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.

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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)
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 “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

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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.

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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.

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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!