December 22, 2019

Mafia and Bishops

History can seem bizarre. For example, I wanted to know if the sickness (in terms of scandal) of the Cincinnati Archdiocese predated Bernadin. His immediate predecessor was Archbishop Leipold, who served only three years before an untimely death. He seems like he was a holy man but where it gets odd is here:
Possibly the most historical event of his career happened as a result of his acting as spiritual director for a young nun living in Ohio and Indiana. In 1963, as Monsignor Leibold, he issued an imprimatur to a diary of private revelations written by Sr. Mildred Ephrem Neuzil while she was serving at a convent (Kneipp Springs) in Rome City, IN. It was here that she claimed she was visited multiple times by the Virgin Mary who declared herself to be "Our Lady of America" and gave her important messages to be given to America's Bishops..

After issuing his imprimatur to the messages written down by Sr. Neuzil, later on, as Archbishop of Cincinnati, he went on to commission a statue, plaques, and even a medal to take these apparitions to the second level of Church confirmation.
This is a devotion I was not even aware existed. And it gets weirder: Sister Mildred ended up giving charge of the devotion upon her death in 2000 to her dear friend Sr. Joseph Therese (Patricia Ann Fuller) who ended up canonically no longer a nun. She claims two men were involved in fraud with donations and they claimed she was no longer a nun and so she sued them for defamation. It made its way to the U.S. District Court and in 2015 she lost, with Vatican saying she was not part of any current legit congregation.

I’m watching The Irishman on Netflix in small doses. I think part of the interest in the mafia in general is the generational part: seeing how the different characters are interrelated, who mentored and promoted who, who killed who, how power evolved, etc... As well as to wonder about the “ultimate meritocracy” of the political men who end up on top.

It’s also fascinating to see how the gay mafia took over the Catholic Church including the American branch. It’s almost like there should not just be the official sacramental lineage of bishops going back, but also the lineage of how gay prelates took over: who appointed who. Like the mob.

It’s interesting to look at the parallels between Bernardin and McCarrick. Both lost their fathers as infants. Both had to take over family duties in their earliest years during the Great Depression. Both likely suffered from same sex attraction; in Bernardin’s case maybe simply accidental he had tons of gay friends. Both excelled at mediation: politicians friendly to “both sides”. Both had late vocations by the standards of the time (i.e. when most chose that route in your early teens): McCarrick decided to enter the seminary at age 20 while traveling in Europe for a year. Bernardin had entered a public university as a pre-med student and shocked his sister when he announced he was going to seminary. Both spent a vanishingly small amount of time as parish priests.

December 17, 2019

Japan and WW2

Reading Richard Frank’s Downfall about the (agonizingly slow until it came fast) surrender of Japan in WW2.  I've always wondered the moral decision making around its development and use, and why Japan didn't surrender after the first one.

The rationale for use was predicated on the steady evolution of increased tolerance of civilian deaths, beginning with German (who else?) pilots in WW I. It feels in some sense inevitable in one sense, like the frog sitting in water that gets hotter degree by degree. It’s reaction-reaction-reaction all the time: a reaction to German and Axis use of civilian terror and deaths by beginning Allied bombing campaigns. The panicked reaction to news Germany was bent on going nuclear led to our Manhattan Project (the Germans badly misjudged the amount of material they would need and pretty much gave up). And the deployment of the bombs was perhaps a reaction to news of vast Japanese homeland mobilization as well as the prospect that the Russians, an already untrustworthy “ally”, were planning to take part in the spoils of Japan.

Why two bombs? The short answer seems to be that members in Japan’s inner circle already knew enough about nuclear programs to think that the U.S. had at most a very limited supply of weapons, perhaps only one. They knew enough, alas, to know the difficulties, a poisonous knowledge that helped trigger the Nagasaki bombing since the first one didn't tip the balance. Perhaps even the second wasn’t enough on its own either, given they suddenly had Russia declaring war on them at the same time. So the second weapon was deployed with speed -- not to prevent the Japanese from having enough time to come to their senses but because without a quick second bomb it would look like we had a very limited supply.

In some ways it all feels foreordained if grotesquely tragic. You can see the slow build-up: the steady incremental steps to evil in the form of civilian bombings (the American ones at Tokyo not only killed civilians but ended the Japanese nuclear program). There was the box that Germany put America in as far as having to design and build it. The box that Japan and Russia put us in as far as deployment. 

The world wars of the last century feel surreal given the relative "peace" we have had since.

December 11, 2019

Isaiah and Ways of Reading the Bible

Part of why the Bible is so fascinating to me is now is because for so long I read it wrong. I missed so much in earlier readings due looking it as a past document instead of a live one that is applicable to past, present and future. I’ve read it too much with the view of the writer's original intention without regard to symbol or figurative language - even though symbols and "double-meaning" are what separates man from animals.

I’m reading a book on reading ("On Reading Well"):
“The ability to understand figurative language, in which ‘a word is both itself and something else,’ is unique to human beings and, as one cognitive psychologist explains, ‘fundamental to how we think’ in that it is the means by which we can ‘escape the literal and immediate.’ We see this quality most dramatically in satire and allegory. Although very different, both satirical and allegorical language employ two levels of meaning: the literal meaning and the intended meaning. In satire, the intended meaning is the opposite of the stated words; in allegory, the intended meaning is symbolized by the stated words. Satire points to error, and allegory points to truth, but both require the reader to discern meaning beyond the surface level. In this way, allegory and satire—and less obviously, all literary language—reflect the transcendent nature of the human condition and the “double-willed self” described by Paul in Rom 7:19”
I'm reminded where the high priest Caiaphas said unwittingly of Jesus but accurately nonetheless, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

The simplest lines in the Bible now resonate with meaning in a way they couldn’t before partially because I have more biblical knowledge, as well as I’m more alert to my own perennial tendency to underestimate God’s love. Take for example today’s first reading from Isaiah:
‘Comfort my people, comfort them’
says your God.
‘Speak to the heart of Jerusalem
and call to her
that her time of service is ended,
that her sin is atoned for,
that she has received from the hand of the Lord
double for all her sins.’
An incomplete way to look at this passage is to see it merely as God’s instructions to Isaiah. The better way is to look at it as instructions to Christ in 30 A.D. and to us today.

The fascinating tidbit is this verse is linked in many Bible commentaries to Job 42:10. So I trotted out to Job, chapter 42, which comes after Job has experienced a ton of Job-like negative experiences:
“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
So the verse from Isaiah is saying the Jews received double for all her sins, and yet it points to Job saying that Job got twice as much as he had more for his troubles. How to reconcile these? Maybe that we get twice as much grace as our sins dictate?

The world-changing view of Job is that he’s actually Jesus. (Which I first learned from GK Chesterton.)  Job's depicted as a righteous person who unfairly receives suffering. That’s Jesus to a “T” obviously, who was the only righteous person outside of Mary. So the way I look at the verse from Isaiah - in a paraphrased way - is that God the father is saying to Jesus through Isaiah: “Comfort my people, comfort them. Speak to the heart and call to her that her sin is atoned for, that she has received from the hand of the Lord double the expiation needed by way of your crucifixion.”

I never would’ve read Isaiah that way years ago. I would’ve read it only in the historical moment, without the supernatural (yet well within human capacity)  idea that Scripture applies to past and present and future.. I would’ve read it as Isaiah being reminded by God that now the exile in Babylon is over and that all is well - except that it seems unfair the Israelites had paid double for their sins. It’s true that the writer’s actual, original intention could be simple hyperbole: “hey, you’ve paid double for your sins so don’t worry about it!” But if we’ve learned nothing, we’ve learned that nothing is accidental (title of Fr. Groeschel book), including most especially what’s written in the Bible. Christ, in a way, paid double for our sins since he had no sins to atone for.

November 27, 2019

Coffee Shop Thoughts

Sitting in the quintessential millennial hang out, the coffee shop, in the quintessential millennial Cbus neighborhood, the Short North. It’s like a micro vacation with none of the financial hangover. “Roaming Goat” it is, right next door to ye olde new bookstore. Sipping a rich roast coffee and feeling a bit out of place, like a 40-year old at a fraternity party. Found a table in back; a bit light on natural light but pleasant.

It’s not my natural habitat as shown by a painting above me of the Holy Roman emperor of the Democrat party, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The title of the work is, appropriately, “Blessed Be Thy Name”. One might append, “devoted custodian of the sacrament of abortion”.

A gray November day, as appropriate for Ohio in November as could be cogitated: cloudy, windy and 46 degrees. A weather cliche. Good weather inasmuch as it’s somehow more appropriate that we give thanks in a time of year in which thanks is not a ready sentiment. Just as they say the time you most need to pray is when you don’t feel like it, one should practice giving thanks when it’s not sunny and warm and you’re on a beach.

While I’m here, the melange of thankful entries on my workplace’s bathroom window (click to enlarge):

November 21, 2019

Peggy and Pageantry 

I think there are certain Beltway types who are smitten by ritual and by "historic" proceedings, even if the substance is banal. Peggy Noonan seems to have fallen under this particular trance given her eagerness to boast "What I saw at the Impeachment Trial" (to paraphrase her first book title). Rarely have we seen Noonan so captured by the Beltway bubble and bauble, so taken by the petty.

The problem for her, no doubt, is that politics is too small these days. Giants of the ‘80s like Reagan, Tip O’Neill, Daniel Patrick Moynihan have morphed into the midgets of the ‘10s: Schiff, Trump and Jordan. It’s not Peggy’s fault per se, but giving this impeachment the time of day seems a waste of her talent. The massive squander of time and energy on a question that was known since the transcript came out, on whether there was quid pro quo, is as astonishing as it is silly. The only interesting question is the one rarely asked: exactly how wrong was it? I don’t think it rises to the level of impeachment.

The only surprise in the whole affair is it took three years to catch Trump in something half-way impeachable. A babe in the woods, a complete neophyte in politics who didn’t understand the game, he was invincibly ignorant of the fact that the unelected spy agencies have at least as much power as the president and more if you consider that they can take out a president far more easily than vice-versa.

Ultimately what was done to Trump was far worse than what he did. If the press had any credibility at all they’d be more outraged at the mortal sin of the years-long Russia probe than of Trump’s venial, venal phone call. More sinned against than sinning is Trump, at least while he’s been in the White House.

November 07, 2019

Amy Robach's Brush with Truth via Project Veritas

I worry that Trump has greatly accelerated media decadence, that he’s driven them mad and has exposed them to the point where they no longer "self-identify" as journalists anymore.

No longer in a state of “journalistic grace” they’ve easily transitioned to “advocate sinners”, having long been tempted in that direction anyway. It's getting to the point where if the press said the sky is blue I’d believe it wasn’t.

Because in the time-honored D.C. way, a gaffe/hot mic revealed the truth. TV reporter Amy Robach vented on having the goods on Epstein three years ago but the ABC honchos suppressed the story because apparently too many important and powerful people would get hurt, like the Clintons, Alan Dershowitz, and a prince in England. Because, as we know, the role of the press is to protect the powerful and preach to the powerless (especially Trump voters). The irony of Buckingham Palace having veto power over ABC stories is that we once fought a war to end monarchical rule.

And of course Robach stepped back from her brush with the truth and docilely toed the corporate line just as she did three years ago when she withheld the information from other news outlets or the police because, as we know, the role of the press is to get scoops, not give them. Apparently she felt no moral obligation given that Epstein could claim more victims in the meantime.

ABC laughably professed not having sufficient information for a story on Epstein never mind having had nothing on Justice Kavanaugh but eagerly feeding off wild-eyed allegations for days. (As one columnist said, "Whatever the liberal elite wants printed is propaganda; whatever it wants suppressed is news.")

They found out who apparently leaked the video and arranged to have the staffer fired even though he/she now works for CBS. “Professional courtesy” said CBS. They might’ve added, “After all, we’re all on the same team here, to propagandize for liberalism.”

I think we’re in a post-hypocritical age now given that there’s no longer any shame in being one. Witness ABC lecturing Trump on his focus on the whistle-blower while at the same time working to crucify their own whistle-blower, now at CBS. There’s no stigma to Trump’s hypocrisy when everybody’s doing it, just as there’s no stigma now to having kids out of wedlock since everybody’s doing it. There reaches a tipping point where there’s no shame.

The Epstein story is not the most important story of the year but it’s highly symbolic and telling. That he could get killed in a detention center and there be no leads or media curiosity? It’s like the Jimmy Hoffa story only it all occurred in public.  But little cracks are beginning to form in the cover-up, little slow leaks of truth. Despite the press. 

October 28, 2019

Last Days Pre-Nostalgia

There’s a weird and perverse predilection in me for this to be the “last days”, to be nearing the apocalypse, even to the point of not quite being disappointed if Pope Francis doubles down on his loathing of church conservatives by displaying the Amazonian idols in St. Peter’s (update: he did not).

Both Donald Trump and Pope Francis feel like canaries in the apocalyptic coal mine, both singing “the end is nigh!" to different tunes.

One wants to live in interesting times as long as they don’t affect us unduly, which is a fiction we can believe to a rather astonishing extent. This wicked tendency is disturbing but perhaps goes with the human nature interest in extremes: extreme holiness or extreme debauchery. But especially the latter -- as the Henley song goes, we all love dirty laundry.

But whether this be the last times or middle times or what have you it doesn’t lessen the obligation to be holy or to die to self, which I think is part of my attraction alas. The delay in the Second Coming is an act of the mercy of God for which we should all be grateful.

How a Bill Doesn't Become a Law

It’s interesting to me to consider the ever on-going ripple-down effects of the activist judiciary. Since the adoption of a “living Constitution” (which effectively kills the Constitution), the judicial branch has become rightfully paramount to the legislative.

After all, if you’re in the position where a branch of government sanctions the killing of hundreds of thousands of innocents and could rewrite the Constitution on religious liberty and freedom of speech, well, that concentrates the mind.

So there’s a bill (the Secure Act) stuck in the Senate despite 97 out of a 100 senators in favor of it. It helps address the looming retirement crisis by increasing amount older workers can contribute to 401k, protecting religiously affiliated organizations, protecting private-sector pensions, increasing 401k coverage to part-time employees, etc…

But the problem is Senate floor time is scarce due to the focus on judges (the latter also arguably due to the feeling that this is the last hurrah for the GOP and its hold on judges, given the demographic winter it’s on the cusp of).

A way around it is if you’d have unanimous consent:
In short, if a bill enjoys unanimous consent among every Senator, it doesn’t require any floor time. At this juncture, it appears three GOP Senators are refusing to allow the bill’s passage under unanimous consent: Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Pat Toomey. Senator Cruz has concerns about certain 529 college savings plan provisions. Senator Lee has concerns about a provision that provides some relief for small community newspapers. And Senator Toomey has primarily voiced concerns about certain technical tax corrections that impacts retailers, which he wants to see addressed through floor debate and amendment.

October 22, 2019

Appalachia at Dusk

We recently took and trip and drove through atmospheric old West Virginia, old because of the mountains and old because poverty contracepts the artificiality of newness. Veiny fronds and ivy weave around eighty year old farm equipment and hundred year old barns. Everything has a look of having settled in permanently.

We pass a historical sign marking an antebellum house on 35 South, General McCellan’s house if I read it correctly at 60mph. This road is a corridor I’d like to tour, but hard to park on a turnpike and it’s mostly all private land. Plus I hear they have shotguns in those hollers. It all gives off a “City of New Orleans” tune vibe.

Unwoke: Napa Valley
Woke: Appalachian valley

Napa nah, Appalachia yah. The white lightning tour > the winery tour.

We pass by South Charleston Industrial Park, which looks like an old penitentiary. A “Beef Jerky Outlet” sign. Dunes of black coal look as soft as Hawaiian black sand beaches. Hoary old mountains wearing fog wreaths like the coronas of ancient Roman generals.

Deathly looking truck ramps scale mountain passes for when brakes fail. How do they get down from up there? I google and learn: it’s a tow and a fine.  In a half-doze I dream a rhyme of a fen populated by a Renaissance festival: a Ren Fen.

Gallery at highway speed:

October 08, 2019

Motivational Indeed

Rousing and deeply moving/unsettling talk by a speaker at our department meeting today. Funny, sad, rich and uncommonly wise. Have I changed or has the company? Both? Regardless, this speaker comes from an obviously core Christian bedrock and addressed the sore sticking point for humanity today: the inability to see the sanctity of life and the extraordinariness of the “ordinary” person.

At the same time it was unsettling because he was deeply uncompromising on mediocrity. I tend to be exceptionally mediocre (oxymoron alert!).

It’s funny that after treating work as a joke, a Dilbert cartoon, that now it’s morphed into a different thing. My experience is sometime between 2006 and 2009 executives simply stopped being obtuse and really changed in a radical way.  More common sense-oriented and more purpose-seeking. And definitely more employee-centric.

For example, needless meetings stopped happening and became far less boring, especially on the department level. It is inconceivable in the ‘90s we’d have as a meeting venue the Columbus Zoo, and mix business with pleasure.

It’s remarkable how the culture shifted. In the old days of the 90s, every other day you’d have some new top-down management fad you’d have to indulge, beginning with “ponc” which stood for “price of non-conformance” and which became a rallying cry among the troops, with all of us calling each other “ponc-ers”.

There was an atmosphere of mandatory overtime, pointing fingers, and pointless exercises - basically all the stuff that went into Dilbert’s popular cartoon. But it’s as if the execs started reading Dilbert and reacted to it - or maybe it’s when we became a private company. Execs even started using Gallop to measure employee satisfaction. That'd cray-cray in 1990.

I suspect some of it is also the influence of Silicon Valley, where the tech companies have a more laid-back style and emphasize employee comfort. You get more with honey than vinegar.

Or it’s simply that the millennials (who are now the majority of the work force and drive many a decision) are not motivated by hierarchy or “force” but by being treated like an adult with less overhead and supervision. It’s odd to see institutions change, but if you live long enough you see stuff.

The result is to feel a loyalty to the company in a new and more visceral way. It’s interesting to see the change in our department getting a speaker who would speak to average man instead of one who assumed that his audience were all executives chasing only the bottom line. He was human - no cyborg salesman - and spiritual, and it was a disconnect to hear this at work, if only because most of the time I’ve failed to see the spiritual side of work (which admittedly is idiotic). But it’s inconceivable someone so authentically spiritual in the ‘80s or ‘90s would've spoken. It was cutthroat world and the goal was to make money so as not to have layoffs.

The speaker, Kevin Brown, inadvertently gets to the sickness in capitalism which is to treat everything and everyone as transactional.

The money quote was: “Can you look in the mirror and see the faces of the people who helped you get to where you are?”. In other words, we look into the mirror and may either despair or be complacent and self-satisfied, but what we should see is that we are not autonomous units but reflections of all that came before us - the teachers, preachers, mentors, parents, strangers, the person who serves you now, etc. They all played a role in our becoming. There’s no such thing as a “self-made man”.

October 06, 2019

Brandt Jean Forgiving Amber Guyger

Interesting to see the varied responses to the video of the man forgiving the cop who killed his brother. It’s almost a Rorschach test.

Al Sharpton: “He’s not doing it for her. He’s doing it to grow as a Christian.”

Displays denial of God’s grace, shows Pelagianism and reduces humanity to being incapable of doing something for another without self-interest.  Also contradicts Scripture in pretending he can read another person’s heart.

Others on Twitter: “He did it because therapists teach us that you have to forgive in order to move on and not influence your health and well-being negatively.”

This is the therapeutic model that sees religion as a means to an end, that of the god of health, rather than the ultimate end in itself.

Others: “It’s Stockholm Syndrome where you sickly love your oppressor.”

The cynic’s choice, a conspiratorial mindset that sees human behavior only in political and psychological manipulation terms.

Others: “He’s a fool.”

Others lack the vision to see forgiveness as anything but weakness.

October 02, 2019

Down with Theistic Evolution

Much appreciate the link below on Orthodox theology on the Fall called "alterism". Taking their cues from early Church fathers other than Augustine, they mention an alternative to the belief that the world as currently configured, using evolution and death and survival of the fittest, is what God called "very good" in Genesis.: Orthodox theology alterism.

The gist of it is the Big Bang was not the beginning of creation per se but the result of human sin. Prelapsarian life wasn’t just the same as our life except we don’t die, but was similar to how we currently view resurrected life. Augustine influenced the Church (including Aquinas) by suggesting that everything was the same pre-Fall except man had better control of his unruly members (i.e. no lust or gluttony, etc..).

To say it’s a stretch to believe that prior life was radically different than our current life is no different than saying our future life in the new Heaven and new Earth will be radically different than our current one. Both require an element of faith. And since we know no more about our future life than our prelapsarian one it doesn’t seem heretical to think the early Church Fathers’ "alterism" fits far better than theistic evolution.

September 29, 2019

Prophets of Nuance and Other Oxymorons

This morning I read a (not atypical) Bishop Flores tweet (he of Mexican heritage whose diocese is close to the border) denouncing an uncaring attitude towards immigrants (presumably illegal, a modifier now illegal itself, probably because pro-immigrant folks want the conflation).  It all seems reflexively a tribal thing: he stereotypically ignores the prudential question while I stereotypically forget to pray for illegal immigrants and consider the immediate need. 

One could say that to even think in those terms (i.e. I am white and he’s of Mexican heritage) is to view it racially, but then how can one do otherwise in this age of identity politics? Perception being reality I guess. It’s like saying, “don’t think about the pink elephant” when every day there’s a pink elephant on TV, radio, news. “Don’t think about your whiteness,” we’re told, when every day we’re told things like "whites are inherently racist”.

Immigration is an explicitly political act (given that states control borders, not individuals) so a political argument will naturally follow. The opposing side’s argument is either not presented (the Pope Francis treatment, i.e. “no comment”) or framed (so unlike Aquinas!) as malignant.

For example, there is no pity left over, for example, for the poor left in countries where only the most courageous or intelligent leave.

So part of the “indifference” Flores ascribes is, I think, due to bad faith political arguments. That doesn’t make it right but it helps explain it.

And of course the reading from Amos this Sunday surely supports the bishop's attitude. The prophet’s job is not nuance or prudential judgements - his task is to castigate and irritate. (We’re all prophets now, laugh out loud?) And the truth of the prophecy is irrespective of the source: the Civil Rights Movement was no less true that it was mainly inspired and begun in earnest by a black man (Martin Luther King). Ideally the prophet would lack self-interest, but King was both prophet and beneficiary, although tragically he didn’t live to see the benefits. And no one is in a position to know injustice more than those treated so.

The OT prophets were famously not approved of in their own time, to put it mildly, but only later added to the canon. It’s easier to rake previous generations for their sins than our own in our time.  Distance in time provides perspective and a different point of view. (Certainly not necessarily the right point of view - Margaret Sanger is looked upon as a prophetess and revered in our time only because in our corrupt age her views on contraception are mainstream.)

Aquinas wrote that “we distinguish in order to unite.” How very far from our modern sensibility! It’s so foreign as to feel like an inherent contradiction.  We think distinguishing is “non-pastoral” (as in the case of Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics) or else we distinguish very crudely in order to divide or vanquish (i.e. if you’re for a wall, you’re not Christian).

September 27, 2019

Praise for Trump's Quid pro Quo

I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't give a flying fig about Trump's Ukraine deal - see Luke Thompson below.

And it's amusing that the open borders crowd don't like open borders when it comes to outsourcing investigations to Ukraine, investigations that Americans can't or won't do for themselves.

National Review's Luke Thompson nails it on The Editors podcast:
“I think anything that Hunter Biden touches that intersects with his father’s official role as vice president is presumptively corrupt and worthy of investigation and that there’s a legitimate interest in finding what the hell was going on.  Because of this, it doesn’t matter that Joe Biden is running for president. That has nothing to do whether there is a legitimate government interest in finding out what the Bidens were up to.
Here’s what we know: Biden intersected his intervention in Ukraine, including withholding aid, with Hunter’s involvement in international energy-related matters on which he had zero expertise.  We know that Joe Biden flew his son to Bejing and while Joe was meeting with Xi his son met with a state-owned enterprise and left with ludicrous amounts of money.  He was paid handsomely for doing so though he has no finance expertise and indeed no marketable skills other than a seemingly bottomless appetite for narcotics and self-destruction.  And so given what we know I believe there is a presumption of legitimacy and that information is not the same as interference. 
If Trump had said, “dig something up and leak it for me.” that would be wrong. If he had said, “Target Biden, go hack into something, give it to me.” That would be wrong. If he had said, “Make something up, give it to me.” That would be wrong. Saying, “Get to the bottom of the fact that a chronically addicted, self-destructive son of a vice president was being integrated into American foreign policy in one of the most troubled places in the world", however artlessly he did it, is not wrong.  And to associate that with election interference or a campaign contribution has as its logical conclusion an absurdity that no one would endorse - it would mean running for president creates a de facto blanket immunity for anyone.”

September 25, 2019

Seven Quick Takes

Read some of National Review issue on what writers love about America, and so far it’s travel-heavy, making me yearn for the open road. So much of America I’ve never seen.

One of the articles mentions how Americans are prone to faddishness in opinions and utopianisms, and how Lionel Trilling once wrote that “Nothing in America is quite so dead as an American future of a few decades back.”

Also this, by editor Rich Lowry:
"Baseball on the radio remains an iconic American sound...During night games in July and August, the murmur of the crowd — just like the sawing of cicadas, the chirping of crickets, the calling of frogs, and the clatter of innumerable other critters — speaks of the delicious languor of an American summer, of long days and hot nights, of drives to the beach, of talking on the front porch, of the yells of kids running in the yard after dinner, of carefree, seemingly endless hours.”
Feel like a part of my childhood being ripped away with Marty Brennaman’s impending retirement. Like a bandaid being pulled off I’m not sure this was the way for him to go given the wailing and gnashing of teeth from fans (he’d originally planned to bow out with no year notice).

Feels like his wife, like Yoko Ono, broke up the band. She gave him a new desire to travel and a life apart from baseball. But he’s certainly earned it.


Funny Brendan:
“How I imagined raising children: All the little offspring gathered around me on the couch as I read a book about Greek Mythology or science to them.
What it's actually like raising children: One is howling under a cardboard box because I decline to find him a YouTube video he'd watched half of with his older sister but can only describe as ‘about making a squishy wedding’, another is throwing shredded cheese all over the dining room as I try to feed him, and a third is narrating Pirates of the Caribbean 3 to me in what I have to assume is garbled form (or maybe the movie just makes no sense.)”
Reminds me of the quote “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams” from Dostoevsky.


Tomatoes still coming in by the bushel. Feels late to be still getting this many tomatoes. One way to define summer is by growing season, i.e. when first and last frosts come. For central Ohio it’s Apr 28 through Sept 28. Five months of green things growing, which means 41% of the year we have a climate capable of supporting non-hibernatory plant life.

By contrast, Hilton Head’s season is from 3/10 till 11/29, or 72% of the year. Louisville comes in at 55%. The 50-50 line comes in just a bit north of Lexington.

I shall try


Interesting take on Padre Pio:
“I have to say, I’m not up on Padre Pio studies, except that I know—and some brief research confirmed—that it’s quite a minefield. Claims of fascism, fakery, fornication: It’s all there.
Pio is perhaps the quintessential saint for the modern world, a man whose controversy would have been in the past sequestered in ecclesial meetings and documents but who in the early mass media age became nothing short of a superstar—“the most important Italian of the last century” according to one secular biographer. He was a man who, whatever you think about his stigmata and other apparent supernatural abilities, exuded that manic energy that lives in the space between holiness and madness, but unlike Catherine of Siena, or other historic saints, he did so in the age of the camera and the journalist. This makes him at once more accessible and more mysterious, more credible and more strange.
For my part, I don’t know what to make of him. The accounts of his wounds and his ecstasies are incredible—and yet if I heard them about some 11th century mystic I wouldn’t question them for a second. Padre Pio, then, brings a certain unrestrained spirituality from the Before Time into a modern world where it no longer seems to fit. This is how he challenges us.” 
Padre Pio does seem to be a sort of big outlier of modern saints. St. Therese of Calcutta, St. John XII, St. John Paul II, St. Therese of Liseux, St. John Henry Newman (soon), Maximillian Kolbe, Edith Stein, St. Damien of Molokai, and on and on of saints who, while experiencing bit of mysticism and the miraculous, but nothing the way St. Pio did.

Priest uncorked a very good homily. Quoted Augustine on the three stories we have of Jesus raising a person from the dead: the first, the 12-year old girl who was still at home in her bed, the next was the widow’s son who was on his way to the cemetery in a procession, and the third was Lazarus, who was dead for some four days in the tomb. And the message Augustine got from that is how Jesus can raise us from three types of sin: the first is sin contemplated in the mind but not acted on (home), the second is sin contemplated and acted on (on the way), and the third is a habitual sin (in the tomb). All can lead to death but the third is particularly pernicious, though Jesus is master of all three.

The priest added that these acts of Jesus raising people from the dead was to show that he was God even then, while in the flesh, and that he didn’t become God at the Resurrection.

Creed revisit: “For us men and for our salvation / he came down from heaven; / he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the presiding priest, /and was made bread.”

Reviewer of Book on St. Paul

Saw book by Sarah Ruden that tries to rehabilitate Paul (I didn't realize he was in need of rehab). I’m always taken aback by how controversial St. Paul is among Christians. His letters seem uplifting and inspiring.

It amazes me that many think of him as grumpy and Puritanical, when his writings seem among the most upbeat and inspiring in the entire Bible. Many hate, of course, where he writes against fornication but how could they not then share the same distaste for Jesus, who said that anyone who looked lustfully at a woman had committed adultery with her? I suspect it’s the typical dodge of assuming most everything Jesus said in the gospels was attributed to him later in response to conditions in the churches at that time. Nice gig if you can get it. But it’s hard to wiggle out of Paul because everyone agrees at least 6-7 letters were written by him and there are pretty hard (and very early!) dates around them.One amazon reviewer pointed out that perhaps Paul was against homosexuality because it was deeply bred in Jewish tradition instead of his simply reacting to Roman/Greek abuses.

From a reviewer on Amazon:
In his book "Mythologies" (English translation 1972) the French semiologist Roland Barthes analyzes what he terms 'neither-nor criticism', a rhetorical game now even more prevalent than when he first essayed it back in the 1950s. This involves the critic's confession that he is able to discern how any subject's reality is more complex than simply being a matter of X as opposed to Y: the reality in question is neither X nor Y because it is, in the critic`s own perceptive gaze, a blazing matter of being Z. And the identification of Z is the result of the plucky critic's having so clearly established the respective errors and inherent biases of X and Y that he was led eventually to Z`s discovery. But, as Barthes simply observed, what fuels the neither-nor critic's activities and ultimately convinces him of his own results is the relative amount of FREEDOM he assumes for himself, namely, that he is immune to A PRIORI judgments, and that his own critical work is as much a liberation as it is a timeless explication of a given subject.

Reading this book by Sarah Ruden made me think of Barthes' essay. Her subject is the eternally controversial Paul and his reputation, deserved or not, in the modern world. And here is where the 'dichotomy-spotting' begins: wishing to steer a course between conservative and/or traditional views of Paul (X) and the often questionable results and opinions deriving from the historical-critical method (Y), Ms. Ruden in her quest for an 'original' understanding of Paul (Z) inadvertently relies on so many polarities and contrasts largely derivable from our own age that the 'original' voice of Paul she thought she had re-discovered ends up being the reflection of some currently entrenched prejudices.

Now I am not advocating any kind of relativism here; nor am I contending that there is nothing like a reasonable truth to be had about Paul or the meaning of his letters. I am as willing as the next person to say that Paul actually means what he says and in fact says what he means, but what Sarah Ruden promises and what Sarah Ruden delivers end up being two different things…

This is perhaps my most serious objection to the book`s project: that in order to make Paul more palatable, to rehabilitate him IN THE COURT OF OUR SENSIBILITIES, it becomes necessary to show that he was more like us than we ever imagined, that the reasons for his startling statements about the relative 'status' of women, homosexuality, slavery, even the nature of the divine agapĂȘ (love) itself must be revealed as having been based on the same forms of modernist pathos that so prejudicially orient not a few of our own attitudes and assumptions.

And finally, there is, for my tastes, a far too lenient (and downright anachronistic) use of expressions and ideas such as 'liberal', 'emancipation', 'oppression', 'individuality', 'self-expression', etc. in this book. This usage is problematic for many critical reasons, but it is further complicating, not because the ancients lacked any of the sensibilities that make such concepts possible and so compelling for us, but rather because our own psychologizing take on things, our own debilitating capacity for introspection and interiorization makes the ancients seem like they were inhabitants of another planet, like us in so many respects but thinking, feeling and experiencing God in ways that seem like a proverbial world apart.

Now Ms. Ruden occasionally keys in on these inherent and undeniable differences, those moments when Paul communicates to us the disconcerting proximity of God's glory--gospel 'flashpoints' I would call them--the kind that stem not from antiquated patterns of ignorance let alone our condescending attitudes toward them, but from a direct and overwhelming sense of God's presence and power: they are the expression of those timeless certainties that make for the blessed uncertainty of the faithful; in short, they are what make Paul true rather than just learnedly relevant.

September 19, 2019

A Tale of Two Songs

It was mid-80s and I was dancing at the new college bar and the song playing was Frankie Goes to the Hollywood’s Relax. And I remember I hearing it correctly? Can this possibly mean what I think it means?

It’s interesting that at a conservative college back then there was a culture that enabled clean-cut kids in their teens to osmosis lyrics that, to put it mildly, failed to edify.

I was curious as to the genesis of the song, of how it traveled from the dregs of excess libido to the ears of millions of American kids, bypassing the antibodies of the (admittedly weakened) culture?

And it’s a familiar story - the quickest way to success is to get banned. It was done so by the BBC and it grew famous and climbed the charts. But it also had help from a famous producer.

The songwriter claimed the words came to him while he was walking around Liverpool minus any “oh, I’ll sing these words and this record’ll be banned” considerations. They performed it on a UK television show, and the producer took it on and changed it radically (ultimately leaving only the lead vocalist in the final version).

The ad campaign courted scandal for promotional purposes by emphasizing gay sexual imagery. And the singer-songwriter himself apparently lived it, being diagnosed with HIV within a few years of the record’s release.

Another song from the past was written in 1964 (recorded five years later) called In the Year 2525.

It’s not too bad for prophecy. In the future you:
Ain't gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lie
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today
(Is that pill social media?)

You won't need no husband, won't need no wife
You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube
Couple more stanzas:
Your arms hangin' limp at your sides
Your legs got nothin' to do
Some machine's doin' that for you
I'm kinda wonderin' if man is gonna be alive
He's taken everything this old earth can give
And he ain't put back nothing
The writer, Rick Evans, lived off royalties:
“Rick, still in his twenties, found himself set for the rest of his life, which meant, to him, that he’d never have to work at a job that didn’t interest him (“I couldn’t sell shit to a dung beetle,” he'd say). It helped that Rick “happened to enjoy relatively simple things: music, the sky, and ‘spacing.’”
He exchanged letters often with a friend who wrote:
Rick’s observations about society were often scathing, but also filled with a sort of mystified affection. Things that interested others baffled him. The country club? Football? Why?
Rick grew up loving all things science, especially astronomy and the prospect of space travel. ..More than anything, Rick enjoyed his own mind, his own far-reaching imagination. He was more comfortable with solitude — months of it — than anyone I’ve known. Why would he prioritize socializing with people who talked about “window treatments” when he could be in the “zone,” a state of mind not so conducive to camaraderie?
He wrote: “Music is an audio display of our love affair with organization presented in a way that responds to our complex emotional dictates...The players who are ‘getting it right’ with rock are every bit, if not more, in tune with the business of expressing honest human emotion; maybe even more so than with the players of the more refined types of music such as classical, because they are playing their music, not interpreting someone else’s.”
He mused that we only can attempt to reproduce the sound that Chopin, say, intended. There’s no way to know, really. “One thing for sure, though,” he wrote. “Our very best attempts at rock are exactly that. There’s none better than that which is labeled the best at this very instant.”

September 13, 2019

Sufferin' the Suffrage

A rather bold woman on twitter tweeted:
“I think women’s suffrage was a mistake. As unpopular as it is to say it, women think and therefore vote differently than men. I don’t think the fruits have been good. Furthermore, it’s an unproven assumption that lacking franchise somehow assaults human dignity for either sex...Only a minority of women have an above-average ability to compartmentalize emotions to a high extent when making policy decisions."
Hey nice to hear men are good for something besides opening twist-off cans! (My own specialty.)

Be interesting to study the women’s vote from the time of the suffrage until the present and see how what the score was. Certainly their first pet project, Prohibition, wasn't a good start.

Of course the difficulty in rating would-be presidencies is that it requires a counterfactual, which is Latin for "nobody knows".  But since I'm a blogger, and thus unpaid to have opinions, I will fear to tread there.

Women liked Herbert Hoover in ’28 over Alfred E. Smith (Hoover being the enthusiastic Prohibition candidate). Roosevelt in ’32, ’36 and beyond. Ike in ’52 and ’56. Nixon in ’60. LBJ in ’64 and Humphrey in ’68. Carter in ’76, Reagan in ’80 & ’84, George HW Bush by 1% over Dukakis in ’88, Clinton in ’92/’96, Gore in ’00, Kerry in ’04, Obama in ’08/’12, and Hillary in ’16.

Basically I think the elections can be put into two categories: one, defensible (or indefensible) given the lay of the land at the time, and two, whether it was a good decision in retrospect (which requires God-like powers of counterfactual presidencies).

I’d say Kerry in ’04 was defensible but not a good decision. Defensible because Bush deserved to be fired based his failed Iraq bet. Reagan and HW Bush were obviously good choices. Humphrey in ’68 defensible, and Ike and Nixon reasonable or defensible.

So of the 22 elections, about half are defensible, and 6 or 7 out of 20 were correct in hindsight. (Two elections, ’60 and ’68, I'm unable to say with certainty if the right choice was made even given hindsight.).

I’m not sure 22 elections is a big enough sample size but certainly the trend of late is bad.

September 11, 2019

Cardinal Robert Sarah

I’ve grown increasingly intrigued by Cardinal Sarah. Partially on the strength of the Martel scuttlebutt (in In the Closet of the Vatican), about how he’s a true believer, a mystic monk, and frighteningly silent, or words to that effect.

Perhaps part of it is the contrast he presents from Francis.  When the latter was elected I figured after decades of good papal leadership it was time for a reversal. The natural tides insist on a return to the norm sooner or later. But I expected more of a doctrinaire liberal (i.e. emphasizing climate change, immigration, against death penalty, etc..), rather than someone as outwardly aggressive, passively aggressive, and impolitic. And of course there’s the flirtations with outright heresy.

But Sarah’s book on silence is really affecting and is so married to the moment that it feels prophetic and God-timed. I couldn't get into his first book, “God or Nothing” but didn't giver it a fair reading because I only read a fraction.

Here is his diagnosis of the why behind this age of the new atheism:
God’s silence questions mankind on its ability to enter into the mystery of life and hope at the very heart of suffering and hardships. The more we refuse to understand this silence, the more we move away from him. I am convinced that the problem of contemporary atheism lies first of all in a wrong interpretation of God’s silence about catastrophes and human sufferings. If man sees in the divine silence only a form of God’s abandonment, indifference, or powerlessness, it will be difficult to enter into his ineffable and inaccessible mystery. The more man rejects the silence of God, the more he will rebel against him.
The silence of God is elusive and inaccessible. But the person who prays knows that God hears him in the same way that he understood the last words of Christ on the Cross. Mankind speaks, and God responds by his silence.
To believe in a silent God who “suffers” is to make the mystery of God’s silence more mysterious and more luminous, too; it is to dispel a false clarity so as to replace it with a “shining darkness”. Because I do not forget the words of the Psalm:“ ‘Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you, the night is bright as the day” (Ps 139:11-12).
With friendship and tact, the important thing is to ask these people to accept the mystery of the divine silence by making an act of surrender and of faith in the salvific dimension of suffering. If man remains fixed on materialistic and rationalist certainties, he always bets on this hypothetical abandonment of God. Love, by its essence, implies a leap into the unknown. 

September 03, 2019

David Gelernter, Rebel

Very interesting to see Yale professor and intellectual David Gelernter give up on Darwinism (which, oddly, he called a “beautiful theory”, perhaps due to the simplicity of it - at least compared to Intelligent Design).

He makes the persuasive point that Darwin did not know biochemistry, could not have predicted how mathematically impossible it is to create a new protein.

But the problem is that I.D. is likewise unsatisfying and has “a long way to go” in Gelernter’s words:
An intelligent designer who interferes repeatedly, on the other hand, poses an even harder problem of explaining why he chose to act when he did. Such a cause would necessarily have some sense of the big picture of life on earth. What was his strategy? How did he manage to back himself into so many corners, wasting energy on so many doomed organisms? Granted, they might each have contributed genes to our common stockpile—but could hardly have done so in the most efficient way. What was his purpose? And why did he do such an awfully slipshod job? Why are we so disease prone, heartbreak prone, and so on? An intelligent designer makes perfect sense in the abstract. The real challenge is how to fit this designer into life as we know it. Intelligent design might well be the ultimate answer. But as a theory, it would seem to have a long way to go.
Reminds me of the first reading from Sunday's mass, from the book of Sirach:
Do not try to understand things that are too difficult for you, or try to discover what is beyond your powers...Do not meddle with matters that are beyond you; what you have been taught already exceeds the scope of the human mind. 

The McCarrick Story

I’m reading a book about prison ministry and the author (Valerie Schultz) mentions that middle-aged white men without tattoos are almost always in for sex crimes. Which made me think of Theodore McCarrick (although he's obviously elderly now).

So I googled a magazine article circa 2004 about then the well-respected Cardinal McCarrick. Reading with benefit of hindsight it’s kind of a “what went wrong?” angle, although of course you can’t glean much from a magazine article except that it was written before his sins were widely known and so there’s less guardedness.

He grew up fatherless and brotherless, an only child whose father died when he was age 3 so one wonders what impact the tragedy had.  There’s the weak father trope that is sometimes used to explain homosexuality. He was thrown out of high school for truancy, which he never explained other than he didn’t want to go to classes. He had a wanderlust early, marking on a map all the exotic places he wanted to go, and he always had a thirst for vacations. He grew up poor, and would buy toys instead of candy because they “would last while candy would not”, and always boasted of his frugality. As an adult he read middlebrow thrillers by Tom Clancy and mysteries by Mary Higgins Clark, and listened to middlebrow pop music. Given the dovetail of his native sensibilities, it’s not entirely surprising that he saw his priestly vocation as one to move up the ranks. to see as a worldly one.

His weekly columns to his diocese tend to be shallow and free of theology or Scripture. Perhaps he felt the mission was to tell his flock, “hey, I’m just like you...I like travel and meeting interesting people...I’m not thinking about God all the time.” Perhaps it’s not good that he called prayer his “escape” (like his John Denver music?) rather than a challenge, encounter, or discernment. There’s perhaps an element of the therapeutic.

His love for vacations (one I obviously share), one time squared off against his ambition to advance in the Church: he chose to go to an important Church conference where he met Pope John Pau II, then a cardinal, and mentioned to him that he had skipped his vacation to be there. (The Pope later asked him, “did you ever get to take that vacation?”)

McCarrick and Bergoglio are bedfellows in one sense: ambition. Both were (in the case of Bergoglio) or would’ve been (for McCarrick) unhappy as mere priests. The final line in the article is instructive: “.... Catholic writer Gibson says, ‘McCarrick as a parish priest would have been like trying to keep a tiger in a birdcage.’”

I’m sure it’s inevitable that ambition and high office are inseparable. One wishes it were otherwise, but that seems to be a big part of the problem of church hierarchy. Likely it was ever so, going back to the apostles argued power politics, i.e. who was the greatest among them. One of the many things I liked about Pope Benedict was you could tell his true passion was writing and thinking about God. One doesn’t get that sense with many other high-level prelates.

So it’s interesting how the child McCarrick was so reminiscent of the adult: resistance to the ordinary rules of society (like attending high school or respecting sexual boundaries), love for travel, and extreme interest in money and the objects it could buy.

The silver lining for McCarrick, such as it is, is that God chastises those he loves, and exalts the humble. McCarrick, one would think, has been humbled by such a public exposure of his sins.

July 31, 2019

Stop Me Before I Schadenfreude Part XXVI

When in Baltimore in May, I put in a good word for Hambone’s book at the Poe Museum and the lady gave me a brochure to show Ham about submitting his book towards the winning of an award which could lead, eventually, to entry on the NY Times best-seller list.  At least in my imagination.  I took some mental credit (admittedly a tad premature) for being the conduit to Ham's fame and riches,  but then delusions of grandeur keep me going.

So I eagerly relayed the contest particulars to him and he followed through...partially.

Ham o' Bone loves to error on the side of the niggardly and in this case committed a boner (thus putting the ‘bone’ in ‘Hambone’) by failing to pay a modest $25 entry fee for a submission on his artful novel And Poe Said, available wherever fine books are sold. He had gone through the laborious entry process, submitting a sample and such, but then got to the rude news that there was a payment to be made.

It does seem like the committee should’ve said upfront there was an entrance fee, which smacks of the sort of scam where you enter your poetry in anthology by paying a hefty fee. On the other hand, $25 is not an onerous fee and no one is getting rich off it.

Bone got lots of texts, emails, and voice mails today as the nominees were to be announced and apparently they just discovered his fee was not paid. He replied, Marianne Williamson style, that he romantically believes a book will find its reader absent the grubby dollar. (Now I don’t disagree that books have an uncanny God-directed way of landing where needed, but at the same time I’m not above allotting an advertising budget for a book.). But it was as though paying an entry fee was an insult to the labor that went into the book, a stain upon its reputation.

It looks by all appearances that they want him to be included but are struggling with the fairness of allowing someone in who did not pay the fee everyone else did. It speaks well of the book’s chances, I think, that they’re even struggling over that. (He eventually offered to pay, but apparently paying after the fact is ethically challenging.)  By the end of the day they promised to let them know their decision...  (to be continued)

Update: no nomination.

July 30, 2019

Seven Quick Takes

Maris is the rabbit scholar of the family. Of the dogs we’ve had, she’s the most dedicated to keeping them clear of our forty acres divided by a hundred.  She’s watchful as she waits, sitting in prime locations for hours.  When she finally sees the tell-tale white tail, she springs into action, running with abandon along the muscle-memorized contours and detours of our backyard.

After the rabbit is far gone she rests not: she does a post-mortem, sniffing the path the animal went as if looking for clues next time on how to prevent the next infiltration.  She treads the ground with her nose to the grindstone, er, I mean the ground, and like Detective Bosch attempts to solve a mystery.  Then she waits anew in case the criminal returns to the scene of the crime.

Our neighbor is to noise-making machines (leaf-blowers, edgers, lawn mower, hedge trimmers, etc...) what Pete Rose was to base hits.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  Every night between 6:30 and 8 he’s cutting one-inch high grass or trimming invisible leaves from perfectly square bushes.  He’s actually getting worse with age which is the general trend I hear:  you get more “more” when you hit your 70s and 80s.  His major hobby in life is making noise, and he’s doing it more of it of this year.

But the irritation I feel at having to retrieve my noise-cancellers is immediately assuaged by the very effective blocking combined with some good jazz or classical music.  It’s actually an opportunity to hear more music. It does feel “wrong” somehow that you can buy your way out of irritations like neighbors.  Although it’s kind of fitting: the first world gave us omnipresent engine noise but also gives us noise-cancelling headphones.


Reading moon book and newly amazed that astronauts covered 240,000 miles to moon. One way trip. That’s equivalent to going from Ohio to Australia twenty-four times.

Also impressed USSR could pull off a feat like going into space far ahead of us.  I thought we were ever the technology super power.  But it’s true that although they put a man made object on moon in 1959, we were only ones to actually walk on moon.

As a symbol of American greatness and excellence, the moon mission seems like peak America.

Did a really strong elliptical workout due to the unlikely reason of goosebumps listening to every Youtube version of Toto’s Africa, especially one involving a huge choir. Really the song feels full of that “holy longing” with lyrics blessing the saving rain (the word “salvation” is even used):
“The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation...I stopped an old man along the way / Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies / He turned to me as if to say, "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"
Has the scent of Heaven on it, the forgotten words of the gospel, the ancient melodies of the psalms, the “old man” like the one who’s on the cusp of Heaven and can already taste it.

And then I dared imagine Jesus saying to me, ala the “hound of Heaven”:
“It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do.”

The undeniable thing about Trump so far as president is that he possesses a fresh set of eyes on the issues of the world.  It’s hard to imagine a career politician having the chutzpah or vision to do small things like recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel or big things like a trade war with China.

And say what you want about the tariffs on China, it’s at least a helluva lot more defensible and cheaper than war with Iraq or Afghanistan. And after being burned by both Bushes on Supreme Court justices, so far the outsider Trump has done a much better with that crucial part of his job.

It’s certainly been eye-opening and even world-altering for me to go from Trump hater to having a grudging appreciation and thankfulness for him.

It’s going to be a hard path to re-election though.  For one thing, it seems like whenever a party plays to it’s “type” or “reputation”, it gets burned.   The Democrats were perceived as being weak on defense during the ‘70s and Jimmy Carter played right into that with the Iranian hostages and lost re-election. Similarly, Republicans have always been unfairly accused of being the party of racism and so Trump plays into that with “go back to where you came from”.  So we could easily get burned.

The fascinating thing about Pope Benedict was how he was both optimist and pessimist.  Or more properly perhaps a pessimist regarding earthly things and having optimistic faith in God.  Both dreamer and realist.

Decades ago he said that the Church would become much smaller and have much less influence.  And yet a recent biographer who knew him well said,
“To me he was like a like a child, always dreaming but on a higher plane,  like someone coming down to us not from another age but another sphere... He told me one time that ‘believing is a resistance against gravity’, against the force of gravity.”

So the force of zero-gravity (i.e. zero-gravity chairs and infinite laziness until a Saturday 1:30pm) finally forced me to take the dogs for some exercise.  We did two miles to dog park; just enough to earn a beer I guess.

Normally our summer vacation comes in early June which can feel pre-“full summer”, while during the August week our vacation feels like fall is near, with school and cicadas and football season imminent. So to take some days off in July this year was nice.

July is unabashedly peak summer.  I’d say June 15-July 31st is the most quintessential summer period there is and yet I rarely take much take time over those six weeks.  It’s crazy to slog to work every day during the best weather time of the Cloudumbus year.

By mid-July you’re starting to get a feeling of satiation of great days - you’re not so stunned by the good weather that you can’t even enjoy it as can happen in the manic period of early June.

This Facebook phenomenon is kind of odd in some ways.  It feels wrong, like the blood/brain barrier breached, when I see a friend suggestion for my general physician.  I find myself looking at pictures of her husband, kids, politics (not good!), camping photos, etc... It’s sort of invasive and tmi but I can’t, naturally, look away.

Reading some of Kevin Williamson’s new book The Smallest Minority.  He seems bitter. He says we are "monkeys with wifi" and has gotten increasingly elitist and snobbish over the past decade, although quite likely his views are not wrong.

July 15, 2019

Rapid Decline

It never fails to be amaze me at how quickly things have fallen apart.  It’s stunning to think that something like 93% of Americans called themselves Christians in 1965.  Or that out-of-wedlock births were exceedingly rare then. Or that sin wasn't celebrated or inspired pride.

All of the societal pillars seemed to began falling almost simultaneously, be it religion, the family, schools, and politics.

I’m wondering how much of it was top-down, of college professors becoming radicalized during the ‘60s and ‘70s, which led eventually to compromising all of education, which led to the collapse of religion, morality, family, etc.

Recently I've become more aware of how school discipline has cratered. It seems partly due to legal actions that prevented schools from expelling students.  I have no idea if corporal punishment in schools was effective, but it's been banned in 32 states, mostly happening during the 1980s.

I roughed up a graph with some of these factors, emphasis on “rough”:

July 11, 2019

Got a Craving for Latinos?

"One did not go to Ebbets Field for sociology. Exciting baseball was the attraction, and a wonder of the sociological Dodgers was the excitement of their play." - Roger Kahn, Boys of Summer, written in 1970s, on newly integrated Brooklyn Dodgers post-Robinson.
This article neatly illustrates our lack of civilizational confidence and how companies have totally bought into the Skin Color Industrial Complex.

Instead of putting a good product on the field (the "if you build it, they will come" school), the Clippers are so pathetically desperate for Latinos to come to games that it may come to paying them to come.

And you know, there's this foreign concept that people might want to go to a game for the game, not for the team name or the music.

This is also a sign of the lack of assimilation that massive illegal immigration encourages.

July 02, 2019


Laura Ingrahm tweets of the Democrat debate the other night, “The Obamas won again. Kamala was always their choice. She filleted Biden.”

What makes this nomination interesting is the Democratic electorate is split between the mostly “normal” (mainly black and blue collar voters who aren’t into promoting trans-genderism in kindergarten or for making secularism the state religion), and crazies who currently split their vote on the socialist-secularist candidates.

You have to admire the political jujitsu and Bill Clinton-like theatrics of Kamala in the debate, presenting herself as the adult in the room who will put food on America's tables (missed that role of gov't in the Constitution; must be next to the right to an abortion), and attacking Joe Biden but coming off not as an attacker but seeming to play the victim card.  One would think that ol' Biden was at the bus stop making the young Kamala cry.

Perhaps it’s pessimism that fueled my thought months ago that Kamala will win the nomination: she could not only beat Trump, but can appeal to the two wings of the Democrat party. She’s speaks the language of blacks (she plays black on TV though she isn't) while also speaking the elite-speak of the Obamas, Oprah, and the liberal industrial media complex. Given this, she’s a very dangerous candidate. The hope for the GOP and country is that the division in the Democrat party becomes more pronounced, not less.

Part of Hillary’s problem in ’16 was lack of black turnout, particularly in places like Detroit. It’s hard to image that Harris would have that problem. And the only reason Obama hasn’t nominated best bud Biden is he really wants Harris to win.

Obama, who was politically astute enough to win two elections despite having done nothing before the first election and having created unpopular Obamacare before the second, knows that Harris is the way forward for the success of the party.  It’s too simplistic perhaps, but maybe you can tell who to be scared of by who Obama promotes.

Another case of Mexicans doing work Americans won’t do, i.e. secure our border: 


Who dispensed Jorge Bergoglio from his vows?  (Or are vows anachronistic and only for Pharisees?)

Baltimore Trip Log

“The yearning had no object, no subject, it was just there. And maybe her mother was correct when she said it was ’eternity set in her heart’.”

Tues:  Why Baltimore? It was partially inspired by the atmospheric writing of one Ham of Bone, who wrote a novel about Edgar Allen Poe. Then too there was the draw of the Babe Ruth museum inspired by my reading of his biography by Jane Leavey. Then there was the sentimental angle that some of my ancestors sailed into port here in the late 1880s. Finally it’s old (by American standards). What more could you want? I’ve already been to NYC, Boston, and D.C. on the northeast coast, so it was either Baltimore or Philly.

Started off on the adventure by checking into the stately Lord Baltimore. They live up to their brand, with posh, old-fashioned lobby, classical music playing, and historical markers mentioning that Babe Ruth stayed here and Amelia Earhart attended a dinner here. There’s a lot of history in Baltimore, beginning with in 1662 with the first settlement, becoming a city in 1728, being the hometown of the Charles Carroll, Frederick Douglass, and Babe Ruth among many....

One of my short list of 8-10 “must see” ballparks happens to be in Baltimore. (List off the top: Wrigley, Fenway, Detroit, Yankee stadium, Dodger Stadium, SF park and Camden Yards.). Today I got to see Camden Yards. I love that I was able to walk there rather than Uber or drive and park. What a thrill to “live” close enough to walk to a ballpark. Thankfully the O’s are wOeful, so tickets were easy to come by. It helped that it’s a Tuesday evening I suppose. Maybe 9000 fans?
A google search shows attendance terrible in April: "The paying attendance of 6,585 last Monday night was the lowest crowd in Oriole Park at Camden Yards history, and that’s just the start of an ugly story."  (Amazingly, the Clippers draw about as many as Camden Yards!)

The park reminded me of our own Huntington Park in Cbus, not surprising since Huntington was modeled after this park I believe. I still think Great American’s more impressive, but this park is certainly charming and “old school”, built in ‘92 in the intentionally retro fashion.

My first surprise was during the penultimate line of the national anthem: “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave...”. I was startled by crowd yelling “oh!” (obviously because the Orioles are the O’s).

I find a spot in the right field stands just above the scoreboard where you can stand. I had no desire to hunt up my seat in the nosebleeds. And immediately, first half of inning number one, there’s a line drive headed directly for me and Lord it was hard-hit. I shamefully backed up instead of try to catch it but I felt better when the young guys next to me said they did the same thing, saying they weren’t gonna try to catch that thing. It’s a 21 foot scoreboard and he hit the 20 foot mark and I’m standing at 23 feet.

Post-game I looked for a convenience store and found one in a sketchy part of town. You know when the store has a sign saying, “No ski mask and hoodies inside the store” that it feels legit. I documented my bravery by taking a picture of it, making up for the backing away from the fly ball.


Next up was the great Peabody Library. There was a Shakespeare concordance a mile thick and proof that Bardolatry was alive and well at time of publication. How many authors, save the Biblical ones, have concordances?

Words fail at the beauty of that “cathedral of books”, a masterpiece of a library. I walked around it, explored it’s side “altars”, took pictures and breathed the smell of old books. Thought it would be a great place to read except for the temperature (near freezing). I also considered how it’s kind of a shame that the Internet has taken over the knowledge search business, to a great extent. I kind of envy those 17th century learned souls who actually could read everything important enough to have been put on parchment. There was, then, a circumscribed limit to what we knew, while now it’s sort of hopeless.

Afterward I walked to Mount Vernon square and it was a stunner. Really it’s only equal were some I’d seen in London. Just plain beautiful. In the middle a great pillar to George Washington, completed well before the Washington Monument and far more attractive. Herman Melville wrote of it in Moby-Dick:
“Great Washington … stands high aloft on his towering main-mast in Baltimore, and like one of Hercules’ pillars, his column marks that point of human grandeur beyond which few mortals will go.”
A beautiful pool and fountain of a Naiad completed the tableau. On the other side another fountain, which wag once called "Washington's urinal".

Afterward I headed south to the Baltimore Basilica, the oldest in the United States. So much history there, including “visits from at least 15 saints or potential saints”. St. John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa in our day. The genesis of the Baltimore Catechism. The oldest churches in America, in “Mary’s Land”.

Afterward walked through Little Italy, including the street named for Nancy Pelosi (she grew up on the street). It was sad, kind of, seeing how little effect the efforts of so many priests and teachers could not keep her Catholic enough to vote like one. But so it’s always been; if our physical lives are vulnerable how much more our spiritual.

A guy with booming stereo speakers in his car sat at red light with his windows down, and you could hear an African-American motivational speaker exhorting from a half-mile away: “If you mind is weak, you a motherfucka! You’re no Schwarzaneggar. I don’t care if your body is strong, if your mind is weakling then you ain’t no f-cking Mr. T.”  Not in Kansas anymore.

I get a ride to Admiral Fell’s Inn on the wharf and walked the dock. The Fell Inn was okay but the feel of the area was very much like Columbus German Village and thus a bit too familiar. I wasn’t too sad about skipping out staying there.

Come 2pm I had a pretty-looking Guinness and lunch at The Horse You Rode In On Saloon, one frequented by no less than Edgar Poe. Including supposedly on his last day on earth.

This city is a highly social one. A loud, talkative city. At Barnes & Noble, you’d think there wouldn’t be a cacophony of voices, but there is - both inside and on the full-of-potential third floor outdoor covered deck. The downside of a social nature: loud arguments, this time a very angry young man in his 20s who was yelling and mad at a spurned lover but no one did anything for the 20 minutes it went on.

Sitting in Poe’s saloon today it felt ... hard to imagine him sitting in there. Sure, the wood looked old and perhaps even original, but... I thought about the elements that were different, starting with the way folks were dressed. And even if re-enactors came in, in period dress, it wouldn’t be the same. It would be phony, like a man dressing up like a woman. Plus there’s the language that’s changed, the proprieties, the customs and coinage and music and even the drinks, to some extent. Even if you got all those externals right, you can’t get inside their head - or can you? Are they basically the same as us on the inside? Or is the past like a “foreign country” and if you begin from such different world views and media inputs... Does it mean anything really that Washington slept here or Poe drank here if the externals have changed, let alone if what made them tick is foreign? Is it the externals - the horse and buggy and tight clothing - that makes them who they were or the shaping of ideas and world views?

We’re searching, I think, for solidarity with the past not so much on the cheap celebrity plane in which we get selfies with TV stars but that if Washington slept here than that some of his patina may rub off on us if we can imagine him being here. We can feel connected with him and thus connected to his patriotism and mission. Sort of the Jesuit school of spirituality: put yourself in the gospel scenes.


I didn’t see Poe’s original grave site on Wednesday and it turns out that’s where the famous “Poe Toaster” laid roses and cognac annually. Oddly, it almost feels like this legendary homage to Poe has eclipsed where his bones actually lie. Or at least it feels just as iconic. It seems strange that the choice of cognac toast was not where his bones are, but it does feel like I missed something in not seeing that shrine. (Later: saw the original site on my way to Ruth museum.)

Lovely morning. The only downside of this hotel room is the dearth of natural light. But I sit next to the nearly lightless window surrounded by buildings, prop my footsore feet on the bed and read my purchase at B & N yesterday: The Judge Hunter by Christoper Buckley. Set in the olden time of the 1660s, it’s a tasty read so far. Something about those old Puritans that attracts.

Walked in the surreal heat and wonder-sun (it sure feels like the South here, and we are south of Mason-Dixon) to the Babe Ruth Museum. Some really “interesting” streets, hard-looking for sure. The museum highlight was the rosary that he carried with him all his days and which were hanging on his hospital bedpost when he died. His love and outreach to sick children reminded me that despite his faults he sure had some huge virtues.

Then walked to Poe house, straggling down dull-looking, unshaded streets towards the manna of air-conditioning. The house was ok; he lived there only two years and I feel like it wasn’t a formative influence, didn't feel like he'd haunt it. And I’ve never been that much into Poe although I appreciate his genius and influence.

Ubered to Washington Monument and felt in sync with driver. He lived most of his life in Cincy and Indiana and wants Skyline Chili in Maryland pronto. Said he roots for Reds/Bengals “when they’re good”, which means not much of late. Said he can’t root for Ravens since all his friends are Ravens fans and he wants to be the contrarian. He said people are much different in Midwest, more laid back and more accepting of obstacles. Uptight types in Baltimore apparently.

A return visit to the Peabody Library. It seems the sense of satisfaction the space presents is that all knowledge could be contained within. Or at least all written knowledge as circa 1750. It’s the same desire to complete a baseball card set, to collect all cards issued in one year. Similarly this container of books acts like a complete set of knowledge, or seems to promise it.

And of course there’s the pleasing “variation within order”, like a symphony. The varied hues of books versus the stately repetitive order of the balconies and cornices and wrought iron, all of muted grey with gold relief. Very much a great sense of order and cleanness here.

It’s like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. Or a super large six-layer wedding cake.

Afterward, since the art museum was free and close by, I headed there and looked at some great art... Dawdled over dinner plans; I wasn’t particularly hungry but felt like I wanted to get it over with. Finally the weather decided - a storm coming in 6 minutes! Had to hustle back to hotel just in time. Well, thirty seconds to spare. Kindle, iphone and AirPods represented vulnerable electronics on me. 

Next up is Ascension Thursday Mass at the traditionalist parish of St. Alphonse. Only time you can view the church is when it’s open for Mass so...when in Baltimore, .... Read up on it and it was built in the mid-1800s and was pastored at one time by St. John Neumann! Wow. Likely the first U.S. parish I’ve ever attended Mass which was pastored by a saint. I imagined the saint preaching from that same (extremely) high pulpit.

It was known as the “German parish” back in the day, and it’s gothic to the max. Unabashedly gothic. It has a lot going on, a million statues. It’s sort of like every single space in the church has some flourish. I had hoped for a short half-hour mass but it was a Latin high mass, which means long mass, but I couldn’t seem to justify skipping out early and thus skipping communion in favor of getting back to hotel for beer o’clock. Just a really bad look there, so I stayed and profited.

I thought of how Babe Ruth’s mentor, the guy who changed his life, was a Catholic religious at St. Mary’s Industrial School, and how that fellow ought be the famous one. The greater our grasp of reality the more our celebrities are the saints and religious heroes. Brother Matthias Boutilier was a Canadian who moved to the States and became a Xavierian brother at age 20, in 1892.

Baltimore was the second U.S. city to have a presence of the teaching brothers; first was Louisville, KY in the mid-1800s. The order was begun in 1839 by a former Dutch shoemaker, Theodore James Ryken. 

So the road for Ruth’s success began with a humble shoemaker who, at age 19, felt a calling to God to become a Catechist.

Not my idea of entertainment: 
Skye acknowledged that some Baltimore teens seem to use public spaces as an opportunity to meet and hash out beefs — something she feels is a form of play that has become more common.
"It gets boring, so they try to make fun out of anything,” she said of her peers. “It's entertaining to watch a fight. You get videos out of it or bragging rights.”


Did an hour walk towards downtown east and south. Very pleasant warm and sunny day. Got to love the nearing summer equinox. Saw the modest red light district; with the tree-lined streets and absence of actual red light it seemed almost gentrified. It's right by the police station, ironically or not.


Postscript: Feel a bit of pine for olde Baltimore, the baroqueness of it, the germination of Catholic America, the dare of slum streets, the small but real thrill of finding a “clean, well-lighted place” for morning breakfasts, the twilight at Camden Yards, the breath-take and peace of Peabody Library, the bright, beautiful sunlight, the topography of Federal Hill, the run till the (near) rain to Lord Baltimore, the classical music and elegance therein, the plenitude of hat ladies wearing their grandiose hats, the excitement of the check-in and checking out the new pad, the light of the old Cathedral, the graveyard worthy of Savannah and her ghosts, the cigar enjoyed mid-city, the somber London-fog view out the hotel window, the squirreling of beers and chocolate cake in the ‘fridge, the puzzling if pleasing interior of the Barnes & Noble’s at Inner Harbor, the refresh of fresh reads on Baltimore and Poe and a novel of early America, the retracting Ruth’s & Pelosi’s youthful steps, and the theater of how a minute into the Oriole’s game there’s a double a foot below me...

Reading Bone’s book
At the boneyard
Where Poe ghosts trellis
Beside the greystones.

Later at lordly Lord Baltimore
Inked sheets of King-sized expanse
Emblemed flora and font-a
Olde English ye
The lush of covenant time
I lozenged the lilting silence
Waiting for a boredom that never came.

Mornings brought the stream-sun
Amid the salmon-run
north to the wonder-bus of a breakfast joint
pregnant with tweed’d professors and the gilt-interior
Befitting a former bank.

The plaintive rain drops outside St. Alphonsus Liguori
(Oh, Grandma’s Liguorian magazines!)
Mornings mapping out le’ day,
Evenings in the 19th century,
And the lure of the lobby and its Mozart and leather couches
Where laptops like lit jewels spawned from wired girls.