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.)

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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.”
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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.

May 03, 2017

GOP Still Tail-Tucked After All These Years

I rue the day the GOP went down the shutdown path during the Gingrich years because we've been paying for it ever since.  It's like the Dems discovered a new source of unbelievable power, like when foes of Superman suddenly discovered that he's allergic to Kryptonite.  

Repubs get played every time since Dems and Reps know exactly how script goes: GOP gets blamed for shutdown, national parks close, social security checks don't go out, military vets denied health service, and there's no way to win that battle simply because constituents of Dems will not blame Dems, while constituents of Repubs will blame Repubs.  Heads roll, capitulation happens and life goes on. 

I went on Drudge yesterday and chuckled to see that Ryan and Congress got the blame instead of 45.  The Drudge-Trump bromance continues!  But not with Ann Coulter - she handed Trump a tongue-lashin'.  She said Republicans in Congress are useless but that is well-known information; we hired a crazy person to do what congress can't.  And he ain't.  

Trump's promising a shutdown in September.  Easy to say that in May.