. Man and war are inseparable. As irrational as the terrorists are, it's also irrational for me to expect a peaceful and rational world. I read recently a famous quote: “History is an abattoir.” A slaughterhouse.

And so while keen is my frustration at having an enemy so unmerited as that of radical jihadists, I have to recognize that to every generation enemies are given. They are a given. The Devil exists and hatred seems the default setting for many people. So I should not think I am so special that I don't deserve enemies. Only one man didn't deserve enemies and we see where that got him: crucified.

November 20, 2015

Seven Quickies (as made popular by Jennifer Fulwiler)


Proof positive that I'm utterly and hopelessly out of the mainstream:

1) I couldn't believe America could be shallow enough to elect someone with as invisible a resume as Obama as president in '08

...and

2) I wouldn't/couldn't/can't believe Trump is seeing.

My barber Barb feels similarly. I mentioned that Trump was coming to Columbus on Monday and she laughed at his name, which I thought telling. You can't but smile when you hear his name, it's like a punchline. She said she can't believe people are taking him seriously given his lack of impulse control when it comes to his mouth. No filter. I agreed, saying I can't believe some people want to give him the nuclear codes.

The black shoeshine man there chipped in some “colorful” news "facts". The killing in France was retaliation for a French bombing in Egypt that had clipped the nose off one of the Pyramids.  Bush knew the planes were headed for World Trade Center but didn't want to shoot commercial planes down. What's the fuss about Planned Parenthood making money off baby parts was because you'd be surprised at how many of our foods (like Heinz) use baby parts in their recipes.

You can't argue with insanity so I said, “man, I ain't eatin' no babies!”, said like “I ain't afraid of no ghosts!” in Ghostbusters. Barb immediately got my reference from the tone of voice, the way I said it.

There's low info voters and there's bad info voters.  For this country I can only weep. The show's over, we can all go home.

When Barb said Obama wasn't any worse than any other recent presidents I said I couldn't support any president whom the Little Sisters of the Poor are suing. Scooped them all on that story. Figured it didn't make the national news enough to filter down to average Jane.

*

I am blown away by how good a writer is Edmund Morris. His pen is pyrotechnic, his talent prodigious. His Teddy Roosevelt biography was legendary enough such that Ronald Reagan chose him as his official biographer. The result, Dutch, was panned at the time of publication for its creative license and fictional additions, and rightly so perhaps, but Morris sure is winning me over with the entertainment value (I sound like a Trump voter!)  Maybe as I age I'm more interested in truth than facts and sometimes facts don't give you the real truth, and sometimes the truth can't be reduced to mere facts.

My interest in Reagan has recently been on the ascendant given how I've begun to internalize the fact that I will likely never see his like again. He may be “my president”, the one great one every generation (century) is allotted. Trump, Obama, Shrillary - they all make me go back, nostalgically perhaps, to that morning in America, and I have a new understanding of just how rare it is to have the stars and the man and the time align.

Just as I was spoiled as a child with Reds baseball success (they went to the World Series when I was 7, 9, 12, and 13), I was spoiled with the first president I ever had the opportunity to vote for, Ronald Reagan. Since then I've voted many times with middling success; I count Kasich as Ohio congressman in the '90s and as governor in '10 as particularly satisfying, and Pat Buchanan in '96 felt really good. But other than those the well has been pretty dry. Now most of my votes are as unenthusiastic as they are dubious: Bush in '04, McCain in '08, Romney in '12.

I rewarded Bush in '04 despite his incompetency in Iraq. I voted for McCain despite his obsession with foreign policy and hawkishness. And I voted for Romney despite the fact that he flip-flopped more often than a pancake at iHop.

I felt a brief flair of enthusiasm for Palin when she was tapped as McCain's running mate until she self-destructed in a painful but glorious fireworks display. I had to learn the hard way not to put my trust in Republicans. (Democrats, I already had down pat.)

No matter. They can't take the Reds championships away, nor the triumphs of Reagan. It's all good, as the kids say.

*

A segue to something much more edifying.  Great point from Pope Benedict from one of his books on Jesus:
"We should not suppose for a moment that the “Lord’s Supper” ever consisted simply of reciting the words of consecration. From the time of Jesus himself, these words have always been a part of his berakah, his prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
For what was Jesus giving thanks? That his prayer was “heard” (cf. Heb 5:7). He gave thanks in advance that the Father did not abandon him in death (cf. Ps 16:10). He gave thanks for the gift of the Resurrection, and on that basis he could already give his body and blood in the form of bread and wine as a pledge of resurrection and eternal life (cf. Jn 6:53–58)."

*

Interesting FB comment from Fred K:
"De Lubac's book Catholicism blew my mind when I read it. Sadly, nobody else brings out the deep, Patristic connection between the social teaching of the Church and the sacramental mystery like he does. Everybody else wants to take the mystical for granted and move on to ethics only."
Yes, that's so true. You can't get to the ethics before you get to the love. The love has to come first.  You'll never get to love via rules (witness the Pharisees) but you can get to rules with love (witness the saints). Although of course the Ten Commandments did precede Christ, the Old Law preceding the New Law, but I've always chalked that up to man's slow discovery rather than to God's design. I could be wrong.

*

In-laws Thanksgiving the other day. About which I had misgivings. Trying to celebrate a holiday on another day just doesn't work. It feels forced and there's no spirit, no reminders or associations to it. No Detroit Lions on TV, no TV/radio/newspaper exclamatories that put you in the holiday mood. Nothing at all to suggest an ordinary Sunday like the15th is “Thanksgiving”.  But a family gathering is its own reward.

*

Read part of Ted Koppel's book on the next big terrorist event: the bringing down of the electrical grids.  It's not if it's when, and coming from such an eminently respected source (i.e. not an Apocalyptic prepper), it's doubly scary.  The more I read about it, the more I think of how little we can do to prepare as individuals.  At the very least I should buy more bottled water, more food for home storage, a generator.  But all of that will be pitifully inadequate if cyber-terrorists send us back to the mid-19th century, as they could do.  It's a situation where money can't insulate you.  A good reminder of how dependent we really are. What I especially hate is how it'll likely happen when I'm in my golden years, which is when I can least take something of that magnitude happening like that. But then I won't be alone and even youth can't protect you when there's no water (due to our water supply being dependent on electricity) or food.  It makes me wonder why government isn't more concerned about it given that even self-interested congress members won't be immune from the chaos, one would think.

So that wasn't exactly cheery.  A gratitude to make up for it:
"Here ends another day, during which I have had eyes, ears, hands and the great world around me.  Tomorrow begins another day.  Why am I allowed two?" - Chesterton
*

Chapter 13 of the book of Wisdom reads like it was written for today.  Really speaks to the modern.  Perhaps it's fitting that a Biblical book that appreciates beauty finds a home in only the Orthodox and Catholic Bibles given Ortho & Cath emphasis on beauty.

The book was heavily influenced by the Hellenic spirit. From a commentary:
"Wonder or amazement normally forms the basis for attaining wisdom, since it leads to questions and analysis of experience. This experience should lead one to work “by analogy,” that is, by comparisons, to reach the beautiful and powerful Creator (v. 5). Note that the emphasis on beauty is not strictly a Hebrew interest but more Greek."
*

I can count on one finger the number of times I've seen interesting art in a corporate office, so I was transfixed enough to steal into one office when the new owner was gone.  I even took pictures.  There was a sketch of Abraham Lincoln with some scene at bottom, a vibrant and colorful Kandinsky print, and a 1800s-era depiction of the steamship *Lexington* burning, one of Cornelius Vanderbilt's.   (It burnt due to bad ship design, which I suppose might be the moral of that one - design and plan well O company less you burn and sink!)

*

Many holy Catholics find Pope Francis borderline heretical but I'm forever in his debt for his encyclical on climate change. It really lit up my mind, expanded it, gave me a stronger belief in the goodness of matter (since it was created by God).  It made me 50% less Gnostic by volume. For those on the Left with an open mind I can't believe it wouldn't touch them evangelistically.  On paper it seems a master stroke - affirm what the non-believers affirm (the importance of Mother Earth) by pointing to the Creator and Father God.

I've slowly experienced a revolution in my thinking on nature and matter.  First there was that glimmering paragraph in a book by Mark Judge about swimming in the ocean and the sheer goodness of it all. Then came our beloved dog Obi's death and I struggled hard to try to reconcile why God would create something only to destroy it, and then came the climate change encyclical.  They have all taught me to take more seriously God's care and concern over not just our Spirit but our bodies, and environment, and animals, etc.. And I've begun to see that we're not spirits trapped in bodies, but fused body and souls, not originally intended to be separated and only temporarily so.

Psalm 24:7 opened my eyes as well when I thought of the doors opening to God were my own, my own flesh made of God's ancient matter.  I always think how it takes a saint to empty bedpans, to be so comfortable with the muck and mire of bodily fluids.  But if I have a truly enlightened view of matter perhaps I wouldn't be so put off by those things that are part of being human and are God's ex nihilo creation if in a somewhat disguised form, to put it mildly.  

*

From a Lenape Indian in the 18th century to a white man: "My friend, it seems you lay claim to the grass my horses have eaten, because you had enclosed it with a fence.  Now tell me, who caused the grass to grow? Can you make the grass grow?"  Very Pope Francis-ish.

*

Genealogy research came about by yesterday having received a requested copy of a great aunt's SSN application.  Finally the elusive daughter of my elusive great-grandfather has been pinned down, if only for a brief moment in time:  4/1/1941. Address 248 Broome St. -- right in the heart of the Lower East Side.  Manhattan in all its fullness. She was dirt poor, as were all of they were in that area, but what an amazing experience to live in a place where the whole world was present.  Recent immigrants from so many countries, all living cheek by jowl in the capital of the world.

In Praise of Java

In the beginning was the bean.
And it was good.

Crushed, it gave life to those who would
drink the Fragrant born of Yemen
herited to Brazilian highlands.

Morning mate and evening sate,
it clears the mudwebs of the spunwebs
it uncoils the recoils of our fogginess.

Oh bitter Arabica, you light up my brain
like '80s Donkey Kong.

If you came in a bottle everyone would drink you.

November 12, 2015

Rome Burns, Congress Fiddles

Fresh from this scary read from "prepper-in-training" Ted Koppel, I see an email from my Congress representative:
The leaves are falling and the weather is becoming colder, which means winter is quickly approaching. As the seasons begin to change, I’m asking you to send my office your digital photos of your favorite sights and memories from this Fall so we can highlight and showcase Ohio’s 15th Congressional District!
 Oy vey.

November 11, 2015

Health Care Costs Higher than Inflation (Again)

Gosh, what in the world would we have done without savior Obama? 

November 10, 2015

Retreat Notes

Into each life a little retreat doth fall, so I went to one at St. Therese's Retreat Center in Columbus.  (Here, not here!)  By 5pm I'm comfortably ensconced on a couch that overlooks the natural scenery of the open window bank, namely this one:


This structure was built in 1931 with splendid light availability; now the downtown Columbus Library is spending about 30 million dollars to have a similar space, an atrium with plentiful natural light.

The great Fr. John C. is holding forth on the virtue of love in this conference and the good padre just walked by my “private aerie”:
“Hello Father!” I say.
“Hi!”
“I'm making myself comfortable.” (I was laying crossways on the couch, my feet resting on the armrest.)
“Good, that's what we're here for!” 
Meaning the retreat, not life itself I'm guessing.

*

In his first homily on spiritual prudence  Fr Corbin spoke about how...
...it's no wonder there's so much confusion around religion. We often aren't prudent concerning the things we can see, let alone that which we cannot. Which is why we need to pray to ask to be given light.  An example of spiritual imprudence was the mean nun in Song of Bernadette film who, due to her strenuous fasting schedule, felt a more worthy recipient of the apparitions at Lourdes.

Mentioned the confusion of the bishops at the Synod as illustrative of the difficulty around spiritual prudence.  Little things matter hugely in the Kingdom of God: Imagine a child being cuffed by police at the Louvre. “Oh, what could he have possbily done so bad?” you ask. "He drew a mustache on the Mona Lisa!."  “Oh yes, now I understand!”

Little things matter a lot in the case of a masterpiece. If the child had drawn a mustache on wallpaper of your house, you might smile or not much care.   So, are we old wallpaper or God's masterpieces?  We see ourselves as wallpaper, but God sees us a masterpiece and takes little things seriously.

The synod on marriage is an example in that the Bible points to marriage as a symbol of Christ's love for his people. A masterpiece. We may see it as no different than a strong friendship, and you don't vow to stay friends with someone forever. In the eyes of the world, marriage makes no sense. Divorce tarnishes the image of the love of God for his people. The boy ruining the Mona Lisa ruined it for others. Similarly the divorce culture to those with eyes of faith.

*

There are two main false notions of love: to try to remove emotion from it,  or to try to remove the intellect from it.  But we are both emotion and intellect, God made us this way.

To over-intellectualize love is what Communism tried to do.  Stalin instituted reforms that suppressed natural affection (such as for one's land) for the common good. You have to turn in your spouse if they undermine the system. The greatest good for the greatest number of people was the rule, without regard to personal emotion you might feel for your land or your spouse.  To make our love entirely intellectual results in the French Revolution and the Stalin regime.

The other error is less dangerous but much more common these days. It's less prone to being systematized. It's an oversentimentality that reduces love to mush, to merely an emotion.  An example is “pet parents”, by the fetishing of animals.  Example being a lady who called in on a vet show asking what to do about her dog making a friend of a neighbor's dog and they're moving.  Should she make doggie visits to Germany?   "Mushiness" collapses the difference between human and animal.

*

Our mind and body are fused, which is why environments matter. The Word became flesh - the Word didn't put on a cloak of flesh. Emotions are more than just physiological, they are elevated by mind.  This is why beautiful churches matter.  Stained glass windows aid our emotional bond with God.

[Regarding the importance of environments, I asked him why Europe is so weak in faith given so many beautiful cathedrals and he said because aesthetics is not a replacement for faith. In the Middle Ages the people saw the soaring towers and stained glass beauty and saw God, while moderns maybe see technical genius, great artistic technique, or a nostalgia for the faith of old, etc.. He said some do come to faith via going into a cathedral and being wowed, but it doesn't happen too often.]

We need passion to get us going. Passion moves us, otherwise we'd never get out of bed. Mind and body linked which is why we act to avoid evil or to gain good. If mind and body weren't linked we wouldn't move out of a burning bedroom; we'd note the burning with our mind with detachment.

We all love, because we all move, and love is the basis for all action. We move out of the burning building because we love ourselves. So the trick is, as St. Augustine said, to love rightly so that we'll act rightly.

Even though we are rational beings, we can't will love, or force it. There needs to have something trigger it.  Good is what turns the will on. You have to see something good in something or someone in order to love them. There's no such thing as pure will power. When someone doesn't do something they say they want to do, Fr C tells them that they simply don't see enough good in the action.  If I don't eat well, it's because I don't see enough good in eating well.

Love draws you out of your comfort zone, which is why people do foolish or awkward things when in love. You find yourself in awkward situations. Goodness is the lure, the trap, that God uses to get us out of ourselves.   God got "out of Himself" by creating in the first place, and by becoming man in Christ.

*

Ecstasy means literally going outside one's self, one's body. We do this when we sacrifice for someone, and when we physically die, when our spirit literally leaves our body.

God's ecstasy was via creating and by going outside himself by coming to earth in the incarnation.

Fr. C says he sometimes gets harsh criticism from homilies that he considers innocuous. A recent one that drew fire was when he said, “God treats us as friends, not pets.” People were outraged, as if he were demeaning pets: “My dog is my friend too!”

Aristotle mentions three kinds of friendship: pleasure (i..e. sharing a love for stamp collecting), useful (politics and business - a means to an end), and virtuous. The last is wanting someone to have good things - not a zero sum game. Example is how you wish for someone else a greater knowledge of God because that's what you want for yourself as well. And you both share the fruits of your respective knowledge.

             

*

Overheard a guy call his wife during retreat:
“Well, I haven't pissed anybody off yet, and no one's pissed me off.”
A kind of small bar to hurdle, one would think.

*

A thought that occurred to me last week while bearing a tiny gripe: "Cross, meet carry. Carry, meet cross. Let no man put asunder what God has joined."

*

Heard an older gent talking about his time choppering in Vietnam, of differing ration amounts, of temperature variances (130 degrees on ground, nice and cool in the chopper), of the fact they had a px and his wife sent him tons of stuff including better flak jacket. Probably 65-67 years old now - hard to believe that a war in my lifetime has participants nearing 70.

November 05, 2015

Recent Gospel Readings at Mass

You could get whiplash reading Luke 14:25 through the early verses of Luke 15.

Jesus appears to go from the ultimate “Church conservative” to the ultimate “Church liberal” in a single breath (chapters being a later addition).

But the mark of a true Christian is surely one who is willing to take correction, not just inspiration: “We must allow the Word of God to correct us the same way we allow it to encourage us,” said A.W. Tozer.

One commentary comments accordingly:
In view of the stern teaching on renunciation just recorded it is a remarkable contrast to find the publicans and sinners drawing near to Jesus to hear him; a clear proof that he could speak with such apparent severity without ceasing to show himself the kind and loving person Luke has presented to us in his earlier chapters.
Now that's impressive and not easily done. Maybe we get an inkling in Pope Francis who is mostly beloved to the outside world despite a mix of very tough talk and very tender talk. Admittedly, the tough talk is mostly music to the current Zeitgeist (i.e. environment, poverty, etc..).

Another point made elsewhere:
The two parables that follow, 28–33, proper to Luke, are meant to illustrate this lesson: count the cost before undertaking the duties of discipleship. They also contain the following implied contrast: in worldly affairs, like building and going to war, money and goods are essential to success; the opposite is true in the great affair of the world to come. 

The Struggle of a Prayer of Petition

The first U.S. president I diligently prayed for was George W Bush which makes me feel, er, ineffective at best and a counter-indicator at worse. (I was inspired, by the way, in this endeavor by reading how Fr. John McCloskey was doing the same.)

The Bush presidency seems a disaster, especially with regard to Iraq, which cost so many lives and casualties, destabilized the Middle East, decimated the Christian presence there and ultimately gave us Obama. Hard to have faith in prayer for a leader after that, even when the leader himself is a serious Christian.  Of course the answer is that a president has free will, like all of us.

My prayer might be tiny, like trying to push a boulder with a pinkie, but I picture it as a tug of war where one extra hand can tip the balance. Or like voting, where a single vote is pitifully, almost infinitely weak, except when it isn't. I still should vote and I still should pray.

November 03, 2015

The Unbearable Beauty of a Beach Vacation











Notes from a Trip (or It's a Dog's Life)

The broad Atlantic
blustery and gruff of mien
The sea has her moods. 

(As do dogs.)

On an atmospheric fall morning we saw four or five dolphins playing in the ocean but the reverie was broken since there's no such thing as an uneventful dog walk down here.  Took them on a spur-of-the-moment beach "stroll',  Stroll being a euphemism for a chaotic cattle drive.

Two dogs under two = a challenge. Or two challenges. They took turns challenging us (and mostly winning).  Max got loose this morning thanks to me not putting the leash over both loops of the breakable collar, so he, natch, broke loose.  We found him relatively quickly.  Later Maris broke loose when she wheeled backward while Steph was trying to get her to do walky dog on bikes, and that took some retrieval effort.

Another misadventure had been taking them on a run down the beach before that;  Max began eating the leash while I ran, and I thought he wouldn't make too much dent in it but I awesomely misunderestimated his teeth power.  He ended up going through almost half the leash in the first five minutes. So I had to run by holding him above the fray mark, leaving him just about six inches of leash.  He didn't have room to turn his head and chew his leash that way, but it did affect the run adversely since I couldn't run fully upright.  I was thinking: "gee, imagine how nice this would be if I wasn't running with a dog."

Another misadventure was taking them to the beach just after 4pm. It seemed like a good idea on paper: let them romp in the sea using long leashes and have them expend energy.  I ended up doing the romping in the sea, cajoling them to come in, but they were more interested in playing together or separately on land.  Or going intercontinental ballistic every time a dog passed by, which was early and often.

After the ocean play attempts, we tied them up to the beach marker sign but Steph decided after a minute that the leash was too long and they'll get stickers in the brush just beyond shore.  So we shorten the leashes and I'd just sat down for the first time all afternoon when Max immediately decides to try to dig up a crab in the sand, and he made remarkable progress in a very short time, putting sand all over me, my chair, my drink, you name it.  I moved my chair out of the line of fire quickly, but then he moved his angle and I got more sand.  (Later I took photos of the Max hole to China to commemorate it.)

At that point we mercifully cut our losses and trooped them all the way back to the condo and their crates.  Then we headed back to our beach spot and immediately moved due to tide coming in.  Steph spilled her beer in the wagon during this maneuver, which was an appropriate enough symbol of the past couple hours.

The words of my boss Philip haunt: "Two puppies doesn't sound like a vacation to me."  But, on the bright side, it's early. Relaxation wasn't built in a day.

Taking a walk with a dog on the beach is no walk in the park, metaphorically speaking. It's of a different quality. For one thing, everybody you see wants to pet them and talk dogs, so it's much more of a social thing. Also you have to be conscious of the dog at all times as far as leash-straining or tangling or what have you.

*

At Sunday Mass, the deacon shamed those people leaving early by saying about six times sarcastically and loudly, "Thanks for staying to the end of Mass!  Thank you so much!" The people leaving did not look around, either pretending not to hear or not hearing due to sudden-onset deafness. I noticed nobody reversing course and coming back to their seats.

The deacon then handed the mic over to a lady who announced names of about a dozen kids who won some sort of award at the local Catholic schools, had them come up and receive them, so Mass continued for another ten minutes or so past the end of Communion.  If you're going to leave early this seemed the week to do it.

*

"Liquor's quicker" goes the saying, and poetry is too, quicker to the transcendent. So I read, on I read, the Keillor *Good Poems* anthology. Direct mainline to the brainstem.

Who doesn't fancy themselves a poet when on the shore? I play the part, a library in view to passersby with me busily transcribing something of surely great import.  Looking at the sea and life and books with a shrewd eye born of a proper education and proper martinis. Surely I could be mistaken for a writer: late middle-aged, at the sea in October (the poetic season), reading, writing, and listening to the arithmetic of the sea.  By myself, which is the only way a writer can be.  Call the epic: "The middle-aged man and the sea."  With apologies to Hemingway.

Two retired couples in their 60s, stand a mere ten feet away on a beach that is nearly empty. They burst my bubble of imagined depth. They look out at the ocean like extras in a life insurance or brokerage commercial.

At the tender hour of 6:40, the sun retires after a lackluster effort. There's always tomorrow I tell it.

I now have the unenviable task of trying to cart a wagon on a non-existent beach back to our place.  It could be interesting. I can either go over the foothills and sea oats of land, or through the gusts of ocean that pour ceaselessly forth. I'm thinking the latter.  The sand route could be difficult due to the wagon sinking its wheels in the drenched sand/water.  The overland route could be difficult due to the stickers and rough surface. (I ended up going overland, on the lip-cliff of land, with precarious near tumbles into the water.)

WED:

Sweet bliss, the sun reappeared today at 10am after a long fight with darkness and gloom.

Just now I've set up camp in a sand crevice at the mouth of the walkway to the beach. Not a bad spot at all - the sea has come to me, just a foot below and beyond, and I can breathe in the rich, tang-salt air.

Today and yesterday has featured something called a "king tide", which is, as the name implies the tide of all tides. It slipped over the marina wall in Harbor Town, and some residents have said it's the highest they've seen in over three decades. Apparently it occurs when the moon is in the Seventh House and Jupiter aligns with Mars...., er, no that's the age of Aquarius. Actually it's when there's a full moon and a perigee of some sort simultaneously, but then I'm lame at science.

There's nobody walking the beach today because there is no beach. It's all sea, a crazy sight. Although the tide is slowly moving out so a beach is being created.

*

Tensions arose when Steph could't find one of Max's hundred collars and I was too obtuse to understand which one; we have so many collars and leashes that it's hard to communicate which one was missing. A partial list of dog paraphernalia (times two dogs):

1. running halter
2. regular halter
3. walky dog bar leash for bike
4. slip leash
5. chain metal leash
6. running belt
7. retractable leash
8. breakaway collar
9. slip-on can't-back-out-of collar
10. collar collar (i.e. non-breakaway) - probably no longer in use due to it being dangerous in multi-dog homes

Somewhere Thoreau is weeping.

To further complicate things, to take a dog for a walk we need two collars on him or her, a breakaway collar (that has the GPS device and nametag and number to reach if lost) and the slip-on can't-back-out-of-it collar since they can maneuver out of the main collar. It's gotten so complicated that I try to keep a low profile during the major prep work that involves a dog walk. So many leashes and collars to choose from. I play dumb, which certainly isn't a stretch in many situations.

*

Today read some of a Hilton Head book, a collection of stories and anecdotes from would-be local writers. One lady said that the book of Isaiah is her favorite book of the Bible, and I thought about how there are things in that book that I certainly love. I can see the attraction. But it also reminded me of how the Old Testament is still much unfamiliar to me except for Genesis, Exodus, the Psalms and Job. I think with greater Biblical literacy you're more able to find a book that you wildly identify with, besides just the old dependable chestnuts of, say, the gospels.

An offering from the same book came this nugget:   "I regret I only stopped to admire a black-faced fox squirrel, slighting the common grey ones, as if numbers could diminish the stars."

Therein lies the secret to life, perhaps. To see God even in the common.

THURSDAY:

Morning has broken and what a morning indeed. Sunny and mild right off the start. Too much politics and sports last night and this morning - need the refreshment of lyrical prose. I'm sometimes my own worst enemy.

Big fail today with dog Maris. We decided to head back to the condo and take the dogs on a bike ride via the short leash that hooks to the bike. I took Maris despite Steph's misgivings: Maris is harder to control and slightly terrified of the bike and Steph wasn't sure I would be gentle or patient enough. Maris hated bikes from the get-go, from like a month after we first got her. Steph's plan was to walk the bike next to Maris over the course of millennia and then gradually ride the bike with Maris on a leash, and then eventually put her on the Walky Dog connector to the bike. I just skipped ahead to the last step and Maris was, predictably, terrified. She tried to run as far from the bike as possible, making her lean-away stride look like she was trying to avoid running off a cliff. But the worst was yet to come: When I quickly gave up the ghost, I set the bike down briefly to retrieve another leash and she began trying to run away from a bike that had become a whirling dervish, the whole bike doing 360s due to her puppy power. This made her crazier, of course, and it felt like the longest 30 seconds in the histories of dogs. I then took Max alone on a nice ride (he had no fear) while Steph tried to calm Maris with a walk to the water. Oy.

FRIDAY

Saw odd-shaped orange bucket of a sun on the rise today. Just over the horizon it looked more trapezoidal than circular.

Well it's uncanny how unready I am when the morning comes and Steph announces it's time to exercise the dogs. We typically get more exercise than them, or at least a lot more stress, due to unpreparedness.

We decided to take a beach walk and got a half-mile down the shore when they both pooped. We'd taken the long lines, so I trooped back to get the retractable leashes, which has the doggie bags. I was already ready for it to be over by the time I got back with the bags, given the constant distractions of people and other dogs, so I took Max on a bike ride all the way to Hilton Head Academy via the bike path. But first I had to deal with the insurmountable obstacle of trying to put on his halter, with him shying away all the while. I hate that halter every fibre of my being given how it's nearly impossible to figure out how it goes on.

Needless to say, the lack of halter came back to haunt. Max got loose just after we crossed South Forest Beach, at the very end of the ride. He started sprinting around, knowing he was loose, with me yelling "Treat!" and "Good boy!", the latter as sort of a pay forward compliment. Thank God he went right up to our door, probably due to being thirsty as much as anything else. He drank a bunch and I treated him, feeling very grateful if stressed.  Beer me!