February 29, 2016

Why the Trump?!

I tried to make a joke with my a colleague though he's uncomfortable with political talk. I said, “you know how we do forecasts given hypothetical catastrophic situations, are we going to do one for a Trump presidency?”. Oh well, you flunk 100% of the jokes you don't try.

Meanwhile Chris Christie endorsed the Donald. Proving Christie wasn't presidential material after all.

Rubio finally woke up and went after the Trump. Too little, too late. Mark Halperin suggested it was to keep his 2020 chances alive since some donors were saying “why should we support you next time if you can't stand up to Trump?”


Spent some time yesterday reading in a more fruitful direction than mere horse race, namely, “what gives?” There's no greater cry for help than a party on the verge of electing someone like Donaldo Trumpolini (cr: Thomas da' dylan).

Peggy Noonan says that protected elites don't care about the unprotected plebeian masses. Elites get safe neighborhoods, good schools, etc.. The lower middle class don't get much of a say on safety or choice in schools. Similarly, immigration hurts the poor and middle class and helps the upper class in the form of having cheap landscaping and servant labor.

Meanwhile a fellow named Steve Denning said that Noonan doesn't get it, that it's ultimately not about immigration (although he didn't mention schools or safety) but about how in the 1970s corporations became oriented around one goal: maximizing shareholder value. This led to valuing short-term profits over longer term, a lack of innovation, etc.... The author quotes GM boss Jack Welch as saying maximizing shareholder value is “the dumbest idea in the world”. Another CEO agrees saying, “our customers are number one, our employees are number two, our shareholders number three.” The latter is very unusual.

That said, one would think that given corporations have been playing this game for four decades that people would've adjusted to it and decided to benefit from it - by becoming shareholders. By aggressively investing in stocks through generations contributions to their 401ks. Hard to do, perhaps, and maintain the standard of living of the previous generation.

Then I read another link about a guy who looks at it as all about work, and it's decline and fall. How Americans don't value work on the Left, and the Trumpians are a reaction to that:
If any one issue defines this election, it’s economic stagnation. Many Trump supporters in the GOP feel left behind by the twenty-first-century economy. They’re angry about it, because our “follow your bliss” culture doesn’t begin to appreciate coal miners or people who work in brake disc factories… Combine that with the self-loathing these guys feel from, say, being laid off and having to fake a fibromyagia diagnosis so they can collect disability and feed their families, and you have tremendous resentment.
Trump was not only canny enough to speak to this, but he still remains arguably the only candidate to forthrightly talk about issues such as immigration that are feeding this anxiety, even if he speaks about them with great ignorance. It’s regrettable in many ways, but it’s also not a mystery why 30 percent of Republicans are lining up to support a lunatic who has (allegedly) made a lot of money and wields considerable influence despite now being despised by our cultural betters.
The odd thing is that people are voting for Bernie Sanders overwhelmingly for kind of the same reason as Trump supporters, in that they don’t want larger economic issues forcing them to change their culture or lifestyle. However, the motivations of Sanders supporters are much less sympathetic. Millennials and many other progressive types now feeling the Bern seem to have been sold a bill of goods about how we live in post-scarcity techno-utopia. They can’t understand why they can’t “do what they love” without financial realities being such a killjoy.
So I think he's saying that Trump lovers want real work (as opposed to hedge fun management and social media start-ups like Zuckerberg's Facebook) to become valued again, and that more good jobs be available as in the heyday of the '50s and '60s. And Sanders supporters want their low stress jobs at the local Starbucks or indie theater to pay well.

Peggy Noonan says elites are at fault for not caring about the lower classes and this guy says that the less well-off are at fault either because they pine for jobs that are never coming back again or want“fun work” (pardon the oxymoron).

Quite a difference between Noonan and the pro-work guy. I suppose there is merit in both views.


From WaPo:
The current election cycle is demonstrating (once again) that the rhetoric and mythology of a uniquely Christian America should come to an end. Why? Because the votes don’t lie.
Though voters may speak piously and rather vaguely about Christian values and ideals, polls and election results communicate clearly that this is a nation consumed by fear, anger and suspicion, none of which are Christian virtues.
And finally, via an article by Sarah Posner, I understand why Trump appeals to evangelicals groomed by the health and wealth gospel:
But Trump, whose Bible has seemed like more of prop than a campaign-animating principle, understands other impulses of evangelical voters. This intuition also enabled him to best Cruz, 30 to 13 percent, among non-evangelical voters in South Carolina.
That impulse, which is Trumpism in a nutshell, is the magical thinking of how Americans get rich, whether it’s by surviving a reality television show, getting lucky with an investment, winning the lottery or being blessed by God. Trump is arguably the candidate most resembling a televangelist.

February 26, 2016


Continue to be flat-out hypnotized by Trump's inexplicable popularity.

Thought experiment. Ask a Trump supporter if they could've supported this nameless person two years ago:
Ruthless billionaire businessman who supported Bill and Hillary, had numerous bankruptcies despite starting with hundreds of millions, fooled people with bait-and-switch “University”, threw a little old lady out of her home to make space for limos, and changed most of his political opinions over the past decade - could you support him?
But Trump is a planetary wonder who defies the law of gravity.  He's also a gravitas black hole.

February 24, 2016

Two for Tuesday

"We mustn't think of the Old Testament as an awkward fact which we've got to get over somehow, hush it up if possible because it is so difficult to make propaganda out of it.  It's the lock into which the key of the Incarnation fits, and if you begin the Bible with St. Matthew, it makes a mutilated story."  - Ronald Knox,  The Hidden Stream 


Feels like this dude is gonna be wrong:

Ironies Abound! Or "Please Make Us Bigger Promises that Can't be Kept!"

I can't get over how many ironic twists and paradoxes this election season has provided.  As a lover of oxymoron and Chestertonian paradox, I appreciate it on an aesthetic level.  A partial list:
1. Dem and Republican bases are tired of the parties over-promising and under-delivering so the response is someone who will double-down on that, i.e. Trump and Sanders.

2. Con$ervative talk radio, once dedicated to abusing Democrats has soiled its own nest.  It's more lucrative to bite Republicans.

3. Trump and Hillary are actually the same person! He's fine other than his character and the fact that he's not a conservative, just like Hillary.  Both are greedy and self-serving with the big distinction of Trump being open about it and Clinton being sneaky.  We apparently think con men are okay if they are transparent about it, because hypocrisy is the only modern sin.

4. Republican establishment is rallying around Rubio when he doesn't want to be rallied around! He doesn't want to take on Trump head-to-head (evidenced by his bromance with Trump) and is likely angling for a VP slot.
    The whole thing would be humorous if it wasn't so serious. As a commenter on Morning Joe said this morning, this pent-up anger from both the left (Sanders) and right (Trump) doesn't bode well because if an outsider gets elected and nothing changes (as it won't) where does the anger go?  And if a Hillary Clinton is elected and nothing changes (as it won't), what happens then?  The root cause of the dissatisfaction is a pining for an economy that is long gone, the golden era of 1950s prosperity, a time when there was no global competition for U.S. due to all other countries decimated by WWII.

    Cokie Roberts made a keen observation I hadn't heard before.  She said that the reason politicians from both sides of the aisle used to work together back in the '50s was that they fought together in the war.  Interesting. There surely was a more patriotic spirit then.  It's ineffably sad but I wonder if war is the only thing that brings people together or prompts a love for country.


    From Henry Dieterich on Trump and our democracy.


    From NR's Jim Geraghty:
    Are We Starting to See a Pattern Here?
    Things that make you say “hmmm” . . .
    Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner, isn’t happy that a member of the prominent Ricketts family has bankrolled an effort to thwart his campaign. And he took to Twitter on Monday to warn the Chicago Cubs owners to “be careful.”
    The family is “secretly spending $’s against me,” Trump wrote. “They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!”
    As we’ve seen during the Obama years, the Internal Revenue Service can be particularly diligent in reviewing and auditing the tax and financial paperwork of critics of the president.
    GOP strategist Liz Mair, whose anti-Trump Make America Awesome super PAC has raised all of $10,000 since it was created in December, said major donors are shying away from her group partly because they are scared of incurring Trump’s wrath. He has already threatened legal action against conservative groups that have advertised against him, including the Club for Growth (which, he alleged in a Tuesday tweet “came to my office seeking $1 million dollars. I told them no and now they are doing negative ads), and has called out conservative billionaires who he unsuccessfully courted (including the Koch brothers, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and New York hedge fund titan Paul Singer).
    “We would totally donate to you if we could do it anonymously; we’re worried about Trump taking reprisals against us for donating to this,” Mair said, parroting reactions she’s heard from donors. “Suffice to say, there are a lot of people out there who want to stop Trump and are willing to donate to do it,” she said. “They’re just the rank and file of the base, not the establishment donors.”
    If you think Trump would be a president who would use the apparatus of the state to target and punish his critics, I would think you would want to pull out all the stops to prevent him from reaching the Oval Office, not keep your head down and hope for the best.
    “I’d like to punch him in the face,” Trump said, remarking that a man disrupting his rally was escorted out with a smile on his face. “He’s smiling, having a good time.”
    Trump claimed the protester was “nasty as hell” and accused the man of trying to punch the security officers forcing him out of the rally, though the man did not appear to be fighting off those officers.
    “In the old days,” Trump added, protesters would be “carried out on stretchers.”
     “We’re not allowed to push back anymore,” Trump said.
    At this point, in a Twitter poll I set up, 14 percent of the 800 respondents say they would trust President Trump with unilateral authority to deport American citizens where he chooses.
     “Jim, that doesn’t even make sense. The president -- heck, the federal government -- doesn’t have the authority to deport American citizens to other countries!”
    That’s my point.
    "A republic. If you can keep it." - Ben Franklin

    February 23, 2016

    Singapore By Morning...

    Singapore. My wife has to travel their for work, for two weeks starting in two weeks. What an adventure!

    I've been reading more about it and wondering if I should take the plunge too. The flight would cost a bit over $1,000, which isn't terrible for a 27-hour flight(s). That's the harsh part, and I don't know if I could want to handle it.

    And there's jet lag, something I've never experienced but have heard it real. But you can't have the adventure without the pain. That “barrier to entry” is precisely what makes Singapore more attractive than, say, western Europe from an adventure and uniqueness point of view. It might be interesting to go if only to confirm that people are people everywhere, be it Ohio or Southeast Asia. If it proves to be underwhelming or banal, that might suggest that travel to distant climes is a waste for me which could be useful to know.

    Although admittedly you can't judge Asia by Singapore, let alone the whole world. It's not somewhere I would ever have chosen to go which, paradoxically, makes it more enticing in a way. It seems a random place on the globe, far, far away, and of which I know nothing and it's always fun to learn. But Singapore culture was influenced by the British background and the business climate, so it might be too Westernized to be truly interesting.

    I would also be jealous, truth be told, that Steph will be able to add southeast Asia to her travel list. We were tied, more or less, with travel: me going to Europe in the '90s, she for work to Europe in the early '00s. But now she would spring ahead of me in a huge way. Although she'll really only have the weekend there (and nights, I guess) to experience the place.

    Singapore has a population of 5.5 million souls and sits at the southern tip of Malasia. It's mostly English-speaking due to the business culture and British colonial experience. Over 2/3rds of residents are of Chinese lineage. Religion wise, a third are Buddhist, 15% Muslim and 7% Catholic, 11% other Christian, so 18% Christian overall.

    It's wealthy, and safe. They have a “little India”, (Mumbai-ish), some beautiful gardens. Tropical, monsoon season presently active there. Hot weather in the high 80s, low 90s. Thirteen hours ahead of us, time-wise.  I. just. can't. make. up. my. mind.

    February 22, 2016

    If You've Got Your Health...But Not Your Candidate

    Saturday's mission, which I decided to accept, was to research the origin of the heretical if understandable saying, “if you've got your health, you've got everything.”

    More difficult than I expected as Google didn't provide any easy answers. Even doing a Google book search was futile - large number of hits in the 20th century but nothing pre-20th.

    I'd thought the phrase came from Shakespeare or the ancient Romans or the Old Testament - the usual suspects when it comes to proverbs. But no dice. So I searched for parts of the phrase and hit pay dirt with this:

    “He who has health, has hope; and he who has hope, has everything.” So said Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881, a Scottish philosopher and essayist and non-believer).

    It seems likely his original phrase was truncated for brevity to exclude the hope part, which seems a significant deletion - from heath being a means to hope to health being a means to everything.

    Carlyle likely picked it up from an old Arabic proverb; as early as 1830 there is mention of an “old Arab proverb” that says “He who has health should hope, and he who hopes can never remain unhappy”.

    Carlyle certainly held up health as a huge. He suffered from dyspepsia and at just 28 years old wrote to his brother: “I want health, health, health! On this subject I am becoming quite furious!”.


    Well it appears it's a Trump v Clinton general election.

    You can't win a Democratic primary without black votes and Bernie can't buy them. I knew with perfect foreknowledge that Hillary would win the black vote - I'm envious of the cohesiveness of African-American voting, it's like there is some signal, invisible to outsiders, that allow them to move as one.  I'm so  jealous we Catholics can't do the same with respect to the life issues.  Or that evangelicals weren't monolithically pro-Cruz in the recent SC primary.

    And Trump is favored because it would take Rubio or Cruz to bow out, and both of the latter burn with holy ambition.

    They say you get the candidate you deserve, but really, Sanders, Clinton, Trump?   One wants to impoverish us, one to lie to us, and one rule over us.

    It's interesting that the messiah fetish didn't end with Obama despite Obama's dismal record. Liberals think Bernie is anointed one as Republicans do Trump. The same glory-eye'd looks of power worship.

    I don't think in good conscience I can vote for either Trump or Clinton in the general, although I suppose as a representative for the unborn I should think about Trump since there's a better chance he would nominate a pro-life justice.  But giving him the nuclear codes is too shiver-inducing.


    This tidbit from WaPo on the sudden influx of rain to Death Valley reminds me spiritually that similar things happen when God rains grace:
    “I’ve lived in Death Valley for 25 years and I’ve seen lots of blooms in Death Valley, and I kept thinking I was seeing incredible blooms,” Van Valkenburg said. “I was always very excited, until I saw one of these super blooms, and then I suddenly realized — there are so many seeds out there just waiting to sprout, just waiting to grow. I had no idea that there was that much out there.”

    Read a depressing NYT story about the "clean hell” of supermax prisons. 23 hours of solitary confinement for inmates, inhumane kind of torture.

    But was inspired by the counselors and psychiatrists and doctors who are attempting to help rehabilitate survivors of supermax, and of how slow the road to recovery. “Build anyway,” said Mother Teresa, regarding the seeming futility of the struggle.


    Selections from 19th Century medical journal:

    February 21, 2016


    Went to Mass the other day, and whoa but did the good padre have a completely different take on the gospel account about the sign of Jonah. Crazy different perspective.  I've read it in the past as Jesus reading the riot act to this depraved generation and saying you've got someone greater than Solomon here so you'd best shape up like the Ninevites did. I saw the “sign of Jonah” being one of the need for this generation to repent and repent big time. 

    But the homilist looked at it this way: the sign of Jonah was Divine Love! Jonah's mission was for the benefit of the enemy of Israel and thus of God: the Ninevites. “You shall have no other sign than the sign of Jonah” is a way of saying, “You shall have no other sign than that of God's love for everyone, including the Gentiles.” 

    February 18, 2016

    Déjà vu

    This from Peggy Noonan in early September 2012 could easily apply to Jeb Bush's lackluster campaign this year spent "disappearing into fund raisers".

    He should've read Peggy, lol:

    It’s time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one. It’s not big, it’s not brave, it’s not thoughtfully tackling great issues. It’s always been too small for the moment. All the activists, party supporters and big donors should be pushing for change. People want to focus on who at the top is least constructive and most responsible. Fine, but Mitt Romney is no puppet: He chooses who to listen to. An intervention is in order. “Mitt, this isn’t working.”...

    The night before he won the crucial 1980 New Hampshire primary—the night before he won it—[Ronald Reagan] fired his campaign manager, John Sears. Reagan thought he wasn’t cutting it, so he was gone. The economist Martin Anderson once called Reagan genially ruthless, and he was. But then it wasn’t about John Sears’s feelings or Ronald Reagan’s feelings, it was about America. You can be pretty tough when it’s about America.

    Romney doesn’t seem to be out there campaigning enough. He seems—in this he is exactly like the president—to always be disappearing into fund-raisers, and not having enough big public events.

    Also, Mr. Romney’s ads are mostly boring. It’s kind of an achievement to be boring at a moment in history like this, so credit where it’s due: That musta taken effort!

    He should stick to speeches, and they have to be big—where America is now, what we must do, how we can do it.

    Wake this election up. Wade into the crowd, wade into the fray, hold a hell of a rally in an American city—don’t they count anymore? A big, dense city with skyscrapers like canyons, crowds and placards, and yelling. All of our campaigning now is in bland suburbs and tired hustings.

    Be serious and fight.

    Party elders, to the extent you exist this is why you exist: Right this ship.

    February 17, 2016

    No Black Firewall for Shrillary in the South?

    This strikes me as wishful/wistful thinking:
    Black voters are nothing if not fiercely loyal, and that includes to the "first black president" and his clan.   In an election year of surprises, Hillary not winning black votes would be among the biggest (huuuuugest).

    MLK's Library

    Interesting to view the idiosyncratic personal library of Martin Luther King Jr here.   The lack of Thoreau surprised me, given the shared non-violence aspect.  No Shakespeare or Dickens and very little fiction of any kind.  He was a man on a mission.

    I share only 7 books in common:

      Lectures on the Harvard classics by William Allan Neilson
      Inside U.S.A by John Gunther
      John Adams and the American Revolution by Catherine Drinker Bowen
      The robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
      The four loves by C. S. Lewis
      Paradise Lost by John Milton
      The adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

    February 13, 2016

    Annie Dillard and Art

    From Atlantic article on the writer Annie Dillard:

    To use a pair of terms that Dillard introduces in a later book, she is not a pantheist (as Thoreau was) but a panentheist. God, panentheism says, is not coextensive with, identical to, the physical world, the world of nature. He is a being that transcends it even as he dwells within it. Get rid of nature, for the pantheist, and you get rid of God. Get rid of nature, for the panentheist, and you see him all the clearer.

     “There are two kinds [of sight], she explains. The common variety is active, where you strain, against the running babble of internal monologue, to pay attention to what’s actually in front of you. That’s the sort of seeing that produces perceptions, and phrases, like twiggy haze. But, she tells us, “there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go.” You do not seek, you wait. It isn’t prayer; it is grace. The visions come to you, and they come from out of the blue.

    The distinction is akin to Proust’s two forms of memory. His holy grail, you might recall, is the involuntary kind, the kind that bursts upon you unexpectedly, as when the narrator’s entire childhood unfurls from the madeleine. That is the epiphany; that is the miracle.”

    She elsewhere calls “this feckless prospecting in the dark for the unseen,” the lifelong effort to know the unknowable and to say the unsayable, is likened to the polar expeditions of yore. To most of us, as Dillard knows, the effort seems completely pointless. To her it is the only thing that gives our life a point.

    Dillard, like Thoreau, is never shy about pronouncing wholesale condemnation on the way her fellows live. To her the mass of men lead lives not of quiet desperation but of superficiality, insensibility, and rank illusion. We live as if we think we’re never going to die. We live as if our petty business counted. We live as if we weren’t as numerous as sand, and each of us ephemeral as clouds. We live as if there hadn’t been a hundred thousand generations here before us, and another hundred thousand were not still to come. Yet all around us holiness and grace, freely given every moment for the taking.

     “I had a head for religious ideas,” Dillard reports in An American Childhood, her chronicle of growing up in postwar, upper-class Pittsburgh, a book that is largely concerned with the development, in solitude, of the writer’s own consciousness. “They made other ideas seem mean.”

    I might extend that last to say, "I had a head for reading….which makes talking seem mean.”

    Whole thing here, but interesting this Atlantic writer mentions how morality - people - never enter too much into her thinking. She's so much like the naturalist writer in that regard.


    From Image Journal on the need for art:

    Art shapes the ordinary so that we’re “struck dumb” by it, so that everything starts to matter. Can I leave that string quartet concert and say something nasty on the way out? Like “Hey, you’re blocking the aisle; move along, move along.” This is inconceivable. The music has ennobled me, ennobled us. Everyone leaving the concert hall is smiling with gratitude. Or, as Craig continues in the poem: After you’ve been “struck dumb by the ordinary,”

        You’ll start helping dogs across the street,
        be careful not to cycle over worms

    Sanders or Clinton? A Tough Decision

    Since Republican voters seem bound and determined to punt this election by nominating Trump (or less egregiously Cruz), my mind naturally if horrifically turns to whom I would prefer as president: Clinton or Sanders. (Not that I would ever vote for either but more as who to “root” for between them.) 

    Something of a dilemma. A slow poison administered by a liar or a quicker poison delivered sincerely? A sincere socialist or an insincere socialist/moderate/progressive/whatever-label-will-get-me-power? (Insert mad laughter sound effect here.)  

    A few years ago I thought character in a president wasn't crucial given the pains the Founding Fathers took to engineer the separation of powers. But Obama, along with other chief executives over the past six decades, have worn away at this fabric, have made it almost a fiction. It's now up to the executive not to further usurp power and that's just not in the nature of an executive. Which is precisely why historians admire and praise the self-restraint of George Washington. 

    I recall the preternaturally wise Tom of Disputations blog say years ago (paraphrasing from memory) that his voting pattern is to look at voting for a man or woman of good character rather than on studying position papers. That looks prescient. 

    And of course the founders were explicit in saying that the republic was dependent on the goodness and character of the people and representatives. 

    Finally I recently came across a quote from Edmund Burke that puts the icing on this cake:

    Constitute government how you please, infinitely the greater part must depend upon the prudence and uprightness of ministers of state.

    Rut-row. Houston we got a problem. There's no prudence in Sanders or uprightness in Clinton. 

    February 10, 2016

    Scapegoating as the New Black

    Good post-NH analysis from National Review columnist Jim Geraghty:

    Take a good look at the supporters of the man who won the most votes in New Hampshire, socialist Bernie Sanders, who had more than 138,000 votes as of this hour:
    At a Feb. 7 rally in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Sanders made it clear that unlike Obama, he would channel, rather than deflect, anti–Wall Street anger if elected president. To a throng of 1,500 voters packed into a community college gymnasium, Sanders vowed to crack down on Wall Street bankers. As he spoke, Sanders was continually interrupted by shouts from the audience of “Break ‘em up!” and “They should go to jail!” . . .

    Mathew Pitman, 34, of Portsmouth, said a combination of higher taxes and smaller banks was the only thing that could bring Wall Street to heel. “Subject them to the same level of taxation as people like me,” he said, “and break up the big banks.”

    John Joyal, 59, of Sommersworth, New Hampshire, was pushing an all-of-the-above plan. “Taxes, fines, jail, manacles--I’m for all of it,” he said. “Citizens United needs to be overturned, too.”

    Others took their cue from how bankers have been treated abroad. “We should do what they did in Iceland,” said Keiran Brennan, who had driven up from Wellesley, Massachusetts. “Put them in jail.” Added Nora Hussey, also from Wellesley, gesturing toward a giant “Bernie Sanders 2016” posted, “Or just elect him.”
    Notice these folks aren’t brimming with specific charges, or a sense that anybody they dislike must be proven guilty before a jury of their peers. They just want to see rich people go to jail. From a separate article:

    Mauza, 71, said his condominium’s value is still down a third from before the financial crisis, that his property taxes have nevertheless gone up, and that “people are mad at Wall Street because of what happened to their retirement savings.”

    “All those banks got bailed out, after they all went overboard,” he said. “Not as many people went to jail as probably should have.”

    Either no one remembers, or no one cares to admit, the banks paid back the money. (The American people lost $11.2 billion on the General Motors bailout, making sure the car company could continue to sell cars that would kill you if your key chain was too heavy.)

    From Sanders’s victory speech:
    Listen to this, when the top three drug companies in this country made $45 billion dollars in profit last year, that is an obscenity, and let me tell you something. When we make it to the White House, the pharmaceutical industry will not continue to rip-off the American people.
    That $45 billion seems like a lot . . . until you realize country spends about $375 billion on medicine each year. That’s a profit rate of 12 percent. Still seem so outrageous?

    How many lifesaving drugs has Bernie Sanders developed?

    In an earlier appearance, Sanders said, “We’re going to have to make the decision to say, I’m sorry, we can’t make money out of health care.” Never mind that doctors, nurses, physical therapists, pharmacists, drug researchers, and specialists of all kinds spend years and small fortunes learning their skills and developing their treatments. Bernie Sanders has decided they’re charging too much because they’re greedy!

    (As a senator, Bernie Sanders makes $174,000 per year. According to Payscale.com, the average general practice doctor makes $143,000.)

    The Payback Election
    Continuing the theme, John Podhoretz offers a look at the ugly future a Sanders and Trump-dominated general election will bring:

    Sanders says he’s going to throw bankers in jail, raise everybody’s taxes -- and provide universal health care.

    Trump says he’ll deport every illegal immigrant, keep Muslims out of the country until “we can find out what the hell is going on,” force Mexico to build a wall, levy a 45 percent tariff on China -- and provide universal health care.

    Simple, straightforward and catchy -- that’s the key. And none of it is your fault. Everything bad that’s happening, everything that makes you nervous and worried and uncertain about the future, is the result of a great wrong that is being done to you.

    Sanders says it’s being done by malefactors of great wealth. Trump says it’s being done by morons and idiots who run Washington and are getting their hats handed to them by canny malefactors in Beijing and Mexico City.

    Will this message carry beyond New Hampshire? Of course it will, whatever happens to the candidacies of these two men. Don’t look for uplift. Don’t seek vision. This is probably going to be the payback election -- America at its worst.

    February 09, 2016

    Life and Health

    I wonder if health care will wreck our politics as much as abortion has. (Assuming it could be wrecked further.)

    In the abortion issue you had a rogue Supreme Court usurp the rights of the legislative branch, and with Obamacare you had a partisan congress without support of the other party ram it through via bribes to its own members (i.e. “Cornhusker Kickback”).

    Both issues attract a lot of single-issue voters. Both have only one of the political parties representing them. Supporters of both see it as a basic human right (to life, and to free universal health care) with the attendant moral dimension, making it much easier to see the other side as evil rather than mistaken.

    February 04, 2016

    The Cruz Arranged Marriage with Conservatives

    So I try to like Ted Cruz, seeing him as an alternative to The Donald.

    But it feels like an arranged marriage, a marriage of convenience to get a green card.

    Every time I try to like him more he does something that suggests he's as ambitious as Satan, to quote the late great Shelby Foote on Jefferson Davis.

    I get whiplash following him.  First I think, "gosh, he's taking a brave, principled stand against ethanol in Iowa! Bully for him."

    Then I hear he's changed positions on various issues near and dear to the base.

    Then I read an article by a National Review writer I respect who counts Cruz as a close friend and sees him as trustworthy.

    Then I read Cruz gives less than 1% to charity (no crime,but goes to the phoniness issue.)

    And then in Iowa we learn his campaign staff said Carson bowed out of the race, and learn of the "Voter Violation" scare-the-seniors tactics.  Plays into the ambition narrative.

    But then I have misgivings about lots of candidates.  Rubio seems way too hawkish for my taste. Chris Christie seems a tad desperate, calling Rubio a “bubble boy”. Combined with Christie's latest debate in which he said he'd shoot down Russian jets, I'm thinking he's too belligerent to be potus. Jeb seems running now just to try to pique Rubio.

    I could lodge a primary protest vote with Randian Paul, no relation to Ayn Rand. (Later: oh, no, he dropped out!)

    Looks like Kasich for me, if he's still in.  Bottom line, I'm glad I don't have to vote for awhile. Leave the tough decisions to Iowa, NH, SC voters.

    February 02, 2016

    Florence King on Housewife-ian Angst

    Interesting perspective from a National Review story on the late Florence King:
    "She subverted the feminist account of the middle-class home as a comfortable concentration camp, for instance, by pointing out that the homemaker had socially isolated herself by choosing a life of leisure and labor-saving devices. As a result, the parade of tradesmen, from knife-grinders to encyclopedia salesmen, who used to appear at her mother’s backdoor and accept a cup of tea or coffee as partial reward for their company gradually tailed off, leaving the homemaker with only a washing machine or a fridge to talk to. It wasn’t capitalism but comfort that had destroyed the social life of the kitchen — a bad bargain, in her view, but one made by Woman in her own sphere."
    On the other hand, much less chance of hanky-panky with salesmen not visiting...?

    Paul's Conversion

    Recently we celebrated the feast of St. Paul's conversion, and it was nice to recall he was converted not for himself, but for us, as it says in one of his letters:
    "I [God] have appeared to you [Paul] for this reason: to appoint you as my servant and as witness of this vision in which you have seen me, and of others in which I shall appear to you. I shall deliver you from the people and from the pagans, to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light..." 
    The individualist American tendency is to see a conversion like St. Paul's and see it as, "oh, so lucky for him!" (albeit with side effects of beatings, shipwrecks, legal problems, stoning and having your head cut off) and not see it as something primarily for us as much as him. And given the treasure chest of NT writings he left us it feels so.

    Trip o' Log

    "Here palms, alpacas, and volcanoes; sun’s disks and stars; ecliptics, horns-of-plenty, and rich banners waving, are in luxuriant profusion stamped…"
    --Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
    Saturday:  Am I really here? Can it be true I'm reading James Michener's Mexico novel on the balcony of a Cozumel inn? Is it possible that I can actually drop something and leave it on the floor (like a sock or hand towel) and not be immediately punished for it by having our pup Max steal it and take it in the yard for me to retrieve, a yard with inhumane wind chills? Yes I think it's true. I take pictures for documentation purposes. I'm not worthy.

    We had time at O'Hare, so I checked out the little bookstore “Barbara's Bookstore”, originally situated in downtown Chicago, and found any number of winsome offerings, like a new history of Rome by Mary Beard and the Meachem biography of George H. W. Bush. I looked at the index of the latter to see if St. John Paul II was mentioned with respect to his opposition of the first Gulf War. I thought the pope was wrong at the time but in retrospect he seems something of a prophet. I've also wondered if George W. pointedly ignored the same pope's warning in 2003 due to writing him off as being against his father's war.

    The three-hour flight to Cozumel and then land ahoy! Customs, where a dog sniffed our bags but didn't seem concerned about my dark chocolate stash. At the hotel it was love at first sight when we opened the door to our place and saw the vast two-toned ocean, green and blue. Goosebump city, the white-capped waves crashing against the walkway below.

    Later I walked the beach, a rather rocky road it was. The fascinating thing to me is this looked like some of the most valuable real estate in the world - beauty untold, coast-line, mild temperatures, gorgeous Caribbean seas and yet…. there's this fascinating decadence two places down from us. A building molding and decaying, looking like the third world. From our first world hotel, a few hundred feet and: decrepitude. (Later I found out it was caused by Hurricane Wilma and they didn't have the money yet to rebuild.) 

    I can understand why Detroit, a comparatively un-scenic oasis of lost hope, is what it is. But here? I can only ascribe it to the same reason that parts of Appalachia are startlingly beautiful with poverty to match: it's too inaccessible. It's too remote from developers and the money to take care of a property.


    Mass at St Miguel in the same-named town. Distinctive crucifix above the altar where Christ has black, wounded knees, reminding that he fell three times on the way of the cross.

    Mix of English and Spanish in a sermon on St Paul's teaching about different parts one body - very appropriate! Different languages and cultures but one body of Christ. First time I recall any English in a Mexican homily. 

    Saw a elderly gentleman turn towards the line of communicants as if to hug and say hi to those whom he knew. He seemed a sweet old man with a face of brown, wrinkled leather, a throwback to the past.

    How nourishing to hear these devout children of God recite the Rosary (in Spanish of course) before Mass. After awhile I appreciated the lilt of Spanish as a language, especially at calling Mary “Maria”, which sounds somehow warmer and more familial.

    They were pitch perfect on the sign of peace for me: eager and initiating a handshake but not fake-smiling or pretending we weren't strangers.

    Oddly, the saint statues, like Jesus to the left of the altar and St. Joseph towards the back, were encased in glass. It made the statues stand out, like precious jewels under glass. Perhaps due to fear of theft which, come to think of it, is sort of a backhanded compliment to the Faith since in America there's not exactly a big market for religious statues.

    Afterward we wandered around downtown Cozumel on a delightfully sunny and warm morning. Dark-skinned, broad-nostrilled pleasant women act as street saleswomen, asking heavyset whites to check our their wares. The bright colored buildings were enlivened by Mayan hawkers; one woman sat holding the over-sized thumb of a life-sized, cartoonish Fidel Castro statue. I bought a 5-pack of Cuban cigars; she said $45, i said no. She said $35 and i said $30.  We agreed to $32. Later I impulse bought sunglasses at $10 after he started at $25. Not a good buy but I had forgotten my sunglasses at the hotel.

    Lines from the hawkers to our crew:

    “Everything almost free for you.”

    “Come in, no one will bother you inside” (just outside, eh)

    “Come on sexy momma, buy a dress, one more dress.” (Said to Steph, not me.)


    Swam with the fishes which is better than sleeping with the fishes. Saw one of the bluest blue fish smiling up at me.

    From Michener's novel:

        …a remarkable evocation of the cactus and the maguey as contrary symbols of the Mexican spirit. Cactus was the inclination to war and destruction. In contrast, “maguey,” he had written in a much-quoted passage, “has always been the symbol of peace and construction. From its bruised leaves our ancestors made the paper upon which our records were transcribed; its dried leaves formed the thatch for our homes; its fibers were the threads that made clothing possible; its thorns were the pins and needles our mothers used in bringing us to civilization; its white roots provided the vegetables from which we gained sustenance; and its juice became our honey, our vinegar and after a long while the wine that destroyed us with happiness and immortal visions.” Cactus, my father wrote, was the spirit of the lonely hunter; maguey was the inspiration of the artists who had built the pyramids and decorated the cathedrals. One was the male spirit so dominant in Mexican life; the other was the female, the subtle conqueror who invariably triumphed in the end.


    Those cigars are burning a hole in my pocket figuratively. I'm ruffled by want of a Cuban cigar. Or more likely, knockoff Cuban.

    We headed back upstairs at 5pm, me sun-burnt already. Damn Irish skin. We came to a room of order, clean and tidied. It never fails to amaze me when we come back to a room made up. It's like magic, like faeries came.


    Emerald waves fading to translucence upon the shore. Walked down about 10 mins left of us and found a fabulous new snorkel trail. Strong current, so took the trail and walked back. Great numbers of fish, so many that I wondered if they were expecting a handout based on previous snorkelers. Large groups of people were starting where I did. Nice to explore some new “land” here at Cozumel. Saw electric blue fish.

    Come 1pm I started thinking I should bike and Steph came along reluctantly out of a misplaced concern foe my safety. Poor does not equate to crime, especially in Cozumel.

    We headed downtown on a pilgrimage to two of the other Catholic churches in town we'd not seen: Sacred Heart and Guadalupe. It was also an excuse to drink in the colorfull (literally!) local flavor. We biked past bright yellow shacks with primary-colored laundry hanging. Past many a dog, often laying flat on the street curb, the only front yard to speak of. Past a lot of Mexicans just hanging out, perhaps bereft of job. We went by two lively cantinas with loud Mexicano music. (I wanted to stop for a beer, but that was out of the question for her - Steph was as nervous as an escaped convict as it was).

    We did tend to make up own rules as we went along, riding up the wrong way on one way streets out of expediency. But the locals were friendly, giving us none of the hard looks you'd see in many an urban American city, which Steph mentioned later as a big plus. 


    Holistically delightful! This clime chimes!

    We've found our groove. Good dreams drove out bad dreams like a reverse Gresham's law. At home, too much exercise and drink and and too little sleep. You can have two of the three and get by but not have all three for too long. 

    So what a grand bargain this is, to have this rarefied treat. Listened to Neil Diamond's “Longfellow Serenade" while walking the shore, waves like white fireworks when the high surf met rock. "Wing-ed flight” (three syllables) sings the balladeer, an affectation I like but now realize it wasn't an eccentric choice since it was something Longfellow would've said and surely wrote.

    After breakfast we fed the turtles out front. They'd take pieces of banana or apple but only after they sniffed them, then taking them literally out of your hand, not deigning to eat what was dropped before them.

    Nice run early, 11am, direction north, to the nostalgia playlist. “Jennifer, Juniper”, “Brandy You're a Fine Girl”. My goal was to transform myself from a typically fat American to a fatly-fit American. Or fitly-fat.


    Last night the Internet let us down. There are some things inaccessible even using that magic tool. Like how we heard an instrumental song from the '70s or early '80s at the restaurant, a tune tantalizingly familiar. Uncle Mark thought it was from Elton John and I pooh-poohed that notion immediately, knowing it didn't sound like Elton, even more so when he thought it came off the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album. I later played snippets of that Elton album on Youtube but found none that sounded like it. Steph really took it seriously, google searching like a mad woman, eventually finding someone who recorded himself whistling that very tune and querying listeners to “name that tune!”. But, it seemed there were no correct answers in the comments so that was a dead end street. So close and yet so far.

    Mark's memory, like the 'net, also let us down. He thought they'd moved the adjacent-to-us thatch hut and chairs much closer to us. But Steph recalled that area from last time, how there was a topless woman there and how she couldn't have seen it had this woman been where Mark thought they were.

    (Later): The Internet taketh away, the Internet giveth. That whistled tune DID have a comment/guess which we initially thought was wrong but turned out to be right: the piano exit of Layla by Derek and the Dominoes. Didn't sound anything like beginning of Layla, hence the cognitive dissonance. It's a vacation miracle!


    Well today is tragically cloudy, if one can use that oxymoronic phrase. But warm and not too windy so beach-ish weather. Weather reports here are laughable; “partly sunny” is a stone's throw from “all cloudy” I guess. It's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you'll get. But, like chocolates, delightful no matter the variety.

    Two fine snorkel trips, second one with down to the start of trail ten minutes away. Again saw a large order of magnitude more fish down there; just blissful to float with the current and enjoy this underwater zoo. Learned a damselfish is the beauty I saw yesterday, the one with a field of pale stars against a deep blue body.


    Read some of the Fr Barron's commentary on 2 Samuel (say as “two Samuel” in the hot new Trump parlance). Read out of duty, it not feeling particularly beach lit escapist. 

    But inspired to learn that we are about 40-50 yards from the spot where Hernan Cortez celebrated the first Mass in Mexico (three years shy of exactly 500 years ago – what a difference a few hundred years makes!). The first-hand account of this first Mass, by Bernal Diaz:

    "The island of Cozumel, it seems, was a place to which the Indians made pilgrimages…They burnt a species of resin, which very much resembled our incense, and as such a sight was so novel to us we paid particular attention to all that went forward. Upon this an old man, who had on a wide cloak and was a priest, mounted to the very top of the temple, and began preaching something to the Indians.

        "We were all very curious to know what the purport of this sermon was, and Cortes desired Melchorego to interpret it to him. Finding that all he had been saying tended to ungodliness, Cortes ordered the caziques, with the principal men among them and the priest, into his presence, giving them to understand, as well as he could by means of our interpreter, that if they were desirous of becoming our brethren they must give up sacrificing to these idols, which were no gods but evil beings, by which they were led into error and their souls sent to hell. He then presented them with the image of the Virgin Mary and a cross, which he desired them to put up instead.

        "The priests answered, that their forefathers had prayed to their idols before them, because they were good gods, and that they were determined to follow their example. Adding, that we should experience what power they possessed; as soon as we had left them, we should certainly all of us go to the bottom of the sea.

        "Cortes, however, took very little heed of their threats, but commanded the idols to be pulled down, and broken to pieces; which was accordingly done without any further ceremony. He then ordered a quantity of lime to be collected, which is here in abundance, and with the assistance of the Indian masons a very pretty altar was constructed, on which we placed the image of the holy Virgin. At the same time two of our carpenters, Alonso Yaiiez and Alvaro Lopez made a cross of new wood which lay at hand, this was set up in a kind of chapel, which we built behind the altar. After all this was completed, father Juan Diaz said mass in front of the new altar, the caziques and priests looking on with the greatest attention."


    It already feels like it's been awhile since that first gasp when we got to the room and walked out on the balcony. Water spreadin' out so far and wide, to paraphrase the theme from Green Acres. Wonderful to be able to drink in this view, no pun intended, for a week.

    This morning I thought about how I could replicate some of the meditative silence and rest I feel in the mornings here to mornings at home. But I immediately remembered our puppies at home and thought, “what am I thinking!?” 

    My Mexico reading includes Manana Forever, thus far a look at the strongly individualistic tendencies of Mexicans. I also want a more micro look: to read more about Cortes in Cozumel, and I found The True History of Cozumel via Kindle and that looks promising.

    Intro to another Cozumel history book:
    “There was a time when people accepted the proposition that our souls were so precious and beautiful that the devil would do anything to lead us astray in order to deprive God of the precious beauty of our souls.”

    (Later): Well we stepped outside our comfortable beach routine and hired a driver named Gerry, an older gent, for four hours. A good time was had by all.

    We started with a bang: a tequila tasting tour at the sharp-looking museum/shop that had opened last week, starring our host, a manic man named Manuel. He's a great fit for the job, personable, fast-talking, a jokester. Married three times with “seven kids, none of whom are my own.”

    He showed us examples of the magical agave plant, which carries within it all the ingredients for tequila. God's gift to the Mexican people, no doubt. (Later I would notice one of their tequilas is named "Regalo de Dios", meaning Gift of God.) 

    The tasting room was large and consisted of handsome wood glass-backed shelves of the fancily bottled tequilas.

    We tested four kinds, from the clear liquid used for mixed drinks to the rich dark amber of the 11-yr vintage which Manny calls the “me, myself and I” drink, it being too expensive to share ($189 a bottle!) it went down smooth as silk, without the kick of whiskey. “If you use this in a mixed drink I will come over the border and shoot you!”

    After that rousing tour we headed back to the van for the longish drive to Punta Sur Eco beach on the southern tip of the isle. There we climbed 133 steps to the top of the lighthouse, took a tour with a very locquacious guide who talked Mayan history and was obviously proud of his heritage, took photos of Steph with “Cozumel chickens” (parrots) taking a seed from her mouth, learned from the tour guide that sea turtles mate for 28 straight days and lose a lot of weight in the process due to skipping eating, learned the old bell above of was bartered for liquor during America's Prohibition (and then heard the same story inexplicably relayed to Gerry in Spanish - I think this guy thought he got paid by the word, no matter the language.) 

    Then back to the beach to snorkel, where I saw a German shepherd gracefully paddling in the water towards his master, and a bottom-camo'd ray, busy burying himself in the sand.

    Saw what sure looked like a barracuda, and tried to chase it. Like swimming in a giant aquarium. So many fish! Saw one who looks like he got beat with the ugly stick.


    This unreal life, lived unreally. Temperatures with numbers in the vicinity of decent golf scores.


    Ahhh….morning sun. A rare and enviable bird this time of year.  We've fallen into the leisurely, loverly mornings: up by 7:30, coffee on balcony till 9, breakfast, then to beach. With a “feed the turtles” interlude for the fellow 'cationers.

    Dinners at 6pm, breakfast at 9am. No lunch other than peanut butter sometimes. Works well and maximizes reading opportunities.

    I like this much better than cruising if only because it's so much easier to find a spot to lay out. Much more sustainable as far as having privacy here and being able to get into a rhythm.  This is pretty much the beach vacation ideal; hard to believe we skipped seven years before returning.  It's soooo much more interesting scenery-wise; San Miguel is much more explore-worthy than any beach vacation. And the snorkeling.  And even those Mariachi singers, I'll miss them and their happy-go-lucky tunes.


    I've collected six journal entries down here and fear (accurately) the cumulative effect will soon lead to the end of my vacation. Studies show that the more days you've expended on a given vacation the sooner it will end. Sadness.

    A rum-runner today! Wondrously ingenious concoction, by george and great scott. A tropical-hued drink to match the picturesque doors of downtown San Miguel. The greatest drink of all time. Or maybe that's just the rum-runner talking. A tautology? 


    I dream of a world in which Donald Trump skips a debate and it's a three-sentence story at the end of section A. I dream big, yes I do.


    Last day, day last. A sobering 127 days till next vacation but who's counting?

    I always feel on the cusp of a deep and insightful revelation while on vacation, something that if I just had a couple more days I could learn, but it's probably simply the revelation that I like vacations. So shallow. 

    But I feel an almost chemical attraction to this gulf green water and brine-tossed wind. I'm going to miss it and now wonder, dumbly, if I spent enough time this week just staring at the waters. At least I have photos, methadone for the coming cold turkey.

    Speaking of, I'm reading this book on the US heroin epidemic and it's fascinating if only because addicts take the pleasure principle to its far and grievous end point. Just as money doesn't buy happiness (witness the carnage of many Hollywood lives), so too drugs fail in their promise to put you in a place of endless bliss. Porn stars aren't any happier than those who get far less sex. There's just no “there” there despite the empty promise. We aren't designed, physically or metaphysically, to slake ourselves on pleasure. Including vacation pleasure. Not to mention how the addict is utterly unproductive and cannot help his fellow man given the obstacle of his fix. He is the least free of anyone, another example of freedom being conditioned upon self-control.

    So I take pleasure in the fact that pleasure isn't all it's cracked up to be.

    From the Dreamland book: "Levine had never forgotten the first rapturous feeling he got from heroin back in the 1960s. But through the years that followed, he also never felt that high again."

    And yet, of course, he revisited the drug endless times.

    In a way it reminded me of how Mother Teresa received the “drug” of a vision of God and consolations in the 1950s, before the long, dry period ensued. And yet she obviously stayed ever faithful to God, which is why Fr. James Martin calls her the greatest saint of all time. 

    So I guess we're neither built physiologically nor intended for long-term euphoric pleasure in this life. (A startlingly obvious observation but there you go.)