March 29, 2018

Douthat's New Book

I lost sleep last night compulsively reading Ross Douthat's new book To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism.  It's not surprising this would be a good one given it offers intrinsically interesting subject matter via a writer of great gifts.

It starts with Douthat's openness about his spiritual journey (in the interest of transparency as it necessarily impacts how he views things) to a short history of the papacy, including how Benedict XVI chose to go the route of the obscure pontiff from the 1200s who made resignation an option.

But really the price of the book was worth it just to open my eyes to the fact that I’ve been looking at the papacy wrong, that I’ve been seduced into thinking like the Church needs someone who will turn things around when, in fact, all periods of restoration and evangelization have come from the grass roots, St. Benedict, St. Francis, etc... It’s saints who really change things for the better by their fealty to God, not popes.

And it’s only a modern thing where we canonize popes and have a cult-like allegiance to them. Once you get past the papal-martyrs of the first 300 years, papal saints have been few and far between.

I feel rather relieved in some ways. I feel like the Church is not doomed with Francis just as it was not saved by John Paul. There’s no greater proof, to my mind, that popes are extremely limited in power by the fact that St. John Paul II and Benedict led no great rebound.  Ultimately the only salvation is the breath of God restoring his Church with radical saints.

Douthat makes the case that while church “liberals” have obviously accelerated the downfall of the Church by any objective measure (vocations, Mass attendance, birthrates, etc..), church “conservatives” have not made any significant difference, just slowed the rate of decline a bit.

So he says both liberals and conservatives share blame in the ineffectiveness of our witness. Conservatives are too insular and have compromised themselves by identifying too closely with right wing politics (such as approving of George W. Bush). Liberals have failed by not recognizing the failed experiment of Episcopalians, who have gotten everything that Catholic liberals want with disastrous results.

*

The conclave vote was interesting. Bergoglio started with about 20% of the vote on the first ballot and moved to about 85% of the final fifth ballot. So I guess almost perfect bell curve of opinion: 20% totally enthusiastic about him from the beginning of the conclave, and 15% couldn't bring themselves to vote for him even in the final "rubber stamp" vote.  The penultimate vote had him at 64%, which means about 36% apparently had some misgivings even at that relatively late stage, or simply preferred their candidate and weren't willing to compromise.  He benefited likewise from a certain malleability, of seeming to be all things to all groups:
Not all of the Bergoglio distinctives were apparent to the cardinals in the conclave, and perhaps a fuller sense of Bergoglio’s background and perspective would have changed the outcome of the vote. But perhaps not, because once his candidacy gained momentum, different pieces of his biography seemed to be arranged to suit what different electors wanted to see in him. The St. Galleners canvassed for him because they saw hints of their own worldview in his focus on poverty and social justice, his seeming weariness with certain culture war battles, and his decentralizing instincts. Conservatives came around to him because they were reassured by what they knew of his wars with left-wing Jesuits, his earthy supernaturalism, his conflicts with the Argentine president. Latin and African cardinals appreciated his non-European, from-the-peripheries perspective. North American cardinals saw a fellow New Worlder and an experienced manager whom they could back against the Italianate corruptions of the curia.
*
             
Douthat also gives a spirited and touching defense of the "Pharisee" Catholics whom Francis regularly rails against:
To be sure there were legalists in their ranks; to be sure there were stone-throwers and nostalgists and bigots; to be sure the temptation toward self-righteousness was ever-present, ever-real. But looking at the big picture, it seemed unfair to treat their beleaguered subculture—the homeschooling families raising five children on a modest budget, the young men joining the priesthood in a world that sneered at celibacy, the clusters of Catholics praying the Rosary at abortion clinics, the elderly parishioners sacrificing to keep eucharistic adoration going—as if it shared in all the authoritarian faults of the church in Franco’s Spain or Eamon de Valera’s Ireland. Especially since it was this subculture that in many cases had kept Catholicism in the West going, kept it from sharing Mainline Protestantism’s fate, kept parishes from closing and seminaries from emptying, kept the church’s schools from going under and the church’s charities from becoming simple clients of the government, kept the church’s scandal-plagued bishops from becoming generals without an army.

March 15, 2018

World War 2 Hero

My great uncle Donald’s first cousin, Richard, enlisted in the army straight out of high school in WW2.   He entered the service on 11/27/1943 and was shot by Germans on 11/27/1944, dying of his wounds the next day.  He was just 19 years old. The funeral was held by my great uncle Fr. Cogan and is buried at St. Stephen's Cemetery in Hamilton.

He died in one sense simply because General Patton wasn’t in charge, as he ought to have been had the army been truly a meritocracy.  Instead you had the mediocre Omar Bradley, who let the carnage go on in an unwinnable situation (horrible terrain of deep forest and mud towards the goal of a useless target against dug-in German defenses – basically a foreshadowing of Vietnam.   Patton was not in favor of 'exposing oneself to the prolonged enemy fire', had recommended against it, and blasted the Hurtgen forest battle as a “collossal waste”.  

Richard, the son of an Austrian immigrant would die at the bloody Battle of Hürtgen Forest, a three month protracted battle, the "longest single battle the U.S. Army has ever fought."   In Richard's German heritage he was not alone – ironically half the U.S. fighters had German blood. 

He was a member of the 18th infantry, company M, in the elite First Division (“The Big Red One”, mordantly referred to colloquially as “The Big Dead One”) and survived the D-Day invasion at Omaha beach.

The Hürtgen Forest cost the U.S. First Army at least 33,000 killed and wounded; German casualties were 28,000.   The Battle of the Bulge gained widespread press and public attention, leaving the battle of Hürtgen Forest largely forgotten, although in 1998 a movie was made about the battle, “When Trumpets Fade”, and in 2016 another titled “1944”. 

The commander was Major General Clarence R. Huebner (from Wikipedia):

“In 1943, General Huebner relieved the popular commander of the 1st Infantry Division, General Terry Allen, in a move engineered by General Omar N. Bradley. While the 1st ID, aka The Big Red One, had enjoyed considerable combat success under Allen's leadership, Bradley was highly critical of both Allen and Roosevelt's wartime leadership style, which favored fighting ability over drill and discipline: ‘While the Allies were parading decorously through Tunis,’ Bradley wrote, ‘Allen's brawling 1st Infantry Division was celebrating the Tunisian victory in a manner all its own. In towns from Tunisia all the way to Arzew, the division had left a trail of looted wine shops and outraged mayors.’  Despite this, Bradley admitted that ‘none excelled the unpredictable Terry Allen in the leadership of troops.’

Upon assuming command, General Huebner immediately ordered a series of close-order drills, parades, and weapons instruction for the 1st ID, including its veterans, who had just finished a bloody series of engagements with German forces in Sicily. This did not endear him to the enlisted men of the division, who made no attempt to hide their preference for General Allen. As one of the men of the Big Red One said in disgust, ‘Hell's bells! We've been killing Germans for months and now they are teaching us to shoot a rifle? It doesn't make any sense.’  Supported by Bradley and Eisenhower, Huebner persisted, and the morale of the division gradually recovered. As the commander of the Big Red One in World War II, Huebner led the 1st in the assault on Omaha Beach, followed by a successful infantry attack at Saint-Lô. The 1st would later repel a German counteroffensive at Mortain, and pursue the German Army across France, culminating in the Battles of Aachen and the Huertgen Forest.”

And what was gained in this battle?: 

“The Americans conquered 50 square miles of real estate of no real tactical value to future operations, and they had destroyed enemy troops and reserves, which the other side could ill afford to lose.  The Germans, on the other hand, with meager resources, had slowed down a major Allied advance for 3 months. At the end of November, vital targets, dams along the Roer River, the importance of which were not realized until late in the fighting in the the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, were still in German hands.

Had the First Army gone for the Roer River Dams early in the fighting, there would have been no battle of Hürtgen Forest.  That men must die in battle is accepted, and some fighting will always be more miserable and difficult than others.  If there had been a push directly from the south to take the Roer River Dams, the cost of lives could have been just as costly.  However, if that had been done, at least the objective would have been clear and accepted as important. 

Those who fought in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest fought a misconceived and basically fruitless battle that could have, and should have been avoided.  That is the real tragedy of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest.”

By late August 1944, the “Allied logistics system was stretched to the breaking point, and the advancing armies were on the verge of running out of ammunition and fuel. Allied military planners were faced with the two strategic options of attacking Germany - on a broad front or on a narrow front. General George S. Patton and field marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery were the two leading advocates of the narrow-front approach… Pressed hard by Montgomery, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower agreed in September 1944 to support the British plan for a combined ground and airborne thrust into Holland and then across the Rhine River at Arnhem. It soon failed and with supplies starting to dwindle to a trickle, the western Allies had no real choice other than to revert to the broad-front strategy of applying even pressure against the Germans all along the line.”  After the war was over, a Nazi general stated, “I have engaged in the long campaigns in Russia as well as other fronts and I believe the fighting in the Hurtgen was the heaviest I have ever witnessed.” 

The question of “why” is very similar to what would happen with Vietnam: 

“To some at the time and to many after the event, the question occurred: why did the First Army keep feeding more and more units into the Huertgen Forest? Throughout the fighting, the army commander, General Hodges, was acutely conscious of the difficulties his troops were facing in the forest… When the First Army first entered the forest, nobody expected any real trouble. After the hard fighting developed, the Germans had to endure the same kind of hardships as the Americans did and were infinitely less capable of replacing battle-weary formations with rested units. The expectation was always present that one more fresh American division would turn the trick.”

 Historian Ernie Herr writes: 

“Those that fought the battle from the American side were mostly from the high school classes of 1942, 1943 and 1944. These mostly still teenagers included championship high school football teams, class presidents, those that had sung in the spring concerts, those that were in the class plays, the wizards of the chemistry classes, rich kids, bright kids. There were sergeants with college degrees along with privates from Yale and Harvard. America was throwing her finest young men at the Germans. These youths had come from all sections of the country and nearly every major ethnic group.

 British General Horrocks (one of the few generals, if not the only general to do so) made a surprise front line visit to the 84th division and described these young men as ‘an impressive product of American training methods which turned out division after division complete, fully equipped. The divisions were composed of splendid, very brave, tough young men. ‘But he thought it was too much to ask of green divisions to penetrate strong defense lines, then stand up to counter attacks from first-class German divisions. And he was disturbed by the failure of American division and corps commanders and their staffs to ever visit the front lines. He was greatly concerned to find that the men were not even getting hot meals brought up from the rear, in contrast to the forward divisions in the British line. He reported that not even battalion commanders were going to the front.

These were the magnificent kids of the American high school classes of 1942, 43 and 44 and while over 50,000 German soldiers were executed for desertion during this time period, only one American soldier was executed for the same offense, remarkably demonstrating the patriotism and devotion to duty of this group.

That this patriotism and devotion was so abused and never recognized even to this day, should be cause for a heavy heart. If there were ever a group of Americans for which a tear should be shed, this would be the group.”
 *

On 27 November the 18th Infantry renewed its attempt to take Hill 203, which for more than three days had stymied an advance into Langerwehe, Germany.  He likely took fire in the attempt, probably from German paratroopers or the German 47th Division, and died the next day in newly conquered Langerwehe.  

He posthumously received the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

March 14, 2018

Jonah Goldberg on Youth Identity Politics

Good Jonah Goldberg rant:


Youth Politics Are Stupid

Let’s establish a baseline. I assume we can all agree that everyone is born remarkably dumb. Ever try to talk about the causes of the First World War with a newborn? So frustrating.

There are few things more settled in science than the fact that humans start out not very bright or informed and that this condition only wears off over time — i.e., as they get older.

Only slightly more controversial: Young people tend to be more emotional than grown-ups. This is true of babies, who will cry about the silliest things (hence the word, “crybaby”). But it’s also true of teenagers.

Again, this is not string theory. We know these things. And the idea that I must provide empirical evidence for such a staggeringly obvious point is hilarious to me.

Aside from all the social science, medical science, novels, plays, poems, musicals, and movies that explore this fact, there is another source we can consult on this: ourselves.

Every not-currently-young person reading this “news”letter has one thing in common: We were all young once.

This is what I mean when I say that “youth politics are the laziest form of identity politics.” Say what you will for racial-identity politics, there’s at least a superficial case that such identities are immutable. I can never be a black woman. And before everyone gets clever, even if I dropped a lot of coin on cosmetic surgery, I can never claim to know what it’s like to be a black woman.

You know what I can claim, though? Knowing what it’s like to be young. Sure, I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be young in 2018, but as the father of a 15-year-old, I’m not wholly ignorant on the topic either. On the other hand, my 15-year-old has no clue what it was like to be young in the 1980s.

And that’s why youth politics are such a lazy form of identity politics. (It’s also why generational stereotypes are lazy.) Here’s a news flash for you: There was no “Greatest Generation.” The dudes who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima and Normandy: badasses and heroes, to a man. The dudes back home in the drunk tank on D-Day? Not so much.

This is what I hate about all forms of identity politics. It’s an effort to get credit or authority based upon an accident of birth. The whole point of liberalism (the real kind) is the idea that people are supposed to be judged on the basis of their own merits, not as representatives of some class or category. Of course, one needn’t be absolutist about this. A little pride in your culture or ethnicity won’t do any harm. But reducing individuals simply to some abstract category is the very definition of bigotry.

There is no transitive property to age. If a 17-year-old cures cancer, that’s fantastic. But the 17-year-old who spends his days huffing glue and playing Call of Duty is still a loser. I’m a Gen Xer. I take literally zero pride in the good things people my age do. I also have zero shame about the terrible things people my age do. Why? Because age is as dumb a thing as height or hair color to hitch your self-esteem to. What kind of loser looks back on a life of mediocrity and sloth and says to himself, “Well at least other people in my age cohort did great things!”?

This is what I hate about all forms of identity politics. It’s an effort to get credit or authority based upon an accident of birth.

And yet, we constantly invest special virtue in young people. As Socrates explained to Meno, there are no special virtues for young people. There are simply virtues. If a young person says that 2 + 2 = 4, that’s no more right or wrong than if an old person says so. The bravery of one 18-year-old does not negate the cowardice of another 18-year-old.

And that gets me to the next of my supposedly outrageous points: Older people know more than younger people. I’ve been stunned by the number of people offended by this. A lot of folks are getting hung up on the fact that young people know more about some things than older people. Fair enough. The average young person knows more about today’s youth culture and gadgets than the average fogey. My daughter can identify the noise coming out of my car radio. When I was a kid, it was running joke that grown-ups couldn’t figure out how to make the VCR stop flashing “12:00.” It never dawned on me that knowing how to fix that problem meant I knew more about politics than my dad.

This isn’t just a point about technological know-how or public policy. There’s an emotional narcissism to youth. Because a rich cocktail of hormones courses through teenagers’ still-developing brains, young people think they are the first people to experience a range of emotions. But we’ve all experienced those emotions. It’s just that when you experience them for the first time, it’s easy to think it’s the first time anyone has experienced such emotions. The first time you fall in love — or think you’ve fallen in love — as a teenager is a wildly intoxicating thing. And there’s nothing more infuriating than when old people tell you, “It’s just a phase.” That, however, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Indeed, “You just don’t get it!” might as well be the motto of youth.

March 10, 2018

Bookstore Travelogue

So the other night I heard the sad news that probably the biggest and best Columbus used bookstore, Acorn Books, is closing after 25 years of business. Although I only went there maybe four or five times, it was nice just knowing it was there and the community will be poorer without it. Of course I was part of the problem as I didn’t go there often. (I like to think I would’ve had I lived close by.) They are going the way of all flesh due to the fact you can buy used books online of course, and that e-business is killing brick and mortars (almost wrote “brick and mortals”).

They are having a whale of a going-out-of-business sale, every book under $25 was marked down to $1.  I picked up over 25 books, and a couple of bookends for $5 each. Time evaporated under the “pressure” of trying to filter tens of thousands of books into a manageable number.

The joint was packed, as well it might. One eccentric old gentleman, dressed sportily in a vest and tie and tweed hat, thought to ham it up by singing, apropos of nothing, a ditty he made up. It went something like this: “Why doesn’t Trump go / on Fox News anymore / It’s because of Stormy Davis / a man could suffocate / between those bosoms....”. He added that he wished Trump would. People smiled to themselves but didn’t look at him, preoccupied by our book frenzy.  It helped that he had a British accent. Eccentricism is more tolerated in foreigners.

The place comes by its characters honestly since the owners themselves are rather unique, exemplified by the unusual decor.



I felt the obligatory amount of greediness. This was one of those rare situations where books are well-nigh free for the taking, as if dollar bills were floating down and people were grabbing all they could. I wouldn’t have minded filling up with a long row of 19th century books in old leather bindings, but I was intent on content uber alles.

Now I’m doing a sort of “reverse tourism” (call it “reverse book research”) in discovering what I bought. Shades of “let’s pass this bill and see what’s in it”. Pleasantly surprised by most of them.

The Mark Helperin novels look pretty keen. Scored a CEB Thinline Bible (sadly, without deuterocanonicals). The Nabakov “Speak, Memory” filled a big hole in my library. The poems of Francis Thompson cheer me, as it is indeed that Thompson, of Hound of Heaven fame.

The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve by Greenblatt. Thrilled I could get this for a song given I was tempted to get it anyway. Major find. Secular author of course, but that’s par for the course.

Mother Ireland by Edna O’Brien looks like a fail, a typical hit piece on Catholic Ireland.

The Maidens on the Rocks was written by an Italian 19th century poet and looks not so good:
“D’Annunzio’s literary works are marked by their egocentric perspective, their fluent and melodious style, and an overriding emphasis on the gratification of the senses, whether through the love of women or of nature.”
Interesting that the love of nature and women correlation. This volume: “featured viciously self-seeking and wholly amoral Nietzschean heroes.”

A Traveler’s Book of Verse - looks very promising, as it’s early 1900s descriptive anthology of Europe through the lens of poetry.

Portrait of Those I Love by Daniel Berrigan. Looking forward to getting his viewpoint of Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.

Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley.  Said to be delightful book tangentially related to bookselling craft. Mentions a rather lazy male which sounds like me:  “He spends a good deal of his time tramping about the countryside, chronicling the life of country folk, leaving Helen to take up the slack at home.”

The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture - unfortunately written by a Village Voice editor, so it’s probably safe to assume he comes at it from a pro-porn point of view, but this looks interesting inasmuch as a history of censorship and how pornography as a term exists only since the 18th century.

Little Chapel on the River: A Pub, a Town and the Search for What Matters Most - what an unexpected gem! Seems right up my alley, and written by talented author (WSJ reporter). Fish out of water story about Manhattanite forced out of her apartment by 9/11 and coming to small town in Ireland.

Dark Rosaleen - a historical novel about the Irish famine. Reviews suggest the writing isn’t that strong, alas, but I’m always on the lookout for a really good Irish famine novel.

The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft - George Gissing. Looks potentially like a gem. From amazon reviews:
What a pity most contemporaries, obsessed with the superficial chop suei from their laptops and cellphones, have forgotten this little classic, a fine collection of belles-lettres pieces which displays a keen sensitivity to Nature and to the subtle changing seasons. I recommend it to anyone who still keeps a longing for beauty and art in life...
And another:  “Gissing was not a Christian but in this book he shares a generally positive view of the influence of Christianity on England. He had in his own life also found solace in the Stoic philosophers.”

Irish Journal by Heinich Boll. It’s a translation from the German, so that’s not ideal, but still looks potentially very strong. From an amazon reviewer:
Amazingly, a native German, managed to distill Ireland down to its essence. Perhaps this is why Heinrich Boll is a Nobel Laureate. Such a concise work, yet so powerful and beautiful.

March 08, 2018

Book on '08 Financial Crisis

I'm reading interesting book called "Crisis of Responsibility" by Bahnsen that lays out the perfect storm that resulted in the financial crisis, basically covetousness on Wall Street and Main Street combined with loose monetary policy:

Here are the money quotes:
Wall Street’s use of the synthetic CDO—an investment device used to bet that mortgage bonds would perform and that Americans would keep paying their house payments—proved to be a weapon of mass destruction for our financial system. But no exotic CDO bet caused any Americans to quit paying their bills. Wall Street’s error was not in causing Americans on Main Street to stop paying their bills, but in making the wrong bet as to whether or not they would.

In October of 2009, I sat in the thirty-fifth floor conference room in the Fifth Avenue offices of one of the premier credit hedge funds in the industry. As I talked to the portfolio manager about the crazy twelve months we had just experienced, he said one of the most chilling things I have ever heard. “We had a financial crisis, David,” he said to me, “because 10 percent of the society had no conscience. The financial crisis only ended because it proved to be 10 percent and not 20 percent.” The implication was clear. Ten percent of the population walking away from responsibility was enough to cause the crisis. We managed to barely emerge from the other side at 10 percent. Had the number been 20 percent, we would not have been so lucky.
And here's the gist of it in context:
Society’s collective response thus far has been a sort of convoluted blame game, divided almost entirely along political lines. Most on the Right have accurately but incompletely focused their attentions on the flaws of government housing policy. A subset has gone after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for their excesses. Another subset has focused on the broader social policy objectives so instrumental in driving the housing mania. Still another subset has focused on easy monetary policy that proved to be gasoline thrown on the housing crisis fire. None of them are wrong, per se; they just aren’t enough. They are an incomplete assessment of the big picture necessary for a crisis of this magnitude.

But the monster at the core is the same—envy. While one is of a more institutional variety (corporate envy in the halls of Lehman) and one is of a more retail variety (neighborhood envy of “keeping up with the Joneses”), both capture the root cause of the 2008 financial crisis in a word we don’t hear much anymore: covetousness.

The bubble-like behavior—while doused with kerosene by a reckless monetary policy, accelerated by a dangerous government housing agenda, enabled by a failed regulatory framework, and facilitated by a short-sighted and incompetent financial system—was still fundamentally at its root a byproduct of human irresponsibility in a culture of insufficient thrift and virtue.
             
You can think of the Main Street players as four unique actors: 1. The Swindled. These actors were the very poor and naïve who truly did not understand any part of what they were doing when they signed loan documents obligating them to payments they could not afford. In short, they were duped by predatory lenders. 2. The Reckless. These people irresponsibly encumbered themselves through mortgages or cash-out borrowing they could not afford. But they understood the risk associated and proceeded anyway, out of either the belief that continuously rising home prices would fix everything or out of callous disregard for consequences.
             
Gamblers. This group was financially capable and reasonably educated. They rolled the dice and speculated all the way. When they lost the bet, they recognized the economic convenience of a strategic default. They chose to walk away from their obligations with the presumption that there would be no negative consequences to their income or balance sheet. And they were right. 4. The Diligent. The final players were those who missed no payments in the financial crisis and, therefore, added no stress to the financial system. They faithfully made the payments they had promised to make. The Diligent bear no responsibility for the financial crisis for the obvious reason that they fulfilled (and continue to fulfill) their financial responsibilities. In an indirect way, however, they may deserve some criticism for being inadequately agitated at the Reckless and the Gamblers. The Diligent seem to lack an appreciation for just how unfair the actions of the other players really were. Instead, many have joined the chorus criticizing easy institutional targets of earlier chapters. But my desire for righteous indignation doesn’t address the culpability of the other Main Street players, so I focus on the remaining three.
             
The Swindled refers to those cases where any reasonable person would see the borrower as a victim—where there was paper switching, direct lying, exploitation of language deficiencies, mental incapacity, and so forth. Let’s acknowledge that rare and despicable incidents such as these took place, but at nowhere near the level required to fuel a financial crisis.
             
The sad reality is that predatory borrowing was a far more systemic problem than predatory lending. The fact is that 70 percent of defaulted loans had blatant misrepresentations on their mortgage applications.13 The FBI estimates that mortgage fraud (by borrowers) increased 1,000 percent from 2001 to 2007. In other words, borrowers frequently made false claims to get loans, yet why did that reality not become part of the postcrisis narrative? Why is “predatory lending” a commonly used term, whereas “predatory borrowing” is the odd contraption of a free market economist?
             
If we combined all predatory loans—cases where the lender perpetrated fraud against the borrower by deceiving him or her about the loan—and all cases of predatory borrowing—cases where the borrower perpetrated fraud against the lender—we still have only 25 percent of the total defaults in the financial crisis according to the Journal of Financial Economics.14 That means 75 percent of all defaults came from people who did legitimately qualify for a loan yet defaulted anyway—the Reckless and the Gamblers.
             
Gamblers are most likely to engender irritation and least likely to gain your sympathy. Some were extremely bad actors, confident they could speculate en masse, keeping 100 percent of any upside and passing along 100 percent of any downside to their lending institutions and, eventually, to the taxpayers.
             
An intelligent and financially capable borrower simply walked away from debt they could afford. This morally questionable activity was not rare. It was commonplace. And this activity did not have a minor financial impact. The Gamblers on Main Street were major actors in the financial crisis drama.
             
The national credit bureau Experian worked with the consulting outfit Oliver Wyman in late 2009 to conduct an analysis on these strategic defaults.15 The results were damning for the Gamblers. Using a sample of twenty-four million credit files, they found that borrowers with high credit scores were 50 percent more likely to strategically default, thus debunking the myth that it was less creditworthy and capable people struggling through the financial crisis.
             
The proof for the Gamblers’ existence on Main Street and their role in first creating and then exacerbating the financial crisis can be found in two empirical facts: 1. 41 percent of all mortgage defaults took place in California and Florida, states that mandated nonrecourse financing (meaning, the borrowers could not be held personally liable for a failure to perform on their mortgage loans). In fact, the vast majority of all mortgage defaults came in nonrecourse lending states. Are we to believe that the exact conditions blamed for the financial crisis somehow magically plagued these few states, with no correlation to the fact that these states allowed borrowers to walk away scot-free?
             
And there was a crisis of culture that exacerbated the crisis, walking away from obligations without concern for personal integrity or collective economic impact.         

March 07, 2018

The Spiritual

The wondrous Fr. Charles at St. Pat's. He said today that Jesus told his disciples three times that he would be crucified, and the first reaction was Peter’s denial, the "heaven forbid this should happen" to which Jesus said, “get thee behind me Satan.” The second time the gospel says that the disciples were “distressed” by the news. And the third time, in today’s gospel, the mother of James and John, presumably on their bidding, offered to take up the cup of suffering so that they could be at Christ’s right and left.

And Fr. C said that so it must be with us. Our reaction to the cross - the fact that there is no glory without the pain - is first disbelief and denial. Then, accepting the reality, we fear and tremble. And finally we have the overconfidence and too much trust in our own abilities that James and John had. Fr. C said that at least in that third state we want to be on Christ’s side, we love him, and that’s no small thing.

*

The Ronald Knox version of Isaiah reads like poetry and is deeply affecting:

He will watch this servant of his appear among us, unregarded as brushwood shoot, as a plant in waterless soil; no stateliness here, no majesty, no beauty, as we gaze upon him, to win our hearts.
A victim? Yet he himself bows to the stroke; no word comes from him. Sheep led away to the slaughter-house, lamb that stands dumb while it is shorn; no word from him. Imprisoned, brought to judgement, and carried off, he, whose birth is beyond our knowing; numbered among the living no more!  Takes he leave of the rich, the godless, to win but a grave, to win but the gift of death; he, that wrong did never, nor had treason on his lips! 

The Political

One of the bigger surprises after the Trump win is how the mainstream media lacked introspection and doubled-down on the bias and hate. It’s another indication of how you can’t force humility (with the exception of Germany and Japan after losing a world war). Every action has an equal and opposite reaction in the world, and the reaction to Trump's win was not reaching out, but reaching back for a bigger knockout blow. It’s predictable I guess; follow the money, and there was money to be made in giving Trump airtime in the primaries as a gadfly who, as a side benefit, could upset the Republican apple cart by dividing the party and losing to Clinton, and there’s money to be made in trying to crush him now with the side benefit of getting liberals elected.

I just saw the cable ratings and how FOX News holds a narrow lead over MSNBC. Maddow is actually a close second to Tucker Carlson in the ratings, which is a sad commentary. But what the ratings fails to bring home is that MSNBC and CNN are really one crapulent network. So if you add MSNBC’s ratings with CNNs it crushes Fox’s. FOX is sort of like Trump in that there was only one Trump in the GOP primary and a bunch of suits who seemed similar. Just as Trump triumphed in part due to having his own special lane of Trumpdom, so too does Fox profit from being sui generis.