August 14, 2017

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Metanoia

The older I get the more I realize is that the whole nature of Christianity is to constantly start over (and, ideally, to be cheerful about it). The Resurrection and Pentecost were new starts, just as Abraham, Noah, and Moses before Jesus represented new starts. The first word of the first homilies of John the Baptist and Jesus was "metanoia", which means "turn around", as in "start over, you're going the wrong way."

This gets driven home not only in the necessity of starting afresh after Confession but also with the transmission of basic truths about Jesus. The blood, sweat, prayers and study of so many before us are accounted little; the very nature of religious education is to relearn what previous generations knew. History shows the need to reinvent the wheel never diminishes. No wonder in 2 Peter the sacred author writes, "I will always remind you of these things, even though you already know them and are established in the truth you have.". There's no resting on the laurels of truth given the assaults of the evil one and human lack of faith.

It can seem discouraging that whole continents (like Europe) will need to metanoia and start over - but much, much less so when one realizes it happens on a micro scale in us and that's the way it's always been. Fortunately God is patient, and if he can put up with our constant need to re-learn and turn around than we can't be impatient with the same. I admire the cheerfulness of St. Ignatius of Loyola whose feast day was not long ago. From a meditation on his life:
"Soon after their foundation the Jesuits began to meet the challenge of the Reformation: a tough task, given the debilitated state into which the Church had fallen, but one which, as Ignatius said, had to be undertaken 'without hard words or contempt for people’s errors'."

August 13, 2017

The Natural 

Tye First Reading at Mass this weekend was the famous story of Elijah finding God not in the wind or fire or storm but the whispering voice

I've long interpreted it, rightly or wrongly, as saying that God prefers not to draw undue attention to himself by the gaudy means of miracles.  

It's a very '70s thing to minimize miracles, like how Jesus feeding the five thousand was said to be not a true miracle but simply people sharing what they had in their cloak (man, they came prepared! Like early preppers!) 

This is the sense of the meaning in the Didache Study Bible notes:

"It was a sign of things to come in which God's Word and inspiration would largely come through less spectacular means and eventually through Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God made flesh."

Our pastor mentioned this is his favorite passage of the Old Testament; it's never been mine simply because I've read it as a buzzkill, an pseudo-announcement of the limiting of the supernatural. "But Momma, that's where the fun is" to quote Springsteen. Or so I thought, having a too transcendent view of God. 

It sometimes seems the hardest part of Christianity is accepting God's use of the unspectacular "natural" means to effect his will. (Of course God whispering, as he does in this pasage, is itself a miracle.)  But even flashy miracles, like the Eucharist, are effected via the natural means of a priest and bread and wine.

There are other interpretations. From Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture:

"[God's] presence was felt only in the quiet of a gentle breeze, because his being is peace, his attributes wise counsel and calm constancy. As the zephyr contrasts with the hurricane, so the peaceful manifestation with the tempestuous zeal of Elias."

From St. Ephrem:

"This was the purpose of such a revelation: the Lord wanted to instruct the prophet through various figures in order to correct his excessive zeal and to lead him to imitate, according to righteousness, the providence of the most High who regulates the judgments of his justice through the abundant mercy of his grace

From Harpers bible commentary:

"Many scholars interpret this account as a deliberate rejection of the storm theophany in Yahwism because of its special associations with the Canaanite rain god Baal. The rejection comes at a time when Israel is divided between the worship of Baal and Yahweh, and the danger of syncretism is great. It is clear, in any case, that according to the prophetic point of view from which the Elijah story is told, this incident represents a transition from the spectacular theophanies witnessed by early Israel to the quiet transmission of the divine word to the prophets."

Catholic study bible:

"Though various phenomena, such as wind, storms, earthquakes, fire, accompany the divine presence, they do not constitute the presence itself which, like the “silent sound,” is mysterious and ultimately ungraspable."

Matthew Henry:

"The wind, and earthquake, and fire, did not make him cover his face, but the still voice did. Gracious souls are more affected by the tender mercies of the Lord, than by his terrors. The mild voice of Him who speaks from the cross, or the mercy-seat, is accompanied with peculiar power in taking possession of the heart."

August 10, 2017

Trip ye Log.

Certainly the raison d'être of blogs is to post self-indulgent trip logs, the modern equivalent to European vacation slides, so without further ado....

Sunday:   Headed out via Philadelphia enroute to the oddly named Newport News, Virginia. Not a newspaper but a town. Checked in the hotel at Williamsburg and the beautiful weather urged us out immediately - but to where exactly? I wasn't particularly picky, but turns out I should've been since we were walking on the road to Jamestown, not Colonial Williamsburg. My Williamsburg app proved less than helpful but eventually we turned around and headed back to the hotel (aka the wordy "Williamsburg Autograph Collection Lodge") and then got on the right route.

We were burning time, and the Jefferson-Wythe lecture began at 3 far edge of the "colony" from where we'd be entering. So I jogged back, got the car, picked up Mom & Dad and then got close to Charlton stage area. I got out while Mom & Dad took the car to look for beer and snacks. A good call on their part as Colonial Williamsburg, though open in general to walkers (and this was a walkers' paradise) didn't have lectures or re-enactments available to people like me who were unticketed. So I was completely taken aback when I walked by a girl in period piece who saw me go towards the stage and said I needed a ticket. I asked where could I get a ticket and she pointed vaguely and said it was at some shop I'd never heard of, having just arrived. I realized by the time I got a ticket I would miss half the show, and only have another hour before everything started closing. So I went undercover - I removed my sunglasses, donned a green shirt I'd had in case the a/c (in what I assumed was an auditorium) was freezing. Thus "concealed", I slipped in the back Jack, finding a white gate open just a sliver. In a few minutes I was enjoying the repartee of Jefferson and Wythe!

It was a bit preachy at times but I did appreciate how Jefferson and Wythe emphasized the valuing of diversity of opinion. In a telling example, Wythe mentioned he had a teacher who was asked how effective could he have been given the diversity of opinion of his graduates. The teacher replied, "You could pay me no greater compliment. I educated my students and did not indoctrinate them. I taught them to think for themselves and thus the variety of opinion.". Certainly modern universities could do well to emulate him.

Later Jefferson was asked about his owning slaves: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever."

Impressively, Dad texted me in no time that he had already scored beer and was back at the Lodge, which seemed pretty good given we were in an unpromising venue for supermarkets (a colonial theme park) and getting back to home base certainly wasn't a given. But with the nearly irreplaceable help of the Google navigator they were enjoying happy hour well before me.

After the talk I headed out for a mile or two walk along the sun-graced avenue, past many a well-kept English garden. I grow my tomatoes for their function (their fruit) rather than aesthetics and thus they grow amid grass and nature run somewhat amuck, but I can see it would be nice to sometime again plow the earth and weed the garden and have that fond look of order, of fecund tomato plants against the rich dark earth.

Shops were open to the non-ticketed, of course, so I found my way into one that offered a selection of Williamsburg-themed beers and bought a six of the disparate choices. I carried the beer while walking wide lanes with the pleasant scent of horse apples pervading the air.  Happened across the William & Mary bookstore and headed in briefly because I love the smell of bookprint in the morning...or evening.

They have horses and buggies with period-clothed drivers and when I saw the driver using a cellphone to take a picture of the family participating, I snapped a picture. Talk about him breaking out of character.


From another passing carriage the in-character driver loudly exclaimed to two elderly couples on the main thoroughfare: "Gentlemen, it is so nice of you to escort your lovely daughters on a stroll," to which one of them said, "The check is in the mail!"

We had dinner at the restaurant downstairs, "Sweet Tea and Barley", and ate outside. The (apparently foreign-born) waiter humorously brought Dad and me glasses of ice for our beer. Iced beer. I relocated the ice to under the table, it being outdoors and all and ice is environmentally friendly.

MONDAY: 

So today's plan was aggressive: start with an early breakfast and then spend the day in the past. ("Welcome to the past," as we heard before the Cry Witch production.)

Early breakfast meant really early - 7:30am. We're in the army now. Boot camp, up and at 'em. We enjoyed the delicious and sumptuous breakfast at Traditions restaurant downstairs.

Then I headed out but missed the 10 minute orientation at Market square. Come 11am I met Mom & Dad at the Charlton Stage, scene of my yesterday criminal trespass (I took a commemorative photo today of the slightly unlatched gate through which I made my illicit entry).

We listened to "A Difference of Opinion with J. Madison, G. Mason and young T. Jefferson". An interesting discussion around the role of religion in the colonies and whether to allow freedom of religion and not have the Church of England as the established church in Virginia. They eventually talked Mason into compromising, by giving religious freedom a "half a loaf". Mason argued that you can't in the name of banishing a tyranny enact a tyranny by forcing religious freedom from a populace that wants an established church.

Afterward we got a picture with the three well-dressed statesmen. I was careful to ask for a "portrait" and not a picture or selfie, those terms meaningless to Mr. Jefferson.

From noon till 3 we then wandered around the colony, scoring a tour of the Capitol building where Peyton Randolph held sway in the lower chamber (he briefly owned a house on the property where we are now staying, Tazewell Hall of the Williamsburg Lodge). The capitol was not extant unfortunately - it was reconstructed as well as they could ascertain from records and paintings. Only the foundation of Virginia's capitol - which moved to Richmond in 1781 - remained but it was still neat to think of all the luminaries who had trod this land (Washington, Jefferson, Mason, Patrick Henry, etc..). The chamber looked like it could easily fit in England given the monarch paintings and British seal. Mom and Dad ascended to the governor's chair in the upper house where felony trials were held, such as the later "Cry Witch" re-enactment that we would later see.

Next we happened across an agreeable tour of the Wetherburn Tavern, a fine house that is pretty much original from 1740. It was amazing to see the yellow pine floorboards in such good shape after some 275 years. We saw the prosperous owner's great room (added 1751), varied guest lodgings, dining rooms and such. Hogwarts illustrations that depicted the aristocracy in crude ways were placed high on the ceilings, as was the style of... the aristocracy.

I took off then to get the tickets for Cry Witch and tomorrow's ghost walk at the Visitor Center, which turned out to be way off the 18th-century beaten path. I followed a winding road over bridges and past fields and streams until finally at the counter trying to get tickets while the lady had a heckuva time finding them on her computer system. Or perhaps she wasn't using a computer but an nonfunctioning 18th century technological equivalent.

Nevertheless, the walk was pleasant given the great weather (one local said, "Are you enjoying this cool Virginia weather?"). It was in the 80s and sunny, but low humidity. It's like we got Arizona in Virginia.

I met Mom & Dad at the Governor's Palace Stage for "My Story, My Voice", in which we witnessed an 18th century fellow argue with his teenage son over the scandal of the father's bigamy in taking an Indian wife while in the wilds beyond the frontier in the Carolinas. Only via mixing the races, he argued, will we have peace. Same today as it ever was. The actor then went out-of-character and talked a little about himself, how he used to do re-enactments at the Cherokee museum near the Great Smokies. I asked how common this taking an extra Indian wife was in those times but he said we have no way of knowing since no records were kept (only valid marriages are recorded).

Afterward I briefly hit the art museum and saw a selection of many objects recovered from the early settlement at the Wetherburn Tavern - including scissors, plate fragments, nails and forks, all squirreled away in rats' nests over the centuries: "The objects found in the nest from the Tavern were collected by the rats over approximately 127 years, representing 85 generations of rats.". As rats only live 18 months in the wild, making for quite a few generations.

Also kind of interesting to see a fingerprint impression left on an old brick that was "so detailed that, if made today and run through a fingerprint data base, it could identify the person who made it."

Next up, hotel shuffle to Cry Witch, an 17th century trial reenactment. We weren't on the jury but got to decide anyhow. Like my hero, the late Justice Scalia, I was set to rule not on the logic or illogic of the law, but the application of it.

I admit to wavering in my strict application when the defendant was attempting to say the "Our Father" (said to be proof you can't say it if you're a witch) even though the prosecutor argued it wasn't admissible. Had she made it through I probably would've voted "not guilty". But she stumbled over the prayer and fainted half-way through it.

After the actual 1699 case, Grace Sherwood lived another 30+ years, so she was either found not guilty at the trial or was rendered guilty but subsequently pardoned from the death penalty. We'll never know exactly what happened as the records, moved to Richmond when the capital moved there, were destroyed during the Civil War.

Tuesday: 

Headed via car for a history break and drove to the James County marina where the plan was to rent bikes. I wanted to have it both ways, ride bike and visit historical sites, and the closest equivalent was Jamestown Island.  There were indeed historical markers along the way but they were unreadably boring, except for one pointing out a pioneer cemetery with the first death in 1700. Which certainly beats central Ohio's cemeteries where deaths at the earliest tend to be around 1810.

But despite the lack of history I was won over by the beauty. Very tall pines and vines accompanied a narrow road with an extremely small number of cars (mostly those of tourists examining the markers) and even fewer bikers. I went ahead for part of the way and zoomed amid the forest path while playing that ol' (nostalgic for me) '80s song Magic by the Cars. Oh man that song takes me right back, especially when combined with the glorious summer sun and Miami Univ-like surroundings of Williamsburg. I felt so relaxed by what the Japanese call "forest bathing", enjoying the extreme greens and sunny skies. Smelled the crab-overrun mud banks of lagoons mixed with the wood scents of the bridge planks and pine needle beds.

An unsure beginning because Mom was very doubtful this whole thing was going to work out, fearing car traffic and hills. And unlike many of her worries this was certainly not without merit. The pressure was on!  But the bike and the course delivered richly.

It felt nothing sort of amazing that Mom had found a bike she liked. She is a bike critic extraordinaire - no more than one in two-hundred thousand bikes made in the world meet her approval. And yet this one worked out - it was a multi-speed bike, but it had a very low bar and you could brake it with pedals and not just handbrakes. At first she tried to use the tricycle they had, but despite the seeming ease of riding and lack of balance required, she panicked and had trouble getting the hang of it. The lady at the marina was very helpful and patient, trying to teach Mom how to ride the tri-bike. As Dad saw too that the lady thought there was no way Mom could ride a two-wheeler given the attempt at three wheels, but fortunately it worked out fine.

*

Next up I realized belatedly that we had scheduled and pre-paid for a Cemetery tour. This smelt of disaster in numerous ways. One was the penchant shuttle buses had for snubbing us or taking us to places we didn't want to go. A good bus is hard to find. Of the more than two dozen "Colonial Williamsburg" buses that went by us over this trip, perhaps four actually accomplished something for us despite all of them appearing more or less identical in their markings. I now know what it's like to be black, because hailing a bus here is like an African-American guy trying to hail a cab in New York City.

The other way this had the scent of doom about it was Mom was complaining of back pain so severe that (ironically) only a walking tour could cure. But she didn't know that then, and was lobbying hard to call it off, praying like Christ in the Garden: "Father, if this cup might pass me by...".

My cross was also trying to get the tour guide to actually show up. Exactly no one but us appeared up at the Courthouse for this tour, and the courthouse re-enactors had never heard of a such a tour beginning at this place. I called the phone number on the website twice - turns out the guide was busy working at the office and would arrive "soon". He did, fashionably late, an African-American student originally from Amsterdam who was studying communications at William and Mary.

He had not a trace of an accent - which was the fruit of his labor (a heavy labor indeed) of watching American television in order to learn English. The lack of accent was so profound I thought he must've been kidding about being from Amsterdam or that perhaps that's what the hip kids call NYC these days, after the Big Apple's old name of "New Amsterdam".

He graciously truncated the 90-120min two-mile walking tour to a shorter hour tour, with the promise of frequent stops at shady benches. We would supposedly see three of the four promised cemeteries, but the joke was that we would actually see no cemeteries. A cemetery tour without cemeteries! Only in America!

The Anglican church cemetery had closed to visitors about 15 minutes before we got there, so we craned our necks over the high walls around it. We were told to find the images of Abraham Lincoln in one obelisk but as hard as I looked at it - and I stared at it like it was the Holy Grail - I could see nothing but the headstone equivalent of a Rorschach test.

We were told that the assassination of the last American president (spoiler: not JFK!) was holed up with his mother nearby in a gated community with their own EMS squad and such. Dad was sharper than me and recognized this assassin in question was would-be assassin John Hinckley. (In fairness to the guide, he wasn't born yet when Reagan was shot. It would be like me talking about FDR.)

Between the Lincoln and the Hinckley, I was starting to realize I would probably only catch about 50% of the intended meaning of this communication major's talk, and I blithely accepted that going forward. I thus wasn't too surprised at the end he told us our bus stop was just around the corner, actually turned out to be around two corners.

The two other "cemeteries" that we didn't really see were unmarked burials. Under a strip of grass and the pavers of the Marketplace lay dead Confederate soldiers mistreated by a Union head (or was it vice-versa?). And beneath a haunted house, the Randolph estate, held the remains of Indians that must've been there even before the Indians encountered by the first settlers.

But the talk was entertaining and a good exercise in listening skills. I'm just relieved there wasn't a test afterward. And not a bad capper to the day, since it left time for a generous eve of happy hour and leisure.

Though I did get sidetracked with my own obsession when I learned I couldn't pick seats for the plane ride tomorrow. Under "exercise in futility" in the dictionary you can add calling an airline to have them do seat assignments. They offered to do it for me for $50 and I politely declined. They said their system showed plenty of seats to choose from on the first leg of the trip, but that they were blocked (I never go the "why") but the second leg to CMH we could choose seats. But the system hung. You can't fight the system.

*

Nice hotel accommodations. A campus more than a hotel. It's been a three-day Miami visit, only without traveling to Oxford: red brick buildings, quaint courtyards and learning about history. And, to its credit, it's not the hoppingist place I've ever seen. I don't miss the sound of engines.

The town grows on you. There's history around every corner, literally. And there's the deep quiet of the streets, with just the occasion clap of horse hooves, and that's the perfect anecdote to too much computer work and too much noise (of a metaphorical sort) about the spectacular dysfunction in D.C.

Wednesday:

The sore problem with having a two flights to get anywhere (i.e. non-direct) is it doubles the chance for problems and we did run into a buzzsaw today in Philly. Instead of touching down in Columbus at 4:59, as was supposed to happen, it's 5:40 and we're still on the runway due to thunderstorms - really just rain now - as I write this. The less than 4-hour original flight plan is now up to a minimum of 6 hrs and still going strong. Picking up the dogs at the kennel is a non-starter, so I called them and they say there's another window between 8 and 9pm but even that looks like a stretch.

Read tons of the non-fiction account of the life of Audrey Munson, "The Curse of Beauty" Just a fascinating read as far as how she lost her way (since she seems to have her head on straight as of now). Ironically it was her fierce self-defense from an lecher (but powerful Broadway mogul) that eventually led her to the shadier and newer medium of film.

*

It was a leisurely morning - woke early, around 6:30, and had almost two hours to shower, pack, drink java and enjoy the balcony.

It all worked like clockwork until it didn't (the second flight). We turned in our Lodge keys, headed to the impressive St Bede's Catholic Church, impressive mainly for the evident fervor of the community even more than the beauty of the church, although the latter was considerable (there was a library along the walls of one of the main passages full of handsome Catholic books and a fine portrait of Pope Benedict XVI - livin' in the past they are).




This was a weekday morning Mass but there was Gregorian Chant music greeting you as you entered the large square in front of the church. Once inside, around 15 minutes before Mass, there were pious souls praying together in the small tabernacle chapel. The mass was very well-attended for a weekday, and afterward there was coffee and donuts and a convivial crowd. Fragrant little eccentricities were present, like when the African-American priest broke into a solo song "The Mass is Ended" and sang at least two full verses. It reminded me instantly of the '70s as I've heard it so infrequently over the past few decades. Afterward there was clapping for the priest's song! Similarly, a random moment happened when the seminarian attending at Mass ascended the lectern and gave a mini-homily before the final blessing (the black priest had given a homily post-gospel reading). I suspect because the priest was harder to understand? Again, full applause for him after and why not?

As always in Williamsburg, they love them British, and so they mentioned Wallsingham shrine in the bulletin as well as the church being named after an English saint.

I spotted our Wetherburn Tavern tour guide up front with the servers, retrieving additional hosts as needed I guess. And here I thought she was so W.A.S.P.

After Mass we headed leisurely towards the airport, arriving hours early but enjoying the pleasant surroundings of the second smallest airport I've ever been (Hilton Head's is smallest). Nobody hardly there, very quiet and peaceful. Had breakfast sandwiches and then boarded towards Philly. Once there it went all downhill. The greater the trip, the harder the plane ride home.

Epilogue: 

The sweet stupor of post-vacation blankness. It's 3pm and I'm doing exactly what I want to do: Nothing. Just marveling at the state of nature, including the (unnatural) state of order that not having the dogs around affords. Ye dogs, I'll pick ye up later. As for me and my house, we'll serve the Lord. And pizza, as I treated myself to "gutting" a Romeo's 'za.

The past 24-hours have sort of melted into a three cheese sandwich of "did that really just happen?". Because it wasn't supposed to, not in July short of a tornado. Specifically I speak of how a relatively innocent summer rainstorm took down mighty American Airlines and the Philadelphia airport. Our originally-scheduled 3:25pm flight got delayed for four hours before being cancelled. Of the four hours we spent at least two and a half on the tarmac. And because the only way to provide a/c was to have the jet actually idling, we burned fuel for those hours until at 6pm the pilot said we'd need to refuel and thus vacate the plane. The eagerness in the voice of the pilot when he spoke of wanting to get the deplaning going spoke volumes - he was waiting to get off the plane and party. We waited another half-hour for the airport workers to come set up the connecting tunnel, so it wasn't until 6:30 we were kicked off. Significantly, they were telling us not to leave any personal belongings and to show ID as we exited the plane - the pilot and crew knew we were dead men walking, that this flight had been cancelled in all but name only.

Long story long, we waited in a massive non-moving "customer service" line; the gal in back of us was busily checking her phone and thinking we might as well get a cab together - she joked that we looked okay but she would have a quick background check done - which seemed like a good idea until I started calling cab companies and no one would lend us a car for a one-way trip to Columbus. Enterprise, Budget, Hertz, no, no and no. Finally an agent for the airline (the only "service" you could hope to get was by calling them on the phone) suggested that if I joined American Advantage rewards I could likely get a car to rent through Avis for a small fortune. The seven-hour ride cost $195, a week rental at most places.

By this time we'd left our spot in line and so were on our own for the long trip. No flights for days to Columbus, it seemed.

So the rental looked like a viable option except it involved driving 7.5 hours beginning just after 9pm, which was when we finally lay hold of reliable non-air transportation. And the beginning was great, great because we were all alert and thrilled to be moving. Maybe even towards Columbus if the navigation system was correct. But the thrill wore off, as all thrills do, helped by torrential rain and simple fatigue. The tradeoff of being home by 5am with no sleep seemed not so great compared to getting some sleep and being home by 10am. So we stopped at a Quality Inn and by 2am were in our rooms (after Mom had bluntly asked the night manager, "Do you have bedbugs?". Shockingly, he said "No we don't!" in a very surprised tone of voice).

Up by 6am and had the free (and surprisingly decent) breakfast downstairs. Out by 6:45 on a sunny, freewheeling day alive with the promise of our one goal in life: getting back home. On the miles crawled after our 3 hours sleep, on they went while our phones slowly ticked towards 0% battery charge. Eventually I had to kill the directions app.

Finally back in the heart of Ohio, we arrive at the John Glenn International Airport, drop off the car and head home. Not long after we had arrived I call the CMH baggage agent and lo and behold - no more real than a mirage really - he said that our bags were on a plane from Philly to Cbus and our bags would be available at 1pm! So we got back in the car, drove back to the airport, and experienced the sweetness of completion after driving 508 miles and now having as a bonus our luggage. Effortful it seemed, enduring hydroplaning highways, drunk drivers, the highway patrol, long single lanes from night highway construction, and potential bed bugs in one of the cheaper hotels we could find.  So instead of arriving at 5pm in Columbus, but instead got to Columbus by 1:30pm the next day (with bags, and no trip is complete till the bags are replete).

Airlines are the new cable companies. A little googling revealed that Northeast airports are a "hot mess" during summer months and that summer delays are worse and more frequent than winter! Who knew? All told 8% of flights were cancelled at Philadelphia yesterday, so we were one of that unlucky 8%. As Mom & Dad said later, "we like our boring lives.". I'm liking mine better too now.











July 25, 2017

Trump and the Ooompa Loompas

A column in First Things recently argued that Trump isn't a malign Machiavelli but a benign one. Faint praise, perhaps. And I got to thinking how comparing Trump to other politicians in a way isn't fair simply because his faults are so obvious and transparent while other politicians take care to hide them.  He probably has better character than someone like LBJ who lied repeatedly but more subtly and about things of much greater significance than crowd size (like sending kids to die in Vietnam).

We put up with our family's faults and our own faults, why not put up with Trump's faults? If nothing else Donald helps teach us that, that although a similar lesson got lost on me in the Obama era - probably because Obama's faults were so much more damaging to the Republic.  Trump tends to shoot himself rather than shoot the country, which is far easier to forgive.

*

I do find myself constantly amused when I shouldn't be given the stakes.  For example, you can't say it's not rich drama that early Trump supporters like Chris Christie (a friend calls him "Two-ton Tony") and Jeff Sessions have been so thoroughly renounced by the Donald. The streetcar of loyalty only goes one way.

One of the more enjoyable tweets I've seen recently went like this:
"I feel like every time a Trump employee quits, Oompa Loompas should appear & sing a song to teach us about the perils of gluttony & greed."
In a sense the politicians who glommed on to Trump remind me of battered wives who think their man will change, but Sessions at least has the high ground.  He did the right thing in recusing himself and he still has the job he really wanted.  Trump, hilariously, apparently wants to fire Sessions because Sessions did the right thing.

And then you have Sean Spicer, a likable guy who resigned in protest not over having to lie for Trump but due to someone else Trump hired.  This stuff reads like farce.  Every day an Onion.

*

I occasionally listen to folks like Bill Bennett and Laura Ingraham for the sole purpose of hearing an "I was wrong about Trump" confession.  Seems to be taking awhile. Of course I'm not waiting for Sean Hannity's confession, which won't happen until the Second Coming (of Trump, in his eyes).

Bennett makes the case that Republicans have always just gotten black and blue from the biased national media and they always just stoically take it and Trump comes in here and hits back.  Which is true and refreshing as it goes. I can't say that some of his hits haven't been deeply satisfying. But the problem is there's no picking and choosing which battles to fight.  Everything is equally important, from inauguration crowd size to the Comey's inadequacies.  Perhaps you don't get one without the other - you don't get someone with the courage to call out the media unless you have a slightly unhinged candidate.

*

I for one don't fault Trump for hanging out with Putin at the recent G20 conference - who else is he going to hang with?  He's a pariah to the uppity Europeans, as black a sheep as Putin despite having done nothing close to what Putin's done.  So I say good for him.

On the Russian interference, one thing I'm not hearing too much about is simply voter responsibility. Duped American voters are a fault as much as Russian bots. Shame on voters who don't minimally vet the info they receive. But you'll never hear that in the media or from politicians because both are beholden to their customers - the people - and the customer is said to be always right. Ha.

June 30, 2017

Temporal and Perennial Glories

On the dog park walk

Peak summer, really. Just a glorious June day that makes one pine with nostalgia. 74 degrees and full sun and the path to the dog park was too beautiful to be lived up to. I took pictures of a daisy-filled field but you can't bottle beauty. A Wordsworthian stream rolled past, like an elegiac watercolor.

At the end I decided to scout new entrances to the woods and found one. Was lifted up, in spirit, by those old, gnarly trees, climbing skyward. I relished the greenery and tried to look at it from the eyes of a Jeff Culbreath, a Californian used to aridity who enjoyed seeing the lushness. I can see the appeal of this place; how fortunate we are where we are, and yet too often we aim to escape it. It was so beautiful in that equinox sun, the leaves dripping with green, harboring wreathed coronas at the top. You can get a sense of the glory of God there, you can.

*

Interesting to ponder (from "Word Among Us"), especially inasmuch as so many saints had a special devotion to the child Jesus.
"The most popular religious paintings are of the newborn Christ Child in the arms of His Mother—a very awesome thing. God became man; born of a woman. In the Incarnation, God, while remaining God, became one of us. A very humbling thought. No wonder artists are drawn to depict the unimaginable event. God could so love the world, God would send His only Son to teach us how to know the Father." 
Too often when I see those pictures I see a mother and a child, not a human mother and the pre-existing, eternal God in an infant. It's not too far afield from the Eucharist where God becomes bread and wine.

A definition of what I think God loves to do with us:
Easter Egg (in media):"An Easter egg is an intentional inside joke, a hidden message, or a secret feature of an interactive work (often, a computer program or video game). The name is used to evoke the idea of a traditional Easter egg hunt."
Similarly I think of how many "Easter eggs" God has planted among us, such as when God was snuck into the temple as a baby and only a couple elderly people "got" the hidden message. Or when unbeknownst to him, Simon of Cyrene took part in the solemn ritual for which he had come - the sacrifice of the Pascal Lamb.

Mary herself, so hidden as far as not having a lot written about her in the New Testament, exploded in popularity and to this day is still somewhat a secret mainly known by Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

And of course the Eucharist, God masquerading as bread and wine, is the ultimate Easter egg in plain view but obscured unless you know where to look.

*

After visiting the Morgan library I read up a bit on him. He contained multitudes. He was particularly fond of the art of the Middle Ages, was a huge proponent of visual art and beauty, a collector and hard-worker, and yet perhaps counter-intuitively was to the end a Low Church Anglican. His creed was (literally written in his will) that he depended on Christ and considered works worthless. Very Luther-ish.

He never had a strong sense of sin - he committed adultery easily, considering it okay if it was discrete. He also never felt guilt for the income disparity between himself and the poor seeing how he felt working for Wall Street was honorable and helping the common good.

It was tragic to read of his periodic battles with depression and how at the end he basically collapsed, became paranoid and depressed and feared greatly that he would lose his mind, which he did to a great extent. It's not certain what he died of, perhaps a cardiac event, but certainly the depression was acute and the mental illness as well during that last six months.

He was sensitive to criticism, not unlike our 45th president. Partially the poor mood seems the results of a heavy wave of criticism directed at him for his work just after the Panic of '07 when he acted as a defacto central banker.

June 10, 2017

Good to Know

Not fake news! DNA results don't lie...


June 08, 2017

Four-Minute Abs!

Reading Shattered about Hillary's doomed campaign because I'm bonkers for political gossip. And I'm fascinated, truth be told, that Big Data lost.

The oddest thing about the election was that perhaps 30% of Dem primary voters and 30% of Rep primary voters believe in a free lunch, in utopia as sold to them by hucksters Sanders and Trump. That's sort of disturbing.

A passage from the book that applies not only to Sanders's silliness but also to Trump's risible campaign promises:
When Clinton said she wanted students to emerge from college without debt, Bernie reminded voters that his plan would let them attend for free. Hillary's advisers thought it was reminiscent of the scene from There's Something About Mary in which a crazed hitchhiker tells Ben Stiller's character that he can make a fortune by turning 'eight-minute abs' into 'seven minute abs.'
"She's seven-minute abs," said one of her advisers. "This guy's f-cking four-minute abs." 
 Barnum was right.

June 06, 2017

NYC Trip o' Log

On Sunday headed to airport and I'm in line to board plane to Charlotte on way to NYC. There was a line right next to me in the same gate to go to Chicago.

An attendant at flight gate asked a 20-something guy with a scraggly full beer where his father was. He pointed back and said the guy in a cowboy hat - who was errantly waiting in the line for Charlotte rather than Chicago. The attendant motioned for him to come up immediately since he was in wrong line and cabin was getting ready to close.

The guy in the cowboy hat comes up to the agent and is immediately recognizable - we see him on all sorts of Alaska reality shows on TV.  His name is Marty and I inadvertently delay (and hold up flight?) when he sees me taking his picture and commandeers my phone to call  Steph.  (I'd told him my wife Steph was a fan of the show.)

She was talking to her sister Marsha and didn't answer, so Marty waited for voice mail and said, "Hey, this is Marty from Ultimate Survivor and you shouldn't screen Tom's calls...".

Then I'm onboard my flight and Marty's son is there too. Suddenly he jumps up and says "I'm on the wrong flight!" He forgets two pieces of luggage but helpful bystanders alert him and he comes back, twice.

*

Checked in around 4pm at Hotel Metro in midtown, with good rooftop view of the massive Empire State building. Can see it from window in my room on 12th floor. Definitely a new part of Manhattan for me to stay in, although I kind of miss (already) the more residential Upper West side spot four years ago.

Today I made a strategic mistake in wandering way north, up into the banal touristy areas between 40th and 50th along 5th Avenue. The New York Public Library was closed for Memorial Day weekend, so I was saw St. Patrick's in the distance and headed up those blocks. Mass was just ending; I wandered around afterward but found the crypt is closed to the public, so it was kind of disappointing. The organ player played an absolutely thundering rendition of America the Beautiful at full volume as the closing hymn.

Great people watching, or people gaping. Saw an Orthodox Jew, so dressed, smoking a cigarette and maybe reading the Talmud. Saw a handicapped person being wheeled by who made remarkably unique sounds. Saw robed Buddhists and uniformed sailors and soldiers.

After much deliberation I decided to pick up something to eat from street vendor. The big decision was: coney dog or chicken kebob on pita? I want to have a hot dog for Julie at some point, since she loves them. I did the kebob, and boy was it tasty. He didn't mess around. Ate it at Bryant Park, a charming green space with plentiful chairs and an impressive variety of humanity. I watched a group playing a bocci-ball like game called Pétanque, starring old and young, foreigner and white, black and bearded.

Bryant has a large lawn area where young people, presumably NYU'rs, lounged and slept. The lawn was surrounded by leafy trees with tables and chairs at regular intervals; kiosks of food and games like Petanque lay on the edges. Seemed like a good place to chow some food or read a book, although today was overcast and cool.

MONDAY:

A very full vacation day, full of history and remembering and using one's historical imagination, since visibly almost everything has radically changed.

Woke to the sight of the ornate architecture of the building across the street and so looked it up on the 'net. It's The Gregory, formerly The Gregorian. This area of Manhattan took off in the late 1800s as prosperity moved north.

A ton of Germans in this hotel - must be a big group vacation. Haven't heard this much Deutsch since high school German class. I'm kind of disappointed I didn't keep up with the German, or learn it better in high school. I thought three years of it would make me fluent, wishful thinking. And of course the third year was a joke since we learned nothing since the new, young teacher had no discipline and we ran rampant.

I started out thinking I would tour the neighborhood churches and then maybe the Met art museum. I love the idea of not having an itinerary, of just making it up as I go along.  And my "plan" changed on a dime when I google searched the Big Onion walking tours and found an 11:00 one on immigrant New York including the notorious Five Points, the 1880s-era Irish and black slums.

I cabbed to corner of Chambers and Warren, to the old City Hall, the seat of Tammany Hall. The tour guide was a doctrinal student in her late 20s, early 30s (I believe she said her dissertation is on how women gained the "right" to wear pants, how that was controversial back in the day). She said that the Irish stereotypes of being lazy, violent and corrupt were untrue, that that was a few bad apples like Mr. Tammany. She offered as proof what was an Irish savings bank founded in 1852 across the street - she said the Irish immigrant initial depositors never withdrew their money, showing they were not simply blowing their paychecks on booze every weekend but had the foresight to save. Oh that that would rub off on Americans today.  Perhaps a stretch though to use that one anecdote as proof the Irish were generally responsible.

For two hours she gave vivid anecdotes and interesting vignettes. She talked about how City Hall was slated to cost $250k but cost $13 million due to Tammany overpaying contractors. (The bossman ended up being jailed, complete with luxuries like being able to spend weekends at home; he escaped briefly to Cuba but in Spain he was extradited and sent back to America to jail and died the following year.)

We saw the building where the first retail clothes salesman made a big killing. He got the idea of letting women see the garments before ordering, a popular idea. Very rough part of town, so middle class women would line up to "window shop" with personal bodyguards. Otherwise they'd be groped or worse.

Our guide told us the sad tale of America's first supermodel, Audrey Munson. She's the model for the lady atop the City Hall and numerous others from Wisconsin to California.

Audrey went to a soothsayer who told her of her doomed life: early fame, but no happiness. You'd think that was tragic and unfair, but even saints were told of upcoming misery, like St. Bernadette who was told she would be unhappy in this life. The Blessed Mother likewise was told that a sword would pierce her heart, and Jesus knew from Isaiah and other Scriptures that he would be the "suffering servant" and die a prophet's death in Jerusalem. St Peter was told by Christ that he would go where he would not go, St. Paul was shown in a vision what he would suffer, just as he told his future martyrs that their blood was no on his hands for he told them the full plan of God (persecution before glory). By definition (that being love) God would not tell us something that wasn't for our good or the good of others.  So I guess we need not fear the reaper or the soothsayer.

Audrey found little acting success until someone discovered her beauty and photographed her nude for an arts magazine. She became famous, acted in a few movies but appeared nude - she ended up being objectified and typecast, scorned. A doctor killed his wife in order to be with her even though she never even knew him, but the tabloids said she was "the other woman" and, being blamed for the doc's wife's death, her career was even more dead. By the age of 40 she was trying to commit suicide and was institutionalized for the next 60 years, dying in the 1990s at over 100 years old. Reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe, only Monroe succeeded in killing herself.

We went by Foley Square to Columbus Park, the intersection known as Five Points, and it was really hard to imagine it back then: slowly sinking homes (caused by the developers not realizing they were building on a natural spring and not a rainwater ditch), dirt roads, filth, crime. She argued it was overdone, this bad reputation. Back then middle class folks actually took tours to Five Points to gape and gasp at the poverty but not to get too close.

Then on to Chinatown, just so incredibly big. Many speak no English, as well they can in a place like this with so many countrymen. Very exotic scenery to me. We went by the Church of the Transfiguration (closed for Memorial Day, sadly), where they now have masses in Chinese, English, Cantonese, Manadrin and another language that escapes me. It was originally a Protestant church, then Irish Catholic, then Italian Cath, now Chinese Cath. The Irish and Italians didn't see eye-to-eye on worship because in Ireland they were very low key due to persecution - few ornamental things like statutes and singing and high masses - while the Italians were big on all of the above.

We went by a road that curved around (Doyers) which was a hit place for Chinese gangs back in the late 1800s. They had a menu of prices, $5 for breaking a leg, $15 for murder, or what have you, and they would execute the crime as the guy was going around the bend, then hurry back into a nearby house which led to secret tunnels that the Irish police at the time had no idea existed.

We traveled through Little Italy to the Precious Blood shrine where the dust of St Janirus liquifies many Septembers on his feast day. Pope Francis was there to witness the miracle recently. It too was closed, drats!

Old St. Pat's cathedral, sadly closed. Everybody closed on Memorial Day.

Hit McNally-Jackson, an independent bookstore, briefly. Then walked all over West Village, Greenwich Village... Saw beautiful brownstones with gargoyles...Saw the church were St. Mother Cabrini prayed, and I spent some time in there doing the same. A very beautiful and affecting church with many statues and paintings. Later I saw Our Lady of Guadalupe, adorned creatively and fulsomely. Walked to the water - the Hudson - and saw the New Jersey (Hoboken) skyline. Walked up to the Whitney Art Museum but there was a line and I had scant desire to look at modern "art". Modern okay, but art?

Started getting tired even though I'd only walked 5.5 miles, just 2.5 over my usual per day. Found a little shop nearby that had a salad bar and feasted on more nutritious fare. Not very adventuresome - I probably should've tried some authentic Chinese food in Chinatown (the guide said you look in the window and look for a letter grade to tell how safe the food is - "A" is best, "F" means you'll die if you eat it.)

The rooftop seemed a good cigar smoking spot but failed on two accounts: one, it being a remarkably un-photogenic spot on a very cloudy time, and two, my lighter failed. So I did some writing on the (again) cool night before heading back out to find a lighter. I headed out to Herald Square to see if I could cop a smoke and voila - I see the most ingenious private seat in a public space, a nook from which I could see but not be seen. It overlooked an expanse of lights and activity, Macy's being directly across the street. I spent a pleasant hour cigar'ing and collating the 99 pictures I took. It really appeals to the artist in me, taking these photos and then enhancing them using Apple's photo editor.  Enjoyable pastime. I find it takes all night to just to document a vacation day with words and pictures. I have a yen for a book, preferably NY history... especially after having walked 19,000 steps (could be a new high for me).

New York still entrances me, even minus my writerly dreams (which seem the likely genesis of my Manhattan cult).

TUESDAY:

So today I showered, ate continental breakfast in the room, coffee'd up, rosary'd up, and by 10:15 rolled out the door to the fabulous Morgan Library. Great to see it while still fresh, in the morning. A short jaunt from the hotel, one of the big advantages of the hotel was proximity to this and the NYPL, I explored the exhibit "Noah's Beasts", an interesting collection of Sumerian art found around 3000BC. I was impressed by how spiritual it was in a sense, how back then they were groping towards a savior, and how the ancient writing on a stone represented an early flood narrative.

Next up was into the rarefied office and library of J.P. Morgan. In later life he spent much of his time collecting things like the Gutenberg Bible, which I got to see and admire, as well as lots of medieval religious art. Virgin Mother and child was a lot of the theme in his office. It's all sheer mouth-gape, from the mini-Sistine chapel ceiling in the entrance way to the artistry and great sense of order conferred by the library itself. "For the glory of God" in Latin was an inscription, but a lot of it seemed like for the glory of Morgan.  Reminds me how NY Times author Thomas Friedman built an 11,000 house to prevent emissions from potentially twelve suburban homes: ah, the things we sacrifice for climate change.

I can't believe how religious Morgan's library office was - nearly all religious art, as if he were a cleric not a baron.  Books such as "The Legend of St Margaret" from the 15th century adorn the walls. I wonder if part of this is to feel kinship with Christians past, for few things bring the dead alive more than their art. These artifacts show the longevity of the Faith as well.

It felt so peaceful there. Then walked/jogged to get to Fr. George Rutler's parish for 12:10 Mass. Guy saw me and said, "no matter where you're going, it's not worth hurrying.".

The author of a number of books and EWTN "star" gave a decently long homily for a sparsely attended weekday mass. Felt like I failed Rutler by getting his thumb wet when I received on the tongue.

Next up was an Uber ride to the Met, although I wasn't feeling too motivated.  Mcsorley's pub?! Flatiron and vicinity! More time actually sitting in NYPL and letting the architecture heal!?

Why do I never allot time for this joint?

The day got behind me quick, as did this trip. No literal ray of sunshine till 5 minutes before time to leave, alas. Still, NY has that London foggy feel in that you don't go there for the weather. Especially if you want to hit museums.

I loved the chance to use my German, microscopic in vocabulary as it is. A German couple on the elevator and they get off on an earlier floor. I get ready for my moment on the stage and say, "Entschuldigung!" ("Pardon me") since I am slightly in their way. He looks up at me with recognition but without surprise or smile, so I assume I'd handled the pronunciation well enough. I certainly look far too American to think he thought of me as anything but an American but ...
































THUR:

Traveled to tiny Hilton Head airport and we hit the beach almost immediately upon landing, with a strenuous game of throwing the grandboys high into the surf and later jogging about a mile (Will tired quickly so part of the the jog was me carrying Will - now that is a workout).

The amazing thing was seeing something I'd never seen in all the years I came to Hilton Head - two young sharks in the shallowest water right where I was throwing Will in. Steph and Sam were back aways making sand castles and missed it. I grabbed Will and stood in the two feet of water and watched, disbelieving, the sharks go back and forth just four feet away. They were each about a yard long with a fin the size of my hand. A dog went into the water after them and the owners were screaming frantically - later they said that these were definitely sharks. Silver-lined fins and all. I hung out in the shallows watching them for maybe a minute, holding Will up out of the water.

Will uncorked quite a line later to his Mom, insisting "Yes we did too, we saw a god-da*mned shark!". That was unexpected. She obviously disciplined him for it but Steph had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.

Today's surprise was when Sam started crying like crazy after stepping on something "hard" - probably a stingray since the shallows were thick as thieves with them. A lady came over and told us that three of her family got stung and one had to go to emergency room. Her son said the pain was unbelievably intense. Sam wasn't hurt at all, just crying from fear apparently.

So thus ended the beach time for the kids, presumably for the duration of the trip.

I told Sam "the king game" was my favorite and he acutely recognized why, announcing that that was because PawPaw can relax in a chair while they fetch him some imaginary treasure.

Spent a good while playing with the boys - card games (Go Fish and Blackjack), the "king" acting game, and plenty of pool and ocean time ("Marco Polo", and throwing them in the sea).

FRIDAY:

Jogged a goodly 35 minutes this morning in the slightest of drizzles. Uncanny how I've been able to catch the worst weather of NYC (cool and rainy) as well as Hilton Head (warm and rainy).

Oh to be in Hilton Head in June! Is not the light itself more rare? The days are long and of temperate langsam.


SATURDAY:

Ahhhh, the sigh of sun-streaked contentment: morning coffee in the pool room at Canvasbck. The natural beauty feeds you - the blue water, the lush jungle beyond, the comforts of civilization (books and ipad). And it's simply irreproducible at home given the trudge work of Max (feeding, putting up with his barking and interruptions). How sweet to have even this day... And then a week at our timeshare later this year, although without the beauty of the accompanying jungle.

I call it a jungle because that's what it looks like to me - nature run wild. I'm not sure it meets the dictionary definition ("an area of overgrown vegetation, typically in the tropics"). Is this the tropics? ("Hilton Head Island encompasses 42 square miles (68 sq. km) of semi-tropical...").

Yesterday was fabulouscity. A long quenching run. A long quenching beer drink. Some Mexicano music. Some reading about the Stoics. Later, the best pizza I've had in ages ("Doughboys" and they deliver). And then the sigh of very tired limbs in the comfy bed...

Sherwood Comes East

Enjoyable dinner with Californian and longtime blogger, first-time (Ohio) caller Jeff C. He's very interesting to listen to, well-spoken, and one can tell immediately the intelligence.

We had dinner at the Red Brick Tavern (since 1836, which coincidentally is when Jeff and I first started blogging!) in London since it was half-way more or less between Dayton and Columbus. Our waitress was kind of wise-cracking and in that reminded me of Flo from Mel's Diner and Jeff was old enough to immediately pick up the reference.

I was struck by how he recounted how a fellow had told him not to have more than two kids because if you have enough of them you'll end up with one who gets into drugs or dies early or otherwise breaks your heart. In other words, "love is risky?" Jeff said. He said "yes"... you can't have love without risk. I remarked how Jesus's coming to earth was certainly a high-risk proposition for Him.

He mentioned how he was impressed by the beauty of Ohio, how green everything is compared to his drought-stricken part of the continent in California.

May 28, 2017

Saints and TIME Magazine as Wisdom Literature

Via Wikipedia, I found a chronological list of saints and zeroed in on the 15th and 16th centuries. It really does seem that Luther's break, in 1521, was preceded by a paucity of saints. Seems to point out the incredible necessity of saints, and having them in every age. (Now that St. Mother Teresa, St. Padre Pio and St. JPII have died there doesn't seem an obvious saint alive now. Maybe Pope Benedict.)

The 1200s had Aquinas and Dominic and Francis and Anthony, the 1300s St Catherine of Siena. There are plenty of blesseds in the 1400s and 1500s but not the sort of Lebron James-type interstellar non-martyr saints until St Ignatius and Francis Xavier, both coming just after Luther (founded the Jesuits 13 years after Luther's climactic break with Rome).

Perhaps you could blame the Protestant Revolution on a lack of saints (though combined with the invention of the printing press, which was a particularly effective way to spread heresy.)

*

I'm always amazed to find wisdom literature in unlikely places - like the secular TIME magazine (admittedly, with a lot of help from J.R. Tolkien). And yet, voila!
“Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgment concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably to have married,” Tolkien wrote. “Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates.”

Tolkien blamed our “soul mates” obsession on the Romantic chivalric tradition: “Its weakness is, of course, that it began as an artificial courtly game, a way of enjoying love for its own sake. . . . It takes, or at any rate has in the past taken, the young man’s eye off women as they are” — that is, “companions in shipwreck not guiding stars.”

I love that: companions in shipwreck. True soul mates are made, not born. This tracks with what I see in long marriages. It took time for many of even the most loving couples to feel like kindred spirits. It wasn’t something that happened in the first hour, or even in the first year. It took time, and patience, and commitment.

Another friend told me that his tradition-minded parents, an adorable couple who would appear to the outside world like soul mates, didn’t have much binding them together when they married: “She was Jewish, and he had a good job; that was enough.” They struggled while their kids were growing up, resolving to stay together until the nest was empty and then go their separate ways. But something funny happened: by the time the children were grown, neither wanted to leave.

Our old notion of soul mates is not helpful. “The ‘real soul-mate,’” Tolkien wrote, “is the one you are actually married to.”
*

I confess to deep appreciation for the sunroom, sun or no sun. It was fab to crash in my limb-lorn weariness, post-workout, on the sofa and dream-vise out the transoms. It's architecturally tasty, the slight mod of the A-frame being a figure of constant wonder. I'm bedazzled by the twin solatubes, the gentle decor, the glow of the track lighting, the windows jammed with the green of the evergreens beyond. It's, shall we say, a clean, well-lighted place. Our dream room, perchance.

May 26, 2017

Pope Trump and President Francis


I'm mesmerized by the Francis-Trump summit. A bromance begun. Two fellas very comfortable in their own skin and highly comfortable with command, and a slight soft spot for autocrats. I crave the details. The fact that the meeting went thirty minutes to the second shows Francis doesn't suffer fools well. He wasn't about to give the Donald the talking point of "it was supposed to go 30 and it went 40!"

Kind of interesting that the first thing Trump did in the Holy Land was see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as reported by Lino Rulli. How many presidents would've done that asked Lino.

Last night my semi-joke to the in-laws about Trump lying to the Pope fell way flat - everyone was offended (they voted Trump). I said that I couldn't believe Trump had lied to the Pope by saying he'd read the encyclicals the Pope gave him - Trump doesn't read, so unless the encyclicals are covered on cable news he won't know what's in them. My wife took me literally and argued you can't call it a lie since he could still read them.

I  have one liberal brother-in-law and I saw him a few days earlier and vented about the fact that liberals crave an activist Supreme Court that takes the law out of people's hands and then they act all surprised when the Court gets politicized and Republicans vote for a candidate like Trump based significantly on Supreme Court choices.  Oh the irony. The unintended consequences.

The potus is not just president but a legislator too because he chooses the legislators (judges). If judges were just about interpreting the law we wouldn't have to choose presidents for their SCOTUS picks. It debases and skews the whole process.

May 16, 2017

Tocqueville's Prediction

Kevin's comment on my previous post about Cleveland wanting to secede from Ohio reminds me of something from the book The Complacent Class I read recently, concerning how Tocqueville didn't think the union would hold:
Tocqueville said he refused “to believe in the duration of a government which is called upon to hold together so many distinct and not equally powerful states covering an area half that of Europe.”...
What Tocqueville did not see was that extreme federal stasis was an alternative to federal dissolution. If what the federal government does simply cannot change very much, then all those states and all those diverse and numerous people can’t have a destructive fight over the content of policy, and, thus, for that reason among others, the republic will not collapse. That gridlock may be depressing in some ways, but it has kept America going for some number of decades in recent times. 
Stable is better than unstable, for the most part, but that doesn’t mean we are going to be very pleased by the choices American democracy will put before us…Tocqueville understood that America would one day be overtaken by a version of democracy mixed with stasis and that such a future world would cease to inspire us politically. 
Yes, count me not inspired by politics these days.

May 13, 2017

Trump and Gore Vidal: Soul Mates

Was reading the Parini bio of Gore Vidal who, like Trump, was big on feuds and walls of magazine covers depicting himself.  This sounds  eerily familiar:

"[Vidal's] phone calls often began: "What are they saying about me?" To a somewhat frightening degree, he depended on the world's opinion...On the wall behind his desk were twenty or so framed magazine covers, with Gore's face on each one. I asked 'What's that all about, those covers?' He said, 'When I come into this room in the morning to work, I like to be reminded who I am.'
"I took his narcissism was, at times, an exhausting and debilitating thing for Gore, as it proved impossible to get enough satisfying responses. He required a hall of mirrors for adequate reflection, and there was never enough. The nature of the narcissistic hole is such that it can't be filled."

May 08, 2017

The Healthcare Follies (or alternatively The Way Things Are)

At Mass, a substitute priest gave a short but potent homily about The Way Things Are.

Specifically he asked, rhetorically, why God goes to the trouble to want helpers. Jesus was big on having helpers, his apostles and disciples, and yet often enough the apostles were a hindrance to his mission. He could've done things more efficiently alone.

God is so big on instrumentality that I sometimes picture God saying, "Gosh, I hate to put on such a big show to Saul on his way to Damascus instead of using human beings, but I need someone with a high intellectual capacity to bring my message to the Gentiles." Interesting enough that He chose an pharisaical Jew. If the world was making the choice of whom to send to the Gentiles, it would likely be a recent Gentile convert, someone who knows how Gentiles think and is "one of them". So God chose the opposite to prove he could. And of course St. Paul was as effective an evangelist as there ever was and likely will be.

So why the helpers? This priest said he thinks it's because it goes back to how we fell. "Adam and Eve were tempted so they were certainly not in Heaven. They were meant to work together to get each other to Heaven and they did the opposite. So God wants to rebuild humanity as he originally intended." With humans helping humans, even if it's an inefficient method. No wonder men want to be gods.

Speaking of wanting to be gods, there's a whiff of that in the health care debate. How about us, wanting to overthrow scarcity! The great thing about being a liberal is you can say things like "health care is a human right, not a privilege!" and it's just as fantastic slogan as "free money is a human right!" You can't beat that with a stick. I really have the sin of envy when it comes to how free and easy and wonderful it must be to be liberal. I don't see how you can lose if you just throw out bromides without specifics, which is one of the things that Pope Francis does with glorious regularity.

Kevin Williamson of National Review throws water on the parade in a post titled "We Cannot Vote Away Scarcity":
Our ongoing troubles with health care stem from an unwillingness to deal with certain facts. One of those facts is scarcity. “Scarcity” is a term from economics, and it refers to the fact that there is never enough of anything to satisfy every possible desire — the universe holds only so much, and human desire has a way of outgrowing whatever we have. So we have to come up with a way of dividing up that which is scarce. We have tried many different ways of doing that — war, caste systems, central planning — though mostly we’ve relied on the fact that everybody wants lots of different things, which makes it possible to trade. But buying and selling stuff is not, to be sure, the only way to divide up that which is scarce.

Medical care is scarce: There are only so many doctors and hospital rooms; the pill factories can make only so many pills, and there are real limitations on the raw materials used to make those pills; heart stents don’t grow on trees, but, even if they did, they would be scarce, like apples and oranges and pears and avocados.

Because of scarcity, medical care eventually reaches the point where one of three things happens: Somebody puts out his hand and says “Pay me,” an officer of the government or an insurance company refuses to approve some treatment, or you die. Because we are a largely cooperative species, we do not like that very much. It seems unfair and unkind. So we try to make an end run around scarcity with things such as health insurance and government medical plans, both of which are based on the same economic principle: Someone else pays. But scarcity does not care who is paying: Scarcity is scarcity. In the most monopolistic public-health systems (e.g., the ones in the United Kingdom and Canada), there is a lot of saying “No,” though it is what we might call a “Japanese no” — saying “no” without actually saying it. They put you on a waiting list and hope you die before they actually have to say “No,” or they simply expect you to accept that some services and treatments are categorically unavailable. There is a reason New York City’s hospitals are full of rich Canadians who cannot afford the free health care at home.
Of course if liberals have an easy job "Free health care for everybody!" then conservatives do too with the catchy (if far less popular): "No such thing as a free lunch!". Where it gets interestingly difficult is middle strategies, of trying to mitigate things. But there's not too much of a constituency for that else John Kasich would've won the presidency. We're no doubt getting the government we richly deserve.

This whole health care debacle, from Obamacare to Trumpcare, would be so amusing if it wasn't so serious. It's an attempt to square a circle, and both parties have no fallen prey to that hardy myth, and have lined up at that circular firing squad, to mix circle metaphors.