January 19, 2017

A Field Guide to POTUSes

My latest theory on politics is that the least patrician and intellectual  person wins every presidential race in the modern era.

Reagan v Carter
The California cowboy had the reputation as a non-intellectual, an actor no less, and it played him in good stead against Carter's comparative intellectual mien and effete-ism.  

Reagan v Mondale
Mondale, with his soft patrician sweaters and "low energy" vibe, couldn't appeal to Joe Lunchbox, nor sometimes even to the faculty lounge lizard.  

Bush v Dukakis
True, George HW Bush was the ultimate patrician white male, but he came off as more corny than intellectual in his speech ("Not gonna do it!", "Read my lips!") and he was facing an opponent who looked the part of a patrician and whose picture is under the dictionary captioned: "Pointy-headed Massachusetts intellectual." 

Clinton v Bush
Clinton masked his policy wonk streak with an Arkansas background, down home speech, and the reddest of redneck families.  The ultimate non-patrician white male.  

Clinton v Dole
The bland Midwestern politician Dole looked like a Founding Father, and was, in fact, a contemporary of the Founding Fathers.  Way too much of the Senate parliamentarian/patrician. 

W. Bush v Gore
W. Bush was the anti-intellectual cowboy riding in to save the day from Gore, who was even whiter than Bush and heavily into non-blue collar fetishes like climate change and paying advisers on how to become more of an "alpha" male. That doesn't play in Ohio biker bars. 

W. Bush v Kerry
It's a little known fact that John Kerry played a philatelist in the film "How I Married Into Money".  He also got an honorable mention under the dictionary definition of "Pointy-headed Massachusetts intellectual". 

Obama v McCain
Obama, although a cerebral type, betrays none of that in his speeches, which tend to be "folksy" and littered with brainless slogans like "Hope and Change!" and "Yes We Can!".  McCain, while no intellectual, has enough of a patrician about him given his white hair, good manners, and family background.  

Obama v Romney
Romney is so stiff and W.A.S.P.-ish that the state of Massachusetts filed a formal complaint against his campaign, saying that Democrats have the patent on these guys (see Dukakis and Kerry). 

Trump v Clinton
Trump is the iconic nouveau riche guy whose idea of noblesse oblige is the obligation to hit back harder than he got hit.  He's also the least intellectual person you'd care to know.  Hillary combined nerdy-ness and lying, a particularly poor combo. 

January 13, 2017

More Innocent Days

Attached is something our company provided before 2011 – it was the source of endless mirth back in the day (much less funny now given the new reality of terrorism).

It’s hard to know where to begin, but I guess under the "can't hurt to ask!" category we have: “why did you place the bomb?” followed by “what is your name and address?”.

Also liked the thoroughness of potential background noises such that “crockery” was included.

If someone got a bomb threat, I'm not sure they'd have the presence of mind to say, "Please wait on the line sir while I find my bomb threat checklist."



January 12, 2017

U.S. Health Data Maps

Neat map tool here that shows the change between 1980 and 2014 in mortality rates due to various causes.

Some results:
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--Cardiovascular disease worsened significantly for men/improved for women.

--Cirrhosis of liver increased bigly for women.

--Mental and substance abuse disorders better for women, worse for men, especially in KY-PA-OH axis,

--Change in self-harm and interpersonal violence markedly higher for women compared to men.

--Interesting how crossing a border seems to change mortality - Texas is doing so much better across the board than Oklahoma.  Perhaps due to better economy?

--In terms of overall life expectancy at birth, men pretty much show poorer change numbers, women better.  And California, go figure.  The politically dysfunctional state seems healthy in terms of life expectancy rate change. 

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So in summary and to oversimplify:  Women are drinking more but in general not abusing substances resulting in death (KY/WV big exceptions).  Women are doing better mentally, men are doing worse, except with respect to deaths due to self-harm and interpersonal violence  

Women are becoming more like men with respect to drinking and violence, but less like men when it comes to general overall health and susceptibility to disease.  I wonder how much of it can be tied simply to men dropping out of the workforce.  Work seems to keep people healthier. 

January 09, 2017

Jeremiahs and Pariahs

Thanks very little, Meryl Streep, for picking on the potus-elect's disabilities (sensitivity to slights and easily distracted nature).  It doesn't help to pile negativity on our president elect in advance. By crying wolf, Streep only waters down when (not if) Trump oversteps.

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Trying to ponder mysteries without any clue, like how Trump won. Or how it is that Appalachian folks on the dole and Native Americans on the dole both have sky high suicide rates / drug dependency and general misery. It certainly calls into question my lifelong conviction that work is the curse of the workin' class. My dream was to retire at 30 but surely to my detriment.

Less of a mystery is why Applachians stay in a community with so little opportunity: it comes down to sentiment, and that some things are more important than money:
But why did he stay? "I know there is very little opportunity here," Reed says. "But I wanted to come back because I need someone to remind me of what life is about. I know these people, prayed with them. They carried me when no else would. We value people, memories, and experiences."...I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the sentimental case for staying. At night, in my inn, I could hear the trains huffing... It was an oddly comforting sound.
So many mysteries, so little time. Today has been replete with them.

I also got briefly obsessed with the unsolved July murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich, which Julian Assange has implied was a whistleblower. Similarly the disappearance of Eric Braverman, who was hired by Cheslea to clean up the Clinton Foundation and since Oct-Nov has not shown himself in public. I looked at the FB accounts of his mother and father, stepmother and stepfather.

In an Internet age, when answers to everything are at your fingertips, it's feels almost foreign that so many things are still unknowable.

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I read a lot of Jeremiah last night for contrarian purposes. I'm perversely interested in some of the most unpopular books in the Bible like Jeremiah. No one quotes him approvingly except for the 2.5 passages in which he's happy and upbeat. It's like how I'm drawn to extremes such as the presidency of James Buchanan, arguably the worst president in US history (at least according to biography of Buchanan I'm reading titled "Worst President Ever").

At the very least I want to understand how it is the ancient Jews so favored these "doom and gloom" prophets such that they included them in their sacred scripture.

Still want to find the right book on Jeremiah. It's not enough to read the actual Scripture, I hunger for opinions on how it fits into the whole scheme of history and theology. I got a lot of wants. I want to sit down with the reliable, great biblical scholars and pepper them with questions. I think I want to see the "worst" the Bible has to offer, in terms of woe and doom. God is unchangeable, therefore I can't simply write off Jeremiah as being part of that benighted old testament. It's surely part of my project of reconciling judgement and mercy which is likely a hopeless cause. But there's a measure of facing your fear in this. For similar reasons I think D. Keith Mano faced the sexual lust dragon by writing novels involving lust. Whether his project was successful I don't know, but Mano seemed bent on destroying lust by visiting the "scene of the crime".  I think if I can learn to stop worrying and love the Jeremiah then I'll be a more holistic Christian. 

From Peter Kreeft:
Jeremiah himself was just the opposite of our stereotype of the doomsayer: someone stern, severe, and sour, tight of jaw, bitter of bile, and hard of heart. Jeremiah was a sensitive, gentle, kindhearted man; but God called him to deliver a harsh, hard message. God often calls us to necessities that we think our natural personalities are not fit for...
No Old Testament poetry is more heartfelt and feeling-full than Jeremiah’s, except some of the Psalms. A few of his expressions have become famous, such as, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” (8:22) and his personification of death as a grim reaper (9:21–22).
If God allowed reincarnation, I think Jeremiah would be the prophet he would bring back today. For the besetting sin of our society too is not so much any one particular sin—lust and greed and sloth and luxuriousness are hardly our invention—but the loss of the consciousness of sin. Our ancestors may have been more cruel than we, but at least they repented.
Yet even the coming exile is mercy, for it (and it alone) would turn Judah’s heart to seek God again, to listen and repent. There is always hope because His love and mercy are as unchangeable as His justice and truth.
Scott Hahn:
The Chosen People had forsaken their covenant with God, throwing off the yoke of the Lord in moral obduracy (Jer 2:20), and so earned the more severe Babylonian yoke. Jeremiah repeatedly preached the direct link between moral decline and political degeneration with the aim of sparking a real moral reformation.
The thing about Jeremiah, like Jesus, he did not withhold themselves from judgment. Just as Jesus suffered for our sins and for our sake, so too did Jeremiah, who suffered much mental pain and anguish, was rejected and hated, and loathing doing what he was called to do:
In a Christlike manner, Jeremiah made his life a Messianic prophecy, enduring for his people the very sufferings that were predicted and proclaimed... Jeremiah saw himself as “a gentle lamb led to the slaughter” (Jer 11:19). Like Christ, he wept for his people and called upon them to turn aside at the last hour, only to receive from his people rejection and anger.
I pondered on John the Baptist wondered at the absurdity of his baptizing Jesus and how we can perhaps think of the absurdity of our bringing others to Jesus. But our God has this thing for using humans. As I read in Saving the Bible from Ourselves:
I will read straight through Esther and then consider how it is that God simply will not act alone in this drama. He is uncompromising in his determination that humans act like humans and play their parts. 

January 04, 2017

Dazes of Holly

This, that, and another thing:  Christmas Day began with 8am Mass at Sacred Heart with a new guy, a huge Grizzly Adams priest with full black beard. He sang part of Mass, which seemed appropriate given the organist/cantor couldn't sing due to a cold or something. Adams gave an inspiring homily and I thawed. "O Come All Ye Faithful" is so good when four full verses are sung, the last in triumphal Latin, as if we singers sudden acquire the gift of tongues, so foreign does that language sound to these post-Vatican II ears.

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A few days after Christmas, we received quite a production number from grandsons 6-yr old Sam and 4-yr old Will. Music ("Blame") via Alexa, strobe lights from Sam via a flashlight, and dancing from Will. Hilarious and impressive and harrowing all at the same time (the latter because interest in acting and stagecraft is not exactly a great thing given Hollywierd).

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A couple days ago I read this Pope Francis-like offering from a novel by Lydia Millet:
Watching her protect a ratty mouse, a dog-eared, broken-spined, finger-smeared picture book, it's almost possible to believe that everything in the world is precious, that each humble item that exists has a delicate and singular value. 
It's possible to believe that all matter should be treated tenderly.


My wife is working on cleaning up garage. She curiously judges her vacations by how productive it is while I judge a vacation day by how leisured it is.



Passed up the chance to buy an old restored farm house in the country.  The hard part was taking it on faith that even the glories of the interior would get stale, that tall ceilings and marvelous entry way would become commonplace (or cluttered beyond all recognition). I was set on making my wfie's country dream come true but ultimately recognized that it has to be a 2-way street. To go into a house buy hoping the inspection would fail, well, that speaks volumes in itself.



Peggy Noonan writes in her book of a dead fireman on 9/11, a Patrick Byrne, who shared her grandfather's name and my great-great-grandfather's. Even the middle initial, "D", matches in my case. I include this riveting information only because my uncle reads this page.



Sometimes I feel discouraged praying to saints given there's so little in it for them. I notice some people "bribe" saints by promising to spread their fame to others if their prayer is answered, but I don't know that many people. I can't offer a saint intellectual stimulation or a shared depth of spiritual things or a shared holiness. Friendship in a natural level presumes a shared enjoyment in each other - how does that work on a supernatural level?

But really the sheer essence of love is not getting anything for it.



I finally had enough time today to order a frame for Bill Luse's farm painting. Only after about 8 years or more.

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It's sort of startling how little human nature has changed such that ancient Greek philosophers from 2500 years ago can write the following (from "The Porch and the Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christian Living" by Kevin Vost):
To get carried away beyond true need is to walk over a cliff. Even with shoes, if you go beyond the measure of the needs of the foot, you will think you need gilded shoes and then shoes with purple embroidery. The sky is the limit once a thing moves beyond its true measure.
Females are called “ladies” or “mistresses” right after they turn fourteen. If they see they are valued as nothing but bedmates for men, they place all their focus on their appearance and place all their hopes on luring a man. We should rather take care to make clear to young women that they are valued not only for their attractiveness, but for appearing modest and showing self-respect in their dress and manner.
Sheep don’t show how well they have eaten by vomiting up their grass before their shepherd, but by digesting their food and producing wool and milk. So too for you, don’t regurgitate philosophical propositions to non-philosophers, but show them the actions such propositions lead to in one’s life, once they are digested.
Be on your guard when faced with apparent pleasures...call to mind two times, not only the time in which you’ll enjoy that pleasure, but the time afterwards when you’ll berate yourself for your action.
Speaking of regret afterwards, our conscience can seem to be a pain but John Henry Newman had a rather high view of it, via Fr. Robert Barron:
John Henry Newman refers to the conscience as “the aboriginal vicar of Christ in the soul,” in part because it mediates the presence of the God who knows and judges even the most intimate affairs of the heart..."For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:3). This in itself is a good thing, for it proves that the transgressor is in the presence of God.


Started the New Year with a Latin mass. It'd been a full two months since my last one, so it felt time.

In Bruce Springsteen's new memoir, he says the Church of his youth was mysterious, and now is welcoming. That pretty well describes the changeover from Latin to English in the mass as well. Springsteen said he believes in Jesus but "I no longer believe in his godly power. I believe deeply in his love." And I think for a lot of people that is the sense of it. To hold that Christ is both powerful (for example, to judge) and loving is the mission of the church and not an easy one in this age.

I think part of the mystique of the Latin mass is reassures one of God's power and majesty. The English mass assures one of God's accessibility, perhaps, at the cost of seeing his power. (That power, incidentally, includes the power to forgive sins.) The foreign language alone, the Latin, reminds me that I'm not God, that he symbolically speaks in a different tongue, that his thoughts are way above mine.

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Ronald Knox on the mystery of free will, mentioning how our will can't simply be predicated by motives nor be attributed to mere brainless whim. If the latter, how can there be punishment or merit? If the former, if motives are tyrants that force us into doing what we do, then there is "no room left to put anything of ourselves into it.":
Neither of these two positions will do. Just as there is no explaining of the way in which subject and object interact upon one another in our knowledge, so there is no explaining of the way in which our will and the motives that inspire it interact upon one another when we choose between two courses of action. It is a mystery, and we must bow to it.
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Funny novelistic line (Jonathon Lee's High Dive):
He struggled sometimes to shake the idea that his early life had been all about an excess of sex and a sense of bottled potential, and that these things had, in the rich tradition of life's droll jokes, been replaced by an absence of sex and a sense of wasted potential.

I Write the Answers that the Whole World Needs

The Columbus Dispatch recently offered questions that Gov. John Kasich needs to answer.  As a public service, I will answer them. I give and I give:
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As America gets a new president and Ohio gets the final two-year budget from Gov. John Kasich, the start of the new year contains many more questions than answers. Such as:

1. What happened to the Ohio “miracle”?

Kasich himself came up with this over-the-top label for the state’s economic turnaround. A year ago he was campaigning for president on the basis of doing for the American economy what he did for Ohio's. But now state government revenue is receding and Kasich says Ohio is on the verge of a recession.

Me: The Ohio economy, like the weather, fluctuates. Politicians take credit, mostly falsely, when things go well. Politicians take blame, mostly falsely, when things go poorly. Same as it ever was as the philosopher says. The economy is not something government can "manage", unless you want to institute the old Soviet Union's oh-so-successful "5-yr plans".

2. Can the state get a handle on its drug problem?

The Kasich administration was hailed for early recognition of and action on Ohio’s struggles with pill mills, over-prescribing doctors, opiates and heroin early on. Yet the problem continues to worsen, to the point where Ohio now leads the nation in drug deaths. So far, Kasich has rejected calls to declare a health emergency and direct even more resources into treatment. Is he going to do anything more?

Me: That the heroin epidemic continues to worsen despite the Kasich administration's "early recognition and action" tells you all you need to know about the scourge of drugs. Would you ask, "what is Ohio going to do about the fact that drugs are addictive?" Or "what is Ohio going to do about the 100% mortality rate human beings experience?" See "Dreamland: The True Story of the Heroin Epidemic" by Sam Quinones on why Ohio became ground zero for the initial epidemic.

3. What about other seeming intractable problems, such as infant mortality and the “ achievement gap” in student performance?

Again, the administration won praise for going after infant mortality right away, especially after Kasich brought it up in his first State of the State address in 2011. Still, Ohio remains at or near the bottom of statistics showing how many infants — especially African-Americans — die before reaching their first birthday. And if black children do make it to school age, they’re still much more likely than their nonminority classmates to score badly on achievement tests, despite efforts of multiple governors to tackle the problem.

Me: If Obama, America's first black president, couldn't do anything about infant African-American mortality, then how the heck can a governor? How folks think government has the power to change behaviors that place infants at risk, or groups that stigmatize learning as "acting white", is completely beyond me.

4. How much of what he wants will Kasich get from the GOP-dominated legislature in his budget proposal?

The governor already has predicted that lawmakers will yet again reject his proposal to increase the severance tax on oil and gas production, even though Ohio’s assessment is among the nation’s lowest. (The sway of the fossil fuel crowd was underscored during last year’s lame-duck session when Republican lawmakers voted to give the oil and gas folks a tax break retroactive to 2010 of more than a quarter billion dollars.) Kasich also has been repeatedly thwarted in attempts to cut state income taxes in favor of increased “consumption” taxes.

Me:  How much the Kasich will get from the GOP-dominated legislature seems like a question for the GOP-dominated legislature. I'm not sure we pay politicians to be in the business of making predictions.

5. Will Kasich talk to us?

Me: Given the quality of the questions above, I think he's smart not to.