September 23, 2014

Early Baseball

Read delightedly of the book The Summer of Beer and Whiskey (it had me at “summer”, or maybe “beer”, certainly by "whiskey"). It's an engaging history of the very early years of baseball.

Nugget of interest: Read where Oscar Wilde spent about a year visiting America, including going to a Cincy Reds game I believe. 1882-ish.

The book explains the popularity of baseball in those days to our desire for the interplay between communal activity with brilliant individual achievement, emphasis on the latter. Which baseball does showcase pretty effectively. The football counterpoint might be the quarterback and running back, both of whom have a huge individual role to play in football. But when your team is on defense you have no individual to key off since there's no pitcher equivalent in football. The 1880s version of baseball was quick-quick-quick. Fast-paced. No endless drag-out of batters stepping out between pitches, no commercial timeouts between innings. Games lasted between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Perfect.

Mark Twain called baseball the perfect image of his America: “the drive, push and rush and struggle of the raging, tearing, booming nineteenth century!” Wow. That feels like a completely different game than what we have now, a game that feels leisurely, lazy, and relaxed. It's almost like he's describing football, not baseball. Although perhaps baseball in the 1880s was the football of its generation: very driving, pushing and rushing compared to the alternatives. (Golf?) Probably in 40 years football will seem to slow to us and we'll look back at football as boring.


Everyone knows the beginning of the Declaration of the Constitution right?
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of ... Kindle e-readers!
Yes it's that time of year when Amazon unveils the new line of Kindles.  Always saliva-worthy.

A short history of my Kindlic propensities follows, and while Amazon has perfected the form factor with the Paperwhite 2, with each  previous iteration the incremental benefits perhaps doesn't justify the expense.
Kindle 1: ugly, clunky, but lovable because it was untied to computer and could wirelessly download books! I waited months before ordering which displayed a level of gadget restraint never heard of before or since. 
Kindle DX: upgraded to this because I wanted a bigger screen. I always felt like Kindle needed to have pages the size of those you'd see in a hardback. Two columns. The type was faint though; not great contrast of letters on background. I'd planned this to be my “lifetime Kindle”. Lol as the kids (used to?) say. 
(Girl not included)
Kindle mini/basic/baby: I bought this for my mother in 2011 because it was unearthly cheap ($79) compared to previous models, but I found I liked it so much I got one for myself! Small screen didn't bother me as much as I thought it would and I loved the elegant look and feel of it.  Portable enough to fit in my pocket.  
Kindle Paperwhite 1: Bought this because the big "problem" with the basic Kindle was reading at night, the hassle of my wife not wanting the light on and the inadequacy of the cheap reading lights I had. I liked the touchscreen idea too. At this point I was beginning to suspect I would buy every year's new model. This seemed reasonable given what I assumed the new annual pricetag would be: $119 and falling, with re-sale of my old Kindle in the $60 range. Amazon threw a monkey wrench this year with their Voyage. 
Kindle Paperwhite 2: Bought this because although the old light was certainly functional, the uneven distribution bothered me early and often. Call me OCD and irresponsible.  And this Kindle solved that perfectly, with gorgeous distribution. So at this point, theoretically, there's no real reason to upgrade. Right. 

Paulian Scripture

Riveting first reading last week or so from St. Paul. It's the beginning of 1 Cor 8, and it talks about how going against conscience - even if it's not concerning something objectively sinful - is sinful!

In other words, “if you think it's sinful, it is, even if it's not.”? Pity the poor scrupulous?!

In this particular case, Paul is saying that meat consecrated to idols is fine, but if someone thinks it isn't fine and does it because he sees you partaking in it, then you've contributed to that fellow's downfall.

The Bible commentaries have varied things to say:
the weak Christian will be undermined: he will be encouraged to act against his (erroneous) conscience, and all acts against conscience are sinful…. [Those who know the meat is okay] have overlooked Christ’s teaching about stumbling-blocks (skandala): that an act lawful in itself may become even a mortal sin if it is foreseen that it will place difficulties or temptations in the way of a weaker Christian.
Consciousness (syneidēsis, vv. 10b, 12) arises from knowledge (syn-eidenai). The term “consciousness” first appeared in the papyri as of 59 c.e. Paul probably took the term over from its use in popular philosophy. As used by Paul it retains its traditional meaning of self-awareness. There is no need to see in Paul’s use of the term the modern notion of moral conscience.
Those with a weak consciousness... Their old habits had left a residue on their self-awareness such that it was not governed by their present Christian beliefs. Their self-awareness would be defiled were they to eat food they considered to have been offered to idols.
Those who are weak would be led to idolatry because of the knowledgeable person’s indiscriminate eating in temple precincts. They would eat food offered to idols as if it were truly dedicated to one or another idol
Their salvation (cf. 8:6) is lost because they have been led to engage in what they considered to be idol worship.
It is the believer’s responsibility not to trip up weaker persons (Chrysostom) who might think that there is some spiritual power in food offered to idols, a power they might acquire if they eat (Ambrosiaster).
So I guess the problem is that some of these people who thought eating meat sacrificed to the gods was sinful, ended up doing so anyway and felt some sort of divine benefit from it. Maybe it's sort of like the guy who tells another guy that drinking a pint is not sinful, but for the other guy, call him John, it always leads to sin in the form of, say, cleptomania and he derives the "benefit" of theft.  But that's not the same as John thinking drinking itself is sinful and thus is going against his conscience which is, thereby, sinful.  Maybe the act of eating it and going against his conscience was not the sinful part so much as feeling that the fake gods were in fact real?

And also “conscience” as self-awareness is interesting given how we associate it with the modern moral conscience.  Are these concepts so different?

September 11, 2014

Fed by Feedly

I don't go to the attractive Feedly app/website to read blogs too often despite the fact that I find the treasures contained therein more energizing and enlightening than, say, Facebook. But oh what a thick symphony of inspirations and intrigue it contains! Art appreciation. Music appreciation. The fascinating Fulton Sheen controversy. The words of classic scholars from long ago. The words of monks and near-monks (Heather King).

Before dipping my toe in Feedly I listened to a couple Metropolitan Museum of Art talks, and then heard the complete Mahler 1st symphony for free via the Berlin Philharmonic offering. The wonders of the 'net don't quit.

On Fulton Sheen, my half-baked, could-be-completely-wrong impression is that Cardinal Egan didn't care about losing Sheen's body or cause to Illinois, but then Cardinal Dolan came in and he likes having Sheen's body in the cathedral and doesn't want to give that up. There also could be some feeling that Sheen belongs in Manhattan after getting shuttled out to the boondocks in his later years. From my perspective, the highlight of St. Patrick's is that Sheen is buried there and I can't be alone.

Anyway, the whole thing surprises me if only because public dirty laundry between prelates is rarely aired. And it certainly doesn't make Dolan look good given the agreement made by Egan and the Peoria bishop in good faith. I feel sorry for the people who donated money to the cause now if the cause is indefinitely suspended.


From yesterday's first reading it's sort of ironic, perhaps, is how Paul says basically, “this is not written in Scripture but I feel that it is best…”. But what he's saying became Scripture!:
In regard to virgins I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife.
And indeed a Catholic commentary notes the tension:
Paul had not heard of any pronouncement of Christ on this subject. It does not mean that the rule which follows is only a private opinion of Paul’s. He speaks as an apostle, authorized to decide in Christ’s name.
I suppose that means that Paul's letter is binding only specifically to the audience immediately intended.


Much enjoyed Lino Rulli interview, of all people, the infamous Toronto mayor Rob Ford. I keep thinking Ford reminded me of John Candy, but it seems like Google tells me more people think of him as Chris Farley. Candy and Farley's comedic personas aren't too distinct, I suppose, and I think Ford does look more like Farley.


More web collations:

André Gide, Journals (January 5, 1922; tr. Justin O'Brien):
"My good days of work are those I begin by reading an ancient author, one of those that are called “classics.” A page is enough; a half-page, if only I read it in the proper state of mind…"

Cf. Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Notas, 210 (tr. Michael Hendry):
"The reading of Homer every morning, with the serenity, the tranquillity, the deep sensation of moral and physical well-being which it instills in us, is the best provision to endure the vulgarities of the day."
Via Heather King:

You want to know why the innocent have to suffer, why the poor have to suffer, why the Just Man had to die.
I used not to know the reason for these things.
When I discovered the reason it was Christ Himself who told me.
You ask Him this evening; He will tell you
And perhaps He will add the phrase which meant so much to me when He was explaining that universal salvation depends on the vocation of some to pay for all.
'You shall not escape from love.'
If in the Kingdom we ask the innocent who suffered for sinners, the poor who paid for the rich, the tortured who shed blood for the powerful, whether it is just or mistaken to pay so dear, we shall hear them tell us:
'It was necessary so that no-one might escape from Love.' “
–Carlo Carretto, The Desert in the City

George Gaylord Simpson (1902-1984), Attending Marvels: A Patagonian Journal (1934; rpt. New York: Time Incorporated, 1965), p. 260 (brackets in original):
Our first stop was at the Tetas de Pinedo. [Preparing a lecture once in Buenos Aires a refined friend urged me to call them the "Mamelones," that being a more elegant word, but tetas they are to the local people, tetas they are on the official maps, and so tetas they shall be in my work.] These are two large rounded hills, standing near each other and rising above the coastal plain with an appearance, as the name implies, extraordinarily like two gargantuan breasts.


From here:

I turned on the radio the other day while driving through my ramshackle post-industrial town, and I heard the adagio movement of a piece I know well, Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 27 in B-flat Major. I know it well because, when I was seven or eight years old, my mother had an LP of it that I would play over and over again. We had bought it while out grocery shopping; I had seen a display near the exit of LPs on sale for something like forty-nine cents, and this one had an image on the cover of one of Marc Chagall's designs for The Magic Flute -- Papageno, the birdcatcher -- though I didn't know this at the time. I begged my mother to get it. While driving the other day, I found that, though I hadn't heard the piece for years, I could sing every note of the piano solo and the melodic orchestral line. I noticed that the performance on the radio was actually played on the fortepiano, a forerunner of the modern piano, and that, delightfully, the soloist interpolated a fragment of Mozart's song "Komm, lieber Mai" into the cadenza in the coda of the last movement.


From St. Joseph's Abbey:

Jesus is real flesh and blood, resurrected and still here with us; and his place is always with the downtrodden and needy, for he is small like them. And this morning once again he pronounces God’s blessing on human poverty, a promise of blessing for all who are oppressed.
Commentators remind us that the Greek word for “poor” in the Beatitudes means literally “beggar” not just a poor person with a few possessions, but a beggar.* The truly poor are those who have nothing at all; the poor are those who have no choice. As monks we want to take our place with them.
In some way our poverty is all we have to offer the Lord. There is too much- so many things exteriorly, more so interiorly; and we may feel like we are stuck with it all. In the monastery we become more and more keenly aware of the reality of our very real inner woundedness and poverty and our desperate need for Christ, a need, a longing to be mercied continually. It’s just the same old story.
But this poverty is everything to us; it is all we have to offer Christ, offer the Church - the reality of total dependence on the mercy of God from moment to moment.  Ours is certainly not the crushing poverty of the economically poor and destitute; we dare not compare it. Still it’s all we’ve got- all the stuff we’ve got no choice about. And we believe it’s the very place where blessing and mercy can intrude and take root- poverty as blest by God’s loving regard. We are truly blessed, when our poverty is blest as an emptiness to be filled to overflowing with Christ’s peace and most affectionate compassion. This is everything for us as monks. And what is more, we believe that our true blessedness depends upon our willingness to become ourselves mercy-doers, mercy-makers for all who are poor.
And so we hope, and each morning we go to the altar of God, the God in Christ who alone gives us joy and freedom and peace- his very self as food. So much needs yet to be accomplished and prayed through. Our lives lived together in this monastery help to notice and watch and pray.


From "Everything That Rises" blog:
Our society’s model for the museum visit is All You Can Eat: you pay some portion of the exorbitant suggestion admission fee – now $25 at the Metropolitan Museum, I think – and then blast through the rooms, gorging on masterpieces, and wind up in the gift shop feeling stuffed, even sick.
It doesn’t have to happen that way.  With a free hour in Washington the other day, I popped into the Phillips Collection, near Dupont Circle, where admission to the current exhibit is $5 with a university ID and the permanent collection is pay-what-you-wish.
The current exhibit was of American work from the collection.  In an hour, I saw everything – well, everything except the Rothkos, which are hung (displayed is the wrong word, and so is exhibited) in a room where only three people are allowed at one time.  I saw everything – but I looked, really looked, at something like a dozen paintings, and no more. That way, I could hope to see them, really see them.
And I gave full attention to just one painting: Ben Shahn’s Still Music, from 1948.  There’s so much to see in it: the counterpoint between the soft washes of color and the firm line of the drawing; the several lines of horizontal movement (stand shelves, chair seats, chair hinges, stand bases) running over and along the intermittent vertical lines of the stands, like notation running across the bar lines of a piece of music; the tremendous energy of the painting working against the plain truth that the chairs and stands are empty. Here the music, made in this place for a certain passage of time, has gone wherever it is that live music goes.
The philosopher of art Richard Wollheim liked to spend an entire day at the National Gallery in London considering a single painting.  I could have spent a full day with Still Music.
Failing that, I now come up from the Metro at Dupont Circle relishing the knowledge that although the exhibit is over, the Shahn painting is part of the permanent collection — so is still in permanent residence nearby.   

September 10, 2014

Sighted Near Campsite. #iconic

48 Hour Camping Triplog

Creek. Tree. Stone. Primal.

Rustic camp, set up right next door to this living, breathing stereoscope of nature. Four hour drive with stop at Walmart for lantern, then much deliberation over picking a campsite, them tent, canopy, air mattress set-up…

Wild rhododendron give the place a Smoky mountains vibe. In fact this feels like Zoder's Inn, $220 cheaper and 3 hours closer. Now to relax!

(But wait! What yonder ponc lies in front? It is my exercise routine, alas and drat! I must walk a bit…)

So I walked a mile, just to absorb the gorgeous scenery. It's Brad Paisley country. I walk the creek and look up the side of a mountain hushed with the magnificence of God. The forest is dense and mysterious. Godlike. I think: “I could use more silence in my life.” More time standing dumbfounded in front of trees. Here is nature - and water - without the needling distractions of crowds as are found omnipresent in Hilton Head (even on the bike trails!)

There's a reason monasteries are founded in remote locations. There is quiet. Here is quiet. Here are mountains that have produced many a godly Baptist man, like Billy Graham. I hear Thoreau singing!


“As if pulled in by a magnet, people gather on the banks of the river. Seeing a lot of water like that every day is probably an important thing for human beings. For human beings might be a bit of a generalization—but I do know it’s important for one person: me. If I go for a time without seeing water, I feel like something’s slowly draining out of me. It’s probably like the feeling a music lover has when, for whatever reason, he’s separated from music for a long time.”

Author Edmund Morris laments the “screen-ization” of life, how so many prefer virtual experiences to real world ones. But I find this hypocritical coming from a writer. What are words but simulacrums? Can't reading be seen as a substitute for “real life”? Describing a forest is a completely different thing than experiencing one. In fact, you could say pictures are closer to the real world than words describing pictures.


So what is it about being in the forest like this that so enchants? Such a simple thing, setting up a campsite in the woods yet I ran ecstatically a couple miles, transfixed by the passing woods and mountains. Idyllic spot: of the eleven rustic campsites we're the only campers. Yes, we have the whole Bluejay campground to ourselves! That will likely change tomorrow but I'll let tomorrow take care of itself.

This morning spent a few minutes reading “Jesus” by Fr. James Martin.  Am wanting to read the collection of essays Edmund Morris has out now. When I heard there was one on the Library of Congress, the poetry of his rapture carried me away. I also wouldn't mind reading his wife's book on Claire Luce. She lived a rather colorful life. Certainly I'd like to read about her conversion story to Catholicism and about her close association with the great Fulton Sheen. (Alas! I read his cause for sainthood has been suspended. Sadness.)


Sleep is not why you go camping, given the “rigors” of an air mattress and uncontrolled heating/cooling, but I did appreciate last night's white noise in the form of the rushing creek bed outside our tent encampment. Steph thought it sounded like it was raining, which is also a comforting backdrop for sleep.

It gets cold in the mountains at night, or so we found out. Not having heavy blankets wasn't ideal, so I woke up a couple times and put on a t-shirt and later additional thin blankets. Also had to pee, which isn't totally convenient other than being able to go pretty much anywhere outside that I wished.

Woke up and lit out for some electricity so we could make our Keurig. Nothing at the first couple restrooms/party shelters we stopped; not even the bath house on the main campground. So we had to “borrow” an empty campsite's electric.

Then we did a short road tour of the area outside the park. Nothing prettier than a house situated on a broad plain, witnessed from a surrounding height.

At the camp store's entrance, four men of varying ages - a early 30-something cop and three older gentlemen with wrinkled visages like those of old time farmers, stood talking like you might see in Mayberry. Just shootin' the breeze. Would've loved to have listened and eavesdrop. I heard them one say “twenty years in the mine ain't long,” or words to that effect.

The big break was we didn't get any rain yesterday or last night. Rain is to camping what a flat tire is to bike-riding. Supposed to be another fair chance of the dreaded event today and tonight.

Lazed around until about 1, at which point we took a walk down to the amazing waterfall. We walked around there and sat there for awhile, even entering just above the falls via dry rocks. Then down the road, past the horse campgrounds, to where it forked off into two different trails. So maybe a mile and a half walk, enough for Buddy. Saw a black snake, presumably a Northern black racer, climbing the slick wall of rock along the path.

Wondered if this creek empties into West Virginia's New River, the place we went whitewater rafting. Thought about the oddness of a river, coming seemingly out of nowhere, built from rainwater. Or rather built from creeks, which are built from run-off rainwater. The great Mississippi seems almost created ex nihilo, starting from a tiny sprig of water. Maybe from a spring? Either way it seems amazing that the earth's water has arranged itself into these creeks that feed rivers that eventually feed oceans.


Ahhhh….yes…another wonder-restoring hike. Two miles, same as what I ran last night, but it felt like Hocking Hills of old with those grand vistas, the far tops of the mountains having some sort of magical pull for me, that distant inaccessibility somehow charismatic purely on account of being distant and inaccessible. The free, wildness of those tree-clad peaks. The succor of sun on those lucky tops. And all of this contrasted with the foreboding glade, the dark tangle of firs and birch and oak.

The cool thing about this trip is we stayed the same amount of time we would've at a Hocking Hills cabin but without the amenities of hottub and television and comfortable bed. But so far so great! The highlight and inspiration of Hocking, like Camp Creek, are the hikes down the long lanes past lawns and forest and mountains.

Felt strange to be completely disconnected. No cellphone service, no wi/fi. But probably good for the soul. Am now reading some of Shelby Foote's Civil War trilogy because it fits the scene: old-fashioned, epic, 19th century living (but for this ipad…).

I feel quasi-nostalgical already on this trip. The campfires. The smell - so fresh, so leaf pungent. The walks. The thrill of being outside at twilight turning into night. The flushless, walkless bathrooms (at least for number 1). The creek, the trees, the rocks. The sight of trees seemingly growing out of rock. The lichened stones. Maybe even the black snakes. Seems like we're just hitting our rhythm and it's time to go home. But better to leave wanting more than leave wishing for less.

But as Steph said, “this is medicinal.”


Took me a West Virginny bath! Just headed on down to the clear, rushing stream, soaped up my face, hair and underarms and rinsed in the refreshingly cool water. While lot quicker than bath house trip.


I wonder if anybody just walks gold courses, to admire their beauty?


Too cool: I hear what sounds like coyotes or wolves howling in the distaff distance.


I randomly came across this from this year's Old Farmer's Almanac and it pretty accurately describes what we're unwittingly doing:
Without a doubt, a walk in the woods lifts our spirits and makes us feel good. In Japan, this has developed into a new form of therapy and preventative medicine known as shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” which involves taking a stroll among the trees, breathing it all in.

A woodland walk affects all of our senses…and our health. Even a short walk in the forest will lower blood pressure and pulse rate, decrease fatigue and tension, increase the number of anticancer proteins, and encourage the growth of disease-fighting white blood cells. Some of these effects occur after we inhale chemical compounds from plants, fungi, and bacteria. These include phytoncides, which trees and other plants emit to protect themselves against insect attacks and rotting.
So, like drinking, I'm camping for medicinal purposes. Ha.

Sleep this second night was plentiful if compromised by the deep chill and inadequate blankets. I put on a T-shirt and a sweatshirt both, but the air was so cold I developed a cough and wondered if I was getting a cold. But then I thought to pull part of the blanket over my face and thus breathing warm air was able to get back to sleep and not feel like coughing.

I sipped precious java in front of a campfire until eating a by-then-cold but still good sausage/egg/cheese biscuit. Sudden upon us it was 10am, and I knew Steph wanted to pack up and head home but I asked for a 10 minute hike. Turned out to be closer to twenty because the scenery was so life-giving. A mere shaft of light could transport me, offer a moment of transcendence. The song “Wolverton Mountain” came to mind, as did the writings of John Muir.

But like all mountaintop experiences, this time literally a mountain top experience, I had to come back to earth. And so we toiled from to pack up everything with Steph-ian meticulousness. Then the drive back, begun at 11:30 and ended just before 4.  A fine way to end the summer!