December 30, 2017

Ruffled by Want of a Beach

Did the obligatory dog walk at the local park in Doctor Zhivago conditions and under the cloud of incipient babysitting; afterwards I smoked a yearned-for cigar despite the 18 degree weather. I dreamed of beach and conjured images from Hilton Head and Mexico: Sun and warmth pouring down as if by the hand of God, gold ingot-rays streaming beside umbrella drinks. The deep tissue massage of sand on sole and light on eye, the grace of time and silence in good measure, shaken, and running over...

Made me pine for that rosary I got on the deserted side of Cozumel - El Mirador on the rocky, unprotected east coast - that had the Our Father in Spanish on the back of the crucifix. I looked for a rosary online like that one (which I had gifted to a friend) but didn’t find any, which, of course is the whole point. To have found the rosary online would’ve decreased its value in some way since then it would feel mercenary and common. 

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The tale of the Ali Baba and the Arabian nights from the Islamic Middle Ages gave us “three wishes”. This transfixed me back when - what would I choose? Wealth, health, or NBA stardom?

But it’s interesting that a couple thousand years previous, Solomon was given only one wish and he asked for wisdom in order to properly discern court cases among his people. That’s sobering. It’s sort of like how in the Three Amigos film the three were all dreaming about how they’d spend the money they were coming into and Ned Nederlander was bent on charity. 

That, in a nutshell, seems the difference between the Bible and dream-like fantasy: the Bible offers us unselfishness while dreams offer self-satisfaction. 

December 22, 2017

Crap Science

Pseudo-science can be hilarious. WaPo 4-question “test” to see if you’re likely to sexually harass someone comes down to four questions asking, “Would you sexually harass someone?” Also high-laire: “men are more socialized to seek sex”. Socialized, right...

Glad my WaPo subscription runs out soon so I don’t waste my time. 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2017/12/20/what-makes-some-men-sexual-harassers-science-tries-to-explain-the-harvey-weinsteins-of-the-world/?__twitter_impression=true

Seven Quick Takes

Grandson Will was a wise man in purple robe and scarlet hat and looked quite dapper. You can't go wrong with kids in costumes. It was crack-cocaine for grandparents. Extremely good photos taken with off-the-chart cute factor. They sang ‘Away in a Manger’ and a couple songs I wasn’t familiar with.

Will looking to his left, perhaps at an angel
Cardinal Ratzinger on Christmas:
Many people—indeed, in some sense, all of us—find this too good to be true.
Our invariable response is a doubt: Can this be true? Is it really possible for God to be a child? We are reluctant to believe that the truth is beautiful, for in our experience, the truth usually turns out to be cruel and dirty; and where this initially seems not to be the case, we dig and dig until our assumption turns out to be correct.
He came as a child, in order to break down our pride. Perhaps we would have capitulated before power or wisdom … but he does not want our capitulation: he wants our love. He wants to free us from our pride and, thus, to make us truly free.
Interesting that Benedict doesn’t say merely power but power “and wisdom”. How could God have used wisdom to break down our pride? Perhaps to tell us all the answers we so desperately seek concerning why there is suffering and death and Hell? God’s wisdom is so great that it would presumably cow us just the way a display of physical power would.

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You know you're at an orthodox parish when you see these books in a car in a parking lot:


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So Trump has a year behind him and it's been a pretty decent one. I may have to eat my anti-Trumpian words said pre-presidency and rue my non-vote for him. Especially since the thing that bothers most people I don’t care a fig about -- his tweets.  Just as in the stock market future good news is already "built in" to the price of a stock, so too his tweets are what they are and ought be ignored. Of course still three years left, an eon in governing. But perhaps he’s proving anyone can do the job of potus.

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Read some of Victor David Hansen’s Second World Wars, which was rather grim. Wars plural in the title because there seemed little connection in some of the war being fought (i.e. in terms of types of battle and geography of). 60 million were killed, 80% by Axis and 20% by the Allies and yet the latter won. This was because the Axis killed mainly civilians while the Allies mostly killed soldiers. The notable exceptions include the American firebombing of Tokyo in March of ‘45 where 100,000 were killed in a single day, which was worse than Nagasaki and equal of Hiroshima. And yet we hear so little of it! The mind-blowing thing about it was that despite doing that kind of damage to Japan’s capital, the Emperor was uninterested in surrender.

This feels unfathomable to me and I googled for the unanswerable: “why didn’t Japan surrender before the atomic bombs”. But maybe not so unanswerable: the Emperor was not much interested in the welfare of Japanese as the continuation of the institution of Emperor; it wasn’t until the Russians invaded combined with the two a-bombs that Japan surrendered. It makes me wonder if the Russian invasion did it alone, without the atomic weapons - I think the Emperor was more worried about the future of his office with the Russians than the Americans?

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Interesting to muse on the parallels between John the Baptist and Mary as proposed in a book on the Baptist. Both have their birthdays and death days celebrated in the church, which outside of Christ is unique to them. Both have one mission and one mission only, that of being the forerunner to Christ or the mother to Him, and thus neither were have known to have worked a miracle (in John’s gospel this is explicitly asserted regarding the Baptist). Both express a deep humility, Mary’s fiat and John’s “You must increase and I decrease”.

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We're trying to clean the basement which is the Job of all jobs. There’s a tsunami of junk down there, as if all the world’s material goods were vacuum-suctioned into our basement. Affluenza 101. There were $90 purses that Steph didn’t know she had - it felt like a shopping trip for her.

First up we emptied the crawl space and threw away the above-ground swimming pool, a kid’s buggy, and high-chair among other things. I hauled stuff up and down the stairs for a good twenty minutes. A decent workout when dragging weighty things up. Gravity is not your friend in those situations.

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I find it routinely shocking - if shock can be called routine - by the disparity between the beauty of spiritual writings versus the oft rather grim reality of sin and shadow in the author. I think this first hit me when I read the quasi-scriptural Thomas Merton books and then read, ugh, his journals.  Pope Francis as well, who is capable of the most uplifting and lofty thoughts while, at other times, be snarky, harsh, and unjust. I guess this is the way it’s always been (St. Jerome anybody?). I don’t think we can listen only to saints and just close off the way God can use flawed instruments.

Lino Rulli recently complained about how he knows many of the famous public Catholics who give lectures and write books and he says many of them don’t really have their act together in private so he doesn’t read their books. That’s an example of what I mean, and what I routinely fall into (including with Pope Francis).

It’s a sore temptation to wall off those we perceive rightly or wrongly as “hypocrites”, but we are all hypocrites to one extent or another and that attitude seems to focus on the messenger more than the message.

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Read some of the Roy Moore fail.

Politics has gotten so bewildering so fast. Looking back, the initial shock for me was that the country would hand over the reigns to a no-name Democrat senatorial lackey (Obama). ‘08 was the first sign that something was seriously wrong. Sure, Bill Clinton’s rise despite his sins was very surprising, but he had a resume and a decent record.

Obama’s victory was just bonkers, seemingly a hopeless white play to atone for slavery. But as it turned out, it wasn’t atonement at all, it wasn’t racial - it was pure, sweaty desperation, a blind groping for a savior. This would show itself again in the election of Trump, the ultimate outsider and high-risk’r.

Something happened between ‘04 (Bush election) and ‘08. Someone must’ve messed with the nation’s water supply - maybe it was the rise of the New Atheism popularized by Hitchens, or the economic decline of the middle class, or the advent of social media, or the shredding of the credibility of any institution. Regardless, it seems around 2006 or 2007-ish. Right around when Facebook and the iPhone took off.

And on that happy note, Merry Christmas!  Keep hope alive for Hope is alive.

December 13, 2017

Amazon Catholic Bestsellers


Pope Francis boasts number 1 and number 2, although doubtless he doesn't appreciate number 1.  It’s probably not the healthiest spiritual activity, reading negative things about the Pope.  (See my blog title.)

Particularly intriguing is how much conflict he had with his parents and surrogate parent.  And his reforming of corruption in the church has gone nowhere. I wait for buyer's remorse from folks like John Allen and Austen Ivereigh.

Later reading more of the papal bio I experienced an “ah-ha” moment in reading that choosing a pope is different than choosing a CEO and that the cardinals aren’t doing a lot of research and investigations into the backgrounds of individuals. In fact, they are cut off from the world obviously.  Seems like the system ought be revamped to help prevent eschewing reason (grace builds on nature, not replacing it) by allowing them to do research. It’s a pious thing to want the decision to be wholly guided by the Holy Spirit but we fly on two wings not one, faith and reason. But I allow I could well be misguided.

Surely the lesson is that great leaders are few and far between and that no nation or church is “entitled” to a string of them. It takes divine providence combined with human wisdom.

R. Reno in First Things really surprised me recently by saying that even the status of migrants and refugees is contingent: "I predict that this papacy will be a great defender of migrants and refugees—until political pressures on the European ruling class become so great that it shifts and becomes more 'realistic,' at which point the Vatican will shift as well. What is presently denounced will be permitted; what is presently permitted will be denounced."

December 06, 2017

Solzhenitsyn’s Nearly 40-year old Address

I read Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 address to Harvard to see how prescient the great Russian sage was.  Some excerpts:
Truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter. A measure of truth is included in my speech today, but I offer it as a friend, not as an adversary.
He goes on to see a lack of courage in us, calling it the first sign of a nation’s end, primarily reflected in our lack of robust self-defense of Western values during the Carter years, i.e. not cringing and constantly in apology-mode.

The Trump win in some way would seem to negate this tendency and George W. Bush as well, who was unapologetic and courageous in his confidence as far as rebuffing opinion.  (Too confident on Iraq, alas.)

And on materialism...
So who should now renounce all this, why and for the sake of what should one risk one's precious life in defense of the common good and particularly in the nebulous case when the security of one's nation must be defended in an as yet distant land?
Even biology tells us that a high degree of habitual well-being is not advantageous to a living organism.
It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.
He goes on about our lack of depth, which is oh-so-much-more true now than even then:
“Everyone is entitled to know everything." (But this is a false slogan of a false era; far greater in value is the forfeited right of people not to know, not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life has no need for this excessive and burdening flow of information.) Hastiness and superficiality — these are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century and more than anywhere else this is manifested in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press; it is contrary to its nature. The press merely picks out sensational formulas.
More on our apology-itis:
It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world the way to successful economic development... However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of no longer being up to the level of maturity by mankind. And this causes many to sway toward socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.
The mathematician Igor Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliantly argued book entitled Socialism; this is a penetrating historical analysis demonstrating that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. 
And good spiritual stuff:
If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become above all an experience of moral growth: to leave life a better human being than one started it.
Most of the speech stands up well and serves as a present day diagnosis, but it’s hard to see his words about Russia as true (perhaps Poland though):
A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human personality in the West while in the East it has become firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. 
Russia’s soul has waned mightily and is committing suicide with vodka and low birth rates while enthusiastically supporting a pernicious leader for decades (Putin). They seem as about as morally comprised as a nation can be, so their rot post-Cold War has been alarmingly fast. As has been said of the pre-Vatican II culture - how good could it have been if it collapsed so quickly? - so too of Soviet.