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.

SUNDAY 

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.

MONDAY

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. 

TUESDAY

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."

WEDNESDAY

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.


THURSDAY:

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.


FRIDAY: 

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.)





January 25, 2016

A Colleague's Memorable Job

A co-worker of mine was interviewed on our company website and I found this inspiring:
What was your most memorable high school/college job and why?
Building custom-fit shipping containers in a factory. I loved working with my hands to build something, seeing that the machine being shipped fit perfectly in the container, and knowing that my work was essential to getting the machine to its destination. Also, there was something very philosophical about putting your best craftsmanship to work on something - that container was me personally delivering that product - while knowing that ultimately your work would be ripped apart and discarded. It was about "doing it right" even if the result of your work was short-lived.

January 22, 2016

Tell Me What I Want to Hear

I was talking to a Trump supporter who summed it up this way: "he's saying exactly what I want to hear."  

I think that's telling.  It's not: "he's telling the truth" or "he's got an excellent strategy to improve America".  And utterly not: "he will inspire us to a higher standard".  

And the message is "winning" to borrow from Charlie Sheen. It could be simply due to how we now choose media outlets - MSNBC, Fox - that say exactly what we want to hear and rarely challenge us.  

As a consequence we demand our leaders follow us instead of lead us. We don't elect someone wise and measured, we elect the immature and callow, like a Barack Obama in '08 or a Bill Clinton in '92 or a George Bush in '00. 

All the really popular candidates --  Cruz, Sanders and Trump -- have in common the pattern of saying exactly and precisely what conservatives, liberals and "Reagan Democrats" respectively want to hear - not what they need to hear.  Not to explain what is possible to accomplish.  Authenticity seems less measured by truth-telling as by how intensely you feel something to be true or wish it to be. To pick long-shot fights and then blame other Republicans when you're unsuccessful is one example.

And maybe telling voters what they want to hear is the way politics has always been but it seems more pronounced than ever.  At the very least leaders used to have to pretend not to be ambitious; Ronald Reagan used his acting prowess to pretend he was drafted to run in 1980, the homage vice pays to virtue sort of thing.  But now you have Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who, to borrow from Shelby Foote's characterization of Jefferson Davis, seem "ambitious as Satan".  You could say they are authentic in their ambitiousness, I guess. 

*

Addendum:

Holy cow that Mark Helprin can write:

"A diet, caffeine-free Marxist (really, the only thing wrong with being a Marxist is being a Marxist); a driven, leftist crook; and an explosive, know-nothing demagogue — all are competing to see who can be even more like Mussolini than is Obama. But in the caudillo department, surpassing even our own Evita, the Donald wins."

"And forget trying to determine whether Trump's a conservative. Given that, at the suggestion of Bill Clinton, he has like a tapeworm invaded the schismatically weakened body of the Republican party, it’s a pointless question, because, like Allah in Islamic theology, he is whatever he pleases to be at the moment, the only principle being the triumph of his will."

January 20, 2016

Politics, Schmolitics

As cynical as Donald Trump is in his shameless position changes (and stabbing other candidates while humorously feigning concern for them), Jeb Bush might rival him simply because of Bush's complete disregard for anything but money.

Jeb couldn't even be bothered to prepare what he'd say when the Inevitable Question came up: that of  the Iraq War his brother engaged in.  His fumbling, defense of the war before his non-defense was, in its way, as telling a moment as way back when Ted Kennedy was running for president and stumbled over the simple question of "why are you running?"

That's pretty insulting to voters, not to take the run seriously enough to have more than a half-baked thought on the Iraq war.

Jeb was focused on money not message while Trump was focused on message, not money.  Of course that's easier to when you're a billionaire but certainly the optics of it was: Jeb is courting big money donors while Trump is courting Joe Six-pack.

What's truly brilliant about the Trump campaign is how we all thought he was winging it as he went along but apparently it was planned.  Who knew he had that sort of discipline? He is treating the campaign for president like a long TV series, presenting a hot, new plot twist each week.

Someone should've predicted this awhile back since the line between entertainment and politics (or pretty much everything) has shrunk to the vanishing point.  So Trump is ideally situated.

Isn't it hard to believe there's no one in a Republican party, no conservative think tank, not National Review or the Weekly Standard, smart enough to come up with a 21st century political strategy like Trump's?  And wasn't it Barack Obama and the 'Crats who pioneered the use of big data analytics?  Do you ever get the feeling that the Republican party is the ultimate amateur, junior-high school production? (Disclaimer: sorry to 7th graders everywhere for comparing them to the Republican party.)

On the other hand, maybe it's that the party wants to try to firewall the partition between politics and entertainment even at the risk of not winning the presidency ever again.  Nah, I don't think so.

*

Interesting take in National Review:
As [Sowell's] Wealth, Poverty and Politics comes to a close, the author focuses his attention on controversies closer to home. He has much to say about the persistence of black poverty in the United States, and the role that the welfare state has played in perpetuating it. African Americans are, according to Sowell, a lagging group that has been ill served by its leadership, not entirely unlike the Malays in Malaysia. I can’t say I agree with every aspect of Sowell’s take on the contemporary American scene. For Sowell, the chief obstacles facing poor native-born blacks looking to better their lot are ghetto culture and a welfare-state ideology that rewards idleness. My own view is that many of the pathologies Sowell identifies can be explained at least in part by the failure of governments to protect African Americans from violence. For much of U.S. history, officialdom turned a blind eye to “black-on-black” violence, which in effect meant that predators routinely got away with murder and innocent victims knew they could not trust the state to protect them. People who live in fear are often less productive than those who live in peace. Nevertheless, Sowell has done us a great service by placing our current controversies in international context. We may be thankful that the U.S. is not yet a society in which productive minorities are despised. One wonders whether this will still be the case a generation or two hence, when there is a very good chance that racial disparities in wealth and income will have grown even more pronounced than they are today.

 Read more at: https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/429377/causes-wealth
Elsewhere in National Review:
Among all the other candidates, only Ted Cruz — who has gone out of his way to avoid alienating Trump’s supporters, while declining to embrace Trump’s toxic rhetoric — seems to understand this. (It is no coincidence that Cruz has by far the best data operation of any candidate in the race.)  Meanwhile, many a Republican Candidate Ahab seems to be haplessly chasing the great Hispanic whale, which, even if miraculously caught, wouldn’t do much to improve the party’s 2016 electoral prospects.
Strong establishments take insurgencies’ best issues and co-opt them. Weak and stupid establishments don’t. Right now, the GOP establishment is weak and stupid. Rather than attempting to present a forward-looking agenda that would appeal to a large number of Trump supporters and draw them into the Republican coalition, the establishment is seemingly working overtime to alienate them. Rather than pursuing an immigration policy that would protect vulnerable American workers and bring in skilled immigrants while disavowing Trump’s divisive tone and his impractical and overbroad prescriptions, it is promoting a quasi-open-borders policy that will perhaps keep maid service cheap for GOP donors — while electing a generation of Obamas. Rather than thinking through what a strong 21st-century Reaganite American patriotism would look like, too many candidates have embraced a hyper-militaristic nation-building strategy of which GOP voters have wearied, and that a national electorate decisively rejected in 2008 and 2012."
  – Mr. Carl is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

January 19, 2016

Following Jesus with Jugs of Water


One of Russell Kirk's favorites, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, took pains to educate his son Commodus in the Stoicism and virtue and asceticism, which completely and utterly failed to take. Edward Gibbon writes:
Nothing, however, was neglected by the anxious father, and by the men of virtue and learning whom he summoned to his assistance, to expand the narrow mind of young Commodus, to correct his growing vices, and to render him worthy of the throne for which he was designed. But the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous.
Gibbons's pessimistic line about the efficacy of instruction feels sort of truthy but I'm not sure how a Christian can subscribe to that given the pains Christ took to instruct us. I suppose it's a “both/and” - we need human and divine instruction but also Grace.

I found out who the priest is at our local St. Patrick's is, the one with the wonderfully and preternaturally calm voice and manner: Father Cassian Derbes. Turns out he was interviewed on National Review Online for the 800th anniversary of the Dominican founding. Makes me want to support NR more!

*

On my way to UPS Store Saturday I listened to Catholic radio personality Jennifer Fulwiler on the radio talk about how when she was an atheist she found the argument against having children (i.e. that they're a lot of work, they annoy you, etc..) persuasive, but now she sees the meaning of life being to live with those who annoy you. That the only way to have a long-lasting, meaningful relationships is to be at peace with your plans being disrupted and being annoyed. Makes sense. The meaning of life is relationship since that's what God is (Father, Son and Spirit) and obviously humans have differing wills, priorities, personalities, peccadilloes.

Luke's gospel makes it sound so easy:  “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth.”

I love the nonchalance of the statement that it's God's pleasure to give us the kingdom, i.e. everything.

I like the archaic language in this version. “Sell what ye have” - and what do we have of value besides Christ? Thus the imperative to evangelize and “advertise” Jesus.

Luke 12:32 is a pretty awesome verse and it could stand up well as being anyone's fav in my opinion. Matthew chapter 7 has a verse that a confessor once told me to memorize, and rightly so: "Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things…."

*

I read In Cold Blood in high school. Does that even count? Does any classic I read then count given how completely different I am now after two trillion words read and innumerable experiences behind me? Was I so much in my own dream world then that Capote didn't really reach me, just as Moby Dick was a “non-experience experience”?

They say youth is wasted on the young but the classics were mostly wasted on me. I had not reached the depths of despair that I would on college - in high school I was still an innocent little burgher. The dark notes of classic books either played tunes too low to hear (like how humans can't hear dog whistles). To quote from Capote's classic, “Drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.”

The only thing I read then that resonated at all was Great Expectations. Would I be immune to its charms now? I think so, given I picked it up recently and wondered why it so captivated. I guess to every time there is a season, or a book. Great Expectations for the young, Bleak House for the middle-aged perhaps.

*

Fun adventure Sunday - took the grandkids to a kids symphony concert. We got there around 2:30 for about 20 minutes of pre-concert goings-ons, specifically a temporary tattoo table. Tried out a violin as well.

Then we went into the concert and heard a good variety of great music and story-telling. “Pop Goes the Weasel” was a highlight, but by 3:20 the bloom was off the rose for the boys. Heck by 3:05pm Will was asking for my iphone, which I gave to him with the sound turned way down. So he got nothing out of it at all, other than a temp tattoo. Sam was initially enthused but soured and tired and by 3:35pm we were outta there. I think it was scheduled till 4 or 4:30.

The highlight for the boys was likely the escalators, which they enjoyed mastering. It was like a ride at King's Island.

All told a bit of a fail as far as introducing the boys to the joys of classical music. It was intended for ages 3-10, but kids of any age are pretty hard to entertain consistently, it seems to me.

*

From a WaPo article:  "Voters 'do not want the truth,' Shenkman writes. 'We want hope. If the truth robs us of hope, we don’t want to hear it.'  With Christianity, truth and hope are conjoined.

*

Ben Franklin: “The only thing that hurts about a rebuke is the truth.”

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Sighted on FB:
"I have no problem believing the Miracle at Cana. What's implausible is how there weren't people following Jesus with jugs of water for the rest of John's Gospel."
"Until about 200 years ago - and really until about only 85 years ago, most people were mostly drunk most of the time, for most of their lives.” [I was obviously born in the wrong age.]
“Christ turned water into wine, not wine into water. Too bad for Southern Baptist teetotalers.”
*

Someone thought I'd be outraged by what Peggy Noonan wrote about Cardinal Law and the bishops who allowed abusers to continue their crimes in her collection of WSJ columns.  I don't get it because I don't see my job as cheerleading the hierarchy.  A misconception about the Church, I think, is that the misbehavior of its members somehow undercuts either her authority or her truth.

It's not “pro-Catholic” to defend Cardinal Law's inexcusable behavior around the sex abuse crisis. It's not “anti-Catholic” to excoriate him. Jesus was not being anti-Jewish when he excoriated the Pharisees in his own church – and he said they lost not one iota of their authority (“You must be careful to do everything they tell you to do,” he says in Matthew 23:3).

We live in a hyper-politicized culture, so it's natural to think of the church as just another political organization but: “If I see the Church only under the aspect of power, then it follows that everyone who doesn't hold an office is oppressed… If belonging to the Church has any meaning at all, then the meaning can only be that it gives us eternal life. We are not in the Church in order to exercise power as if in some kind of association,” as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote.

I have no problem with seeing the Catholic hierarchy in great need of change. But what I don't understand is seeing the Catholic Church as equivalent to the hierarchy. That would be like seeing America as simply the president and Congress and Supreme Court. If faith means anything, it means the Holy Spirit can act through flawed instruments. If America is much more than just Barack Obama, how much more is the Catholic Church, with Christ at the head using flawed instruments, than a mere earthly nation?

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From Scott Hahn's Catholic Bible Dictionary on sacrifice:
Sacrificial themes are not confined to the actions of Christ in the NT but are likewise applied to Christians. In one sense, this is implicit in the teaching of Jesus, who summons his followers to “take up the cross” in imitation of him (Matt 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 14:27). Once he describes his own crucifixion in cultic and sacrificial terms, it follows that the life of Christian discipleship would have this character as well.
This theme is developed mainly in the epistles of Paul, who uses sacrificial images and ideas to describe an array of Christian activities. For instance, he urges believers to present their “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1). This is an appeal for such things as chastity, temperance, mortification, and other actions of gospel morality and spirituality that surrender the body and its cravings to the will of the Lord. Other forms of sacrifice include monetary giving, such as the gift that Paul received from the church of Philippi, which he calls “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
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After reading the recent liturgical readings about Saul, I wondered why David was forgiven a much worse sin than Saul? St. Augustine said God isn't showing favoritism, but their results differed because their hearts differed, and we can't see their hearts, only God can. Not overly comforting, given my fickle heart.  Thank God for 1 John 3:20.

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I don't quite understand why Pope Francis is so polarizing in the Catholic community. I don't understand why some are giddy over him (if he was performing miracles of healing or drawing huge numbers of new people to Mass I might understand it better), nor why others think he's the anti-Christ or a heretic. He's human. (Update: I was reminded by someone that "Joy is contagious" concerning the giddiness. Yes.)

January 18, 2016

Goldberg Quotes

Jonah Goldberg:
"....All of the talk about how our political system has been bought by the “billionaire class” is simplistic nonsense. If “big money” rules, why is Jeb Bush at 6 percent in the polls? Why is Bernie Sanders poised to beat Hillary in New Hampshire and maybe Iowa?

I definitely think the system is designed in a way that benefits rich people (that’s a significant theme of the book I’m working on), but that has not much to do with the preferred policies of a bunch of  mustache-twirling fat cats. Indeed, the whole notion that rich people are ideologically homogenous is little more than the grimy, greasy, stain left behind from Marxism’s departure down the toilet bowl of history. There are rich people -- and some big corporations -- that are for limited government and there are rich people -- and far too many big corporations -- that want to expand the role of government.

My very short, partial, explanation for why the system seems rigged for the benefit of rich people has to do with the fact that complexity is a subsidy. The more rules and regulations the government creates, the more it creates a society where people with resources -- good educations, good lawyers, good lobbyists, and good connections -- can rise while those without such resources are left to climb hurdles on their own. On this basic point, Donald Trump is indisputably right. Bribing politicians to come to your wedding may seem insecure and weird, but there’s no doubt the ability to do so comes with payoffs. Big government by its very nature helps people who know how to game the system."

*
Also from Goldberg, on the strangeness that the Left sees a boogeyman in the Koch brothers despite the Kochs being friendly to their values:
Concern Trolling Liberal: I just wish Republicans would get rid of the religious crazies and become socially liberal, fiscally conservative.
You: Oh, like Charles and David Koch?
CTL: No! Not those right-wing whackos. I mean Republicans should be pro-choice . . .
You: Like the Kochs?
          CTL: . . . and pro-gay rights! . . .
You: Kochs, Kochs, Kochs.
          CTL:  . . . And pro-immigration . . .
You: The Kochs are way to the left of Bernie Sanders on immigration.
CTL: . . . and they should oppose all of these foreign wars and being the world’s policeman.
You: Kochs again.
CTL: But they’re racists! They support the drug war and locking up young black men!
You: Actually, they oppose the drug war and . . .
CTL: But, but, but…
[ End scene.]

January 14, 2016

Seven Quick Takes


Read interesting Time magazine piece on the Trump phenomenon. The gist is that Trump is simply ahead of the curve as far as “cutting out the middleman”, a term they call disintermediation. People don't want the media - or even political experience - in between themselves and their choice of candidate, and Trump does that via his rallies, Twitter, free media in which he speaks directly to the American people. They say Reagan did the same thing, which he had to since the media hated him.

The digital revolution is dismantling gatekeepers left and right: record companies (slain by music streaming), big book chains like Barnes & Noble (slain by Amazon and e-books), Blockbuster video (slain by Netflix), newspapers (killed by Craigslist advertising).  That which happened to the Catholic Church during the Reformation when the Bible came out in the vernacular and people decided to become their own priests, has come out now in politics. It's interesting to see the powerful liberal media humbled as decisively as the Church was in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Maybe they'll have a bit more respect for the idea of our dependency on intermediaries.

*

One of the interesting aspects of this election season is how the conservative “gatekeepers” in charge of policy purity, people like Ann Coulter, Limbaugh, and Laura Ingraham, have seemed so pro-Trump despite the fact that he appears to have no core convictions beyond a will to power. He makes Mitt Romney look like a “severe conservative”. And yet the gatekeepers of purity have mostly been coy.

Coulter is an interesting example. Her last book, on illegal immigration, has either made her a single issue supporter on building a wall, or maybe she wants immigration in the forefront for book sales (or both of course). Perhaps illegal immigration has been her pet issue for some time which might explain her utter disdain for John McCain.

And now we learn that she is insisting Ted Cruz (Ted Cruz! the tea party poster child) is not a natural-born US citizen and cannot be president despite saying the opposite in 2013. Her response? She changed her mind.  Does she have a touch of Trump fever?

*

The phrase "the inhumanity of man" is paradoxical.  It's like saying, "the non-wetness of water".  But, on the other hand, it's a tacit recognition of the inherent dignity of man such that he should not be capable of inhumane acts.

*

Wow, Herman Melville was startingly pessimistic. He says the man who sees truly is the pessimist, the sorrowful, the serious, the grim:
…The sun hides not Virginia’s Dismal Swamp, nor Rome’s accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth.
So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true, or undeveloped.

With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. “All is vanity.” All.
This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon’s wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing grave-yards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men; and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing wise, and therefore jolly;—not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon. But even Solomon, he says, “the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain” (i.e. even while living) “in the congregation of the dead.” Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.
He could flat out write though.

*


Zoo trip last weekend. We wandered pleasantly through the North American part, past chickens, sheep and deep-grunting goats,  pigs, miniature cows and caribou and then off to the lions. A sun bear was later sighted as well. A moose, sheep, and gorgeously-coated wolves. Side trip with the grandkids to an old plane where you could sit at the ancient controls, a bush plane from the 1940s, a Beech-18 prop via Middletown, Ohio.

Then at 11 it was time for the tour with an enthusiastic lady for a “behind the scenes” to tour the vet hospital, but no animals being worked on, just a bunch of empty rooms. I'm sure part of the appeal was simply that you coudn't normally go back there since it was employees only.  I guess it's for animal lovers what it's like a Catholic getting a tour of the papal apartments in the Vatican.

Sam was at his cutest, questions frothing from him like water from a fountain.

*

Am reading some of Susan Cheever's engaging history of drinking in America, which suitably whetted my whistle.  I'm always cheered by reading of those with drinking habits exceeding my own, as the 17th century Americans did. They drank morning, noon and night. Don't try that at home!

Cheever's book was borrowed from the library and I found myself loving the physicality of the book, which reminded me I read too much on Kindle and should occasionally pony up for the increased expense of buying print versions. I do miss, lately more than ever, the joys of reading a physical book with its wide margins and sturdy, tactile presence. There's a certain glamour to a well-produced hardback that the Kindle version can't match. And for the cover photo and design there's no substitute since the Kindle covers are tiny and in black and white. It's like the way old album art was big and beautiful in the '70s before tiny CDs and now online, streaming music took over.

*

Watched Meet the Press and have begun making my peace with the likelihood that Trump will be Republican nominee.

Patiently we'd put up two seemingly acceptable candidates: John McCain, war patriot and maverick who got along with many Democrat senators, and Mitt Romney, a blue state governor. And the thanks we got? Two whippings by a lightweight/no weight senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.

So there's understandably some feeling of simply taking our marbles and going home, of nominating whoever the hell we want, despite the recklessness.

*

Watched NY Times columnist Ross Douthat video on the web - he gave a lecture on the angst of conservative Catholics in the Pope Francis era. Fascinating. Then I found a rebuttal on the liberal National Catholic Reporter magazine. A reasonably effective one, making the  point that conservative Catholics have a blind spot in not seeing the link between materialism/capitalism and the sexual lack of restraint (porn, sex outside of marriage, divorce, etc..). Reminded me instantly of this remark in the Russell Kirk bio: "…the West had created a dreadful world, 'a world of frenzied producers' and a 'world of frenzied consumers.'… Rather than giving them control over the self, their education had only created insatiable longing."  Also reminded me of the Malcolm Muggeridge line about how “sex is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society.”  I'd not really put together lust of the flesh being a cousin to lust for worldly goods.

*

Fareed Zacharia in the Washington Post asks why middle America is so self-destructive (obesity, alcoholism, drug abuse, all leading to high death rate spike in middle-aged whites only):
"The answer might lie in expectations. Princeton anthropologist Carolyn Rouse suggested, in an email exchange, that other groups might not expect that their income, standard of living and social status are destined to steadily improve. They don’t have the same confidence that if they work hard, they will surely get ahead. In fact, Rouse said that after hundreds of years of slavery, segregation and racism, blacks have developed ways to cope with disappointment and the unfairness of life: through family, art, protest speech and, above all, religion."
That neatly parallels a Flannery O'Connor quote I saw recently: "To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”

*

I'm sorely tempted to get Jimmy Akin's commentary on the book of Mark after reading Jeff Miller's excellent review.  But I have so many other resources on Logos that I'm not sure it makes sense. An interesting dynamic is how I can't rule out grudge-holding on my part after Akin blocked me on Twitter. I should get a badge for this blog: "Banned by Akin!" As Trump as taught us, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

January 12, 2016

Trump fever

One of the interesting aspects of this election season is how the conservative “gatekeepers” in charge of policy purity, people like Coulter, Limbaugh, and Laura Ingraham, have seemed so pro-Trump despite the fact that he appears to have no core convictions beyond a will to power. He makes Mitt Romney look like a “severe conservative”. And yet the gatekeepers of purity have mostly been coy.

Coulter is an interesting example. Her last book on immigration has either made her a single issue voter or maybe she wants immigration in the forefront for book sales (or both). Perhaps illegal immigration has been her pet issue for some time, which might explain her utter disdain for John McCain.

And now we learn that she is insisting Ted Cruz (Ted Cruz! the tea party poster child) is not a natural-born US citizen and cannot be president despite her saying the opposite in 2013. Her response? She changed her mind.  Does she have a touch of Trump fever?  The kind that makes you take leave of rational thought?

January 06, 2016

A Fresh Look at Myrrh

Odilon Redon;  Dante et BĂ©atrice (1914)
Myrrh can be a bit of a downer, seemingly implicitly attested to by Isaiah in the upbeat first reading on the Epiphany that mentioned only the bringing of gold and frankincense.

I thought briefly that maybe the omission was due to the people of the Old Covenant mostly measuring success in terms of earthly rather than eternal life and thus death was without much silver lining.

I even wondered if perhaps the wise men's additional gift of myrrh was a cryptic message to Jesus, relayed to him much later by his mother, that he was to go the way of suffering and death rather than being a worldly messiah.

But wait, there's more! (say like in those infomercials). Because then I came across this excellent post from Henry Dieterich and realized how that's only the half of it...

December 31, 2015

Syria

Today I got slightly obsessed with the Syrian crisis. Because some sort of tipping point of my ignorance was reached such that I wanted to overcome it to some extent.

I really wanted to know who or what caused the Syrian mess. To assign blame, since I put the “J” in the Myers-Briggs INTJ.

Was it the dysfunctional Arab culture itself?  Islam and its despotic tendencies? Was it George W Bush, directly or indirectly? Was it Obama by pulling out of Iraq and punting on Syria?

The proximate trigger in Syria was simply a couple teenagers scrawling graffiti. The government killed them and that lead to massive protests. The teens had written pro-revolutionary sayings, a lesson in “be careful what you wish for" since sometimes the status quo looks awfully good, if only in hindsight.

The timeline:
    2003 - Iraq is invaded
    2008 - U.S. surge in Iraq ended; troop withdrawal in '10 and '11
    2010 - Tunisia protests begin; a man self-immolates and triggers overthrown of gov't
    2011 - Teenagers scrawl graffiti in Syria; gov't action triggers civil war
    2015:  Syrian civil war now proxy war with other countries participating
A few theories:

1) Iraq War and Bush Administration: Fall of Saddam was said to psychologically empower Arab activists. US government began funding “democracy promotion” agenda including training on social media, one of the top causes of effectiveness of protests. U.S. policy misled many Arab youth to believe freedom was possible in their societies especially given the expectations of US temporary “success” in Iraq post-surge.

Syria's Assad, not unbiased of course, blames the war:
“It was the Iraq war in 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq. We were strongly opposed to that invasion, because we knew that things were moving in the direction of dividing societies and creating unrest. And we are Iraq’s neighbors. At that time, we saw that the war would turn Iraq into a sectarian country; into a society divided against itself. To the west of Syria there is another sectarian country – Lebanon. We are in the middle. We knew well that we would be affected. Consequently, the beginning of the Syrian crisis, or what happened in the beginning, was the natural result of that war and the sectarian situation in Iraq, part of which moved to Syria, and it was easy for them to incite some Syrian groups on sectarian grounds…Why didn’t they lead to revolutions in the Gulf States – particularly in Saudi Arabia which doesn’t know anything about democracy?“
2) Unemployment with large youth populations

Large numbers of youth + unemployment = huge trouble for societies. If one simply looks at the unemployment rate of each Middle East country you can see where the dominoes fell. In general, the Gulf States had much lower rates of unemployment and poverty than Tunisia, Egypt and Syria.

3) Religious hatreds

Syria has Sunni/Shia combo, always a deadly mix.

*

One of the comments that look particularly cringe-worthy in retrospect was made in 2005 by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither."

And she thought we didn't have stability then...?

And the other thing about Rice's comment that leaves me perplexed is the premise is that our policies will determine the fate of the Middle East.  Notice the huge tell: "we achieved neither" as if the people who actually live in the Middle East are completely impotent or in someway ancillary to the policies of our "empire".... I'm beginning to think Republicans are to foreign countries what liberals are to blacks: Paternalistic and condescending.