May 20, 2015

White Clouds & White Whales

Nice day outside the office

A mint julep of an eve yesterday; a temperate temperature with a gentilic breeze. Fresh rained-upon trees and bush frond a perfect front porch. Our dog Maris, a tropical storm when she's energized, has calmed. And I am reading a book by David Maranis about the Viet Nam war written about people and geography, not battles and statistics. I may not be an extrovert, but I sure am one when it comes to war books - give me stories of people rather than shrapnel and body counts. The places alone read as fictitious as the locations of Middle Earth: Cu Chi, Lai Khe, Chon Thanh and Nui Ba Den. It's a surprisingly readable account about something I never had much interest in before but I picked it up only because it was the Kindle Deal of the Day and at $1.99 it seemed too good to pass on.

Am also slowly lushing through Moby Dick.  I find it a guilty pleasure in that I feel a vulture, feeding off the entrails of a troubled soul. From a review of a Melville biography:
Early biographies touched on the question of madness but did so lightly, noting, for instance, that at one point Melville’s family had him examined by a doctor on psychological grounds. Biographers also tiptoed around the children: Melville’s oldest son committed suicide at 18, his next son died a drifter, one daughter was a spinster, and the last daughter reportedly did not want to hear her father’s name, regarding him as a beast.

In the late 1970’s, a religious scholar named Walter Kring discovered two letters concerning Melville’s marriage. The letters, written by Melville’s wife Elizabeth and her brother, Sam Shaw, were addressed to a leading New York pastor, H.W. Bellows, in 1867, when Melville was 47.
Shaw’s letter was shocking. It rejected a plan by Bellows to end the marriage by having relatives appear to abduct Lizzie to Boston.

Shaw wrote, “I think that the safest course is to let her real position become apparent from the first, namely that of a wife, who, being convinced that her husband is insane, acts as if she were so convinced and applies for aid and assistance to her friends and acts with them. I think she would have done this long ago were it not for imaginary and groundless apprehensions of the censures of the world upon her conduct …. ”
I  find a kind of witchcraft in words, in the artistry of word play. I want to fall at the feet of the author without seeing the Author.  It's said that Melville was surely manic-depressive and the preponderance of evidence suggests he was physically violent towards his wife. The hero on the page had feet of clay. The enjoyment I feel reading his prose makes me feel that I have somehow profited from his torture, since it's unlikely he would've produced such gold without the furnace of despair. Do you get the genius without the angst? Sometimes? (Mozart?)

But perhaps that's the way of earthly life - we work for living, which means someone profits from our sweat equity, however small in comparison. And, of course, Jesus was the ultimate exemplar of a giving profit to us in his suffering and death.

Ah, Now I Get It...

It's power worship!  That's the appeal behind Hillary.  I mused the other day about the surrealness of seeing Hillary in '16 stickers, but today on Morning Joe I heard Mark Halperin talk to Hillary supporters in Iowa and the gist is: she's strong, she won't back down, she'll play hard and dirty but that's what we need against Republican S.O.B.S and Islamic jihadist S.O.B.s.  These supporters were at a loss when asked to name any of her actual accomplishments.

I should've known.  People adore power figures.

May 19, 2015

The Two Lettermans

Saw a New Yorker article on David Letterman;  he's an establishment figure now but...
  "…back when I was sixteen, trapped in the snoozy early eighties and desperate for something rude and wild, Letterman seemed like an anarchist. His manner suggested that TV could puncture the culture, rather than prop it up. My friends, particularly the guys, became his acolytes, quoting his catchphrases (“They pelted us with rocks and garbage”) and copying his deadpan affect."
I think now about how Letterman was appealing to me partially because he was the opposite of boring ol' local host Bob Braun and his 50-50 Clubbiness. I didn't appreciate Braun then and am likely being unfair to him now, but Letterman seemed a breath of fresh air:
 [Letterman and his head writer] shared an ironic mind-set, a suspicion of show-biz sycophancy, and a desire to break formulas, during a period when the medium had hardened, and taken on a Vegas-y, old-Hollywood heaviness.
The irony is, unbeknownst to me, I was only re-experiencing and sharing in my grandfather's taste (who liked Ernie Kovacks) proving there's nothing new under the sun:
 In 1980, Letterman pulled from earlier experimentalists, like Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen, they built a daytime talk show on NBC, full of oddball pranks…
Letterman, the article says, had a “distaste for back-patting and schmoozing”, which mirrored my own sensibilities. There was something in the early Letterman that seemed faintly radical, that of not wanting to go the well-trod way of Hollywood celeb:
And yet, even in 1982, when “Late Night with David Letterman” premi√®red, he presaged something else, an obsession with what was authentic, the kind of preoccupation that would dominate the nineties, inflecting figures like David Foster Wallace and Kurt Cobain, famous men who were desperate for rock-star fame and then flamboyantly and publicly hated the stuff once they got it. Like Holden Caulfield, Letterman was on the defense against looking like (or being) a phony, looking like (or being) a sellout, and curdling into a Hollywood jerk…Already, Letterman had a melancholy vision of what fame could turn you into, if you let your guard down: “I hate the notion that celebrities deserve to be treated with some kind of deference.”
That was certainly a lot of the appeal to me, the authenticity. Much like Bruce Springsteen in that regard, who vowed not to go the way of fat, Vegas Elvis.

May 18, 2015

Schaudenfreude Alert!

The lords of finance can act spectacularly dumb, such as putting a bow tie on unsecured, no-down-payment mortgages and making huge bets on them or by backing Obama in '08:
When the lords of finance gazed at Obama, they saw a version of themselves: a product of the meritocratic elite, a self-made Ivy Leaguer, a hyper-rational sophisticate transcending the hoary dogmas and histrionics of conventional party politics. [CEO Jamie] Dimon was so smitten that he spent three days in Washington with his family during the inauguration. It all smacked of puppy love. 
But once Obama took office, the romance went south fast. Like many other businessfolk, the Wall Streeters disparaged Obama’s team for lacking anyone with a meaningful background in the private sector.
From Mark Halperin's Double Down.  He goes on to say how much the Wall Streeters eventually grew to loathe Obama.

May 15, 2015

Seven (or Ten) Quick Takes, as Made Popular by Jennifer Fulwiler

Ascension Thursday is moved to Sunday here in Columbus. Presumably the local bishop checked with Jesus and found that contrary to popular opinion He rose 43 days after Easter. (I jest...not that big a deal to me when it's celebrated.)

*

So, I'm guessing George Stephanopoulos didn't do his homework before donating to Clinton Foundation.

Being a Clinton sycophant must be like being in the Mafia or a resident of the roach motel - you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

From the "You can't make this up" dep't:
[Clinton Cash author Peter] Schweizer... accused Stephanopoulos of a "massive breach of ethical standards," writing in an email to Bloomberg Politics that he was "really quite stunned by this...He fairly noted [during the This Week appearance] my four months working as a speechwriter for George W. Bush. But he didn't disclose this?”
*

I'm amazed by folks who learn language via foreign language TV.  When I hear a Spanish-speaking show, it all seems so fast-talking and the words unclear that it seems like it would take forever to actually understand consecutive sentences.

*

Ben Franklin recommended sexual indulgence only for “health or offspring”. Even back then a bit of the cult of the therapeutic? Was it “what's love got to do, got to do with it?”

*

Read another 40 pages of The Circle. Man is it good. Just a master touch, Eggers has. He taps into that uneasiness many of us feel over the idea of our lives open and transparent with a constant social presence. He even provokes thought about I long to discover things about my ancestors that are perhaps in some ways invasions of their privacy.

*

Nice meditation from Dale Alquist on sex and God.

*

The shoeshine guy at my barbershop is the product of a black father and white mother and looks black, but calls himself mixed and says he doesn't want to work for a particular shop on the south side because “they're all black there.” His friend told him he should look in the mirror. He's the opposite of Obama, who doesn't appear to see his white mother and wouldn't call himself of mixed ancestry if his life depended on it.

*

A rogue Amtrak driver equals underfunding in Democrat logic/illogic.

(Although it's true we should spend more on infrastructure in general.  Though one for my oxymoron collection is "shovel-ready projects".)

*

On a more edifying note...Fascinating Scriptural line from gospel the other day, John 16:14:

    "He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you."

That's a counter-cultural view of glorification!  And one I think the saints have closely adhered to - this notion that to lose is to gain, to give up what his mine (my body, my life) in order to declare it to God or neighbor.

When Jesus said that his disciples will do greater things than him, perhaps he was not thinking the way most of us reflexively think of “greater things” (i.e. performance of even greater miracles) but in the bearing of greater sufferings?


*

From John Zmirak post:
“[Jeb Bush] even made a not-so-subtle dig at the Kennedy clan, citing politicians whose religious convictions are so private that they don’t even influence their personal lives.”
Owie!

And another line:
There’s an old joke that goes: Catholics preach salvation through faith and works, Protestants through faith alone; but in reality, most Catholics preach works but rely on faith, while Protestants preach faith but practice works.

May 12, 2015

Non-Conjoined ('cept by asterisk) Thoughts


Some of the appreciation for the savage and descriptive genius present in Moby Dick reminds me of Thoreau's Walden. Published only three years apart to similar unspectacular receptions, I suppose it's not unusual that I'm attracted to both. What is it about that 1850s that so enthralls? Charles Dickens wrote most of his great stuff then as well. Poe too.

Henry James, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson all leave me cold, and all were writing just three to four decades after that “golden age” of the 1850s. A changed aesthetic.

Moby Dick is remarkably dense lyricism; five pages of Melville is equivalent to 15-20 pages of a typical novelist, and ten to fifteen poems of the typical poet. Lots of bang for your buck.

*

The originator of the Luminous Mysteries - not St. John Paul II? I did not know this.

*

Eighty six gorgeous degrees. The tropics come Norte. I busied myself with all kinds of physical activities: Advil take me away!

*

Read some of Pirates' Steve Blass book. I've always thought of Blass as a tragic figure - the first victim of mental illness I was aware of (defining mental illness down, surely, given that he was simply unable to pitch with control, with no physical explanation).

He seems to have a mostly positive attitude now, not letting it get him down even though he's so defined by it that his name is on the illness (Steve Blass Disease).

It scared me to hear of it, back in '73 when I was a tender kid, just as spontaneous combustion cases and serial killers did. Would've helped to know statistics I suppose, although for the pessimist stats are little comfort.

*

It's sort of uncanny how my mom's five brothers were so astoundingly frugal. Normally siblings have different sensibilities including, one would think, around the use of money, but they all seem to have inherited their parent's frugal gene. Who'd have thunk it? I can understand how my grandmother and grandfather, being of Depression-era, ended up frugal but not their baby boomer kids. You'd think that at least one or two would "rebel". I can only assume that my grandparents didn't shove frugality down their throat (because that leads to rebellion), but instead led by example. Or something like that.

May 07, 2015

From the "Go Figure" File

I saw a truly mysterious thing the other day - a car with a Hillary in '16 bumper sticker.

This was truly "the other" made manifest! What could possibly motivate someone to bend over and place an ad on their car for such a dull, scandal-ridden politician?

Sure, I could see Clinton stickers on cars a year from now when she's the official Democrat candidate because then you have to wear your colors, like putting out a scarlet & gray flag when Ohio State plays.

But now? In the “idealistic” phase of the campaign when you can have a Bernie Sanders or an Elizabeth Warren (Native American name "Distant Sister")? When the world is your oyster and you can cheer for someone inspiring and fresh and new and truth-speaking?

Out of curiosity and a sense of wonder, I wanted to see who was driving the vehicle since there is nothing more surprising than someone announcing without provocation that they are voting-challenged. It's akin to a bumper sticker that says, "My Child Has a Room Temperature IQ". Perhaps I could divine some inner meaning from this craziness. But alas no luck.

Still, I'm sure there's a good reason. I propose several potentials:
  • He/she works for campaign. This would make the most sense by far. Campaign workers have to sign up relatively early and show/feign enthusiasm. This would assure me that the world isn't a completely illogical place. 
  • Is a liberal woman and feels strongly it is time for a woman president. The problem with this is if Elizabeth Warren ran (admittedly unlikely now) the sticker would presumably lose some of its appeal.
  • Is a fan of yoga and grandchildren and deleted emails. 
  • Is a wife whose husband cheated on her and thus the solidarity of a woman cheated. I'm not sure how much traction has since it's been many years since Hillary was the woman wronged.
  • Fame seems to be intrinsically charismatic and Hillary is famous. This explains the success of the Kardashians and why folks write love letters to famous serial killers in prison.
  • Maybe he/she supported Hillary in '08 and was very upset when although it was “her turn” someone else took her spot.
  • Maybe they look exactly like Hillary, right down to the earth-tone pant suits, and need the reassurance of someone running the country who looks like themselves. 
Perhaps some combination of the above, but still the fact of an early Hillary supporter is an amazingly fascinating cultural artifact.

May 04, 2015

Quotes & Un-Imprimatur'd Thoughts

From the Universalis site, an interesting commentary on May 1 feast of St. Joseph the Worker:
The Christian view of work is the opposite of the materialist view. A worker such as St Joseph is not a mere lump of labour – “1.00 human work units.” He is a person. He is created in God’s own image, and just as creation is an activity of God, so creation is an activity of the worker. The work we do echoes the glorious work that God has done. It may not be wasted; or abused; or improperly paid; or directed to wrong or pointless ends. To do any of these things is not oppression, it is sacrilege. The glory of the present economic system is when it gives so many, of whatever class, the chance to build and create something worthwhile, whether from their own resources, or in collaboration with others, or by attracting investment from others. But its shame is when that does not happen: when people are coerced, by greed or by poverty, into being “lumps of labour.” Whether the labour is arduous or not makes no difference; whether it is richly paid or not makes no difference.
Because she must combat the anti-humanist Communist heresy the Church is sometimes thought to be on the side of capital. Reading the successive Papal encyclicals on labour and society, from Rerum Novarum (1891) onwards, will soon dispel that illusion. The enemies of the Church have no reason to read them; all too often we feel too comfortable in our present economic state and refrain from reading them also.
*
And from Leo XIII's papal encyclical Rerum Novarum:
For the soil which is tilled and cultivated with toil and skill utterly changes its condition; it was wild before, now it is fruitful; was barren, but now brings forth in abundance. Is it just that the fruit of a man's own sweat and labor should be possessed and enjoyed by any one else? As effects follow their cause, so is it just and right that the results of labor should belong to those who have bestowed their labor.
I appreciate the honesty of the pontiff on the difficulty of the whole subject:
This discussion is not easy, nor is it void of danger. It is no easy matter to define the relative rights and mutual duties of the rich and of the poor, of capital and of labor. And the danger lies in this, that crafty agitators are intent on making use of these differences of opinion to pervert men's judgments and to stir up the people to revolt.
He sounds pessimistic, at least in my post-vacation euphoria:
It must be first of all recognized that the condition of things inherent in human affairs must be borne with, for it is impossible to reduce civil society to one dead level. Socialists may in that intent do their utmost, but all striving against nature is in vain. There naturally exist among mankind manifold differences of the most important kind; people differ in capacity, skill, health, strength; and unequal fortune is a necessary result of unequal condition. Such inequality is far from being disadvantageous either to individuals or to the community. Social and public life can only be maintained by means of various kinds of capacity for business and the playing of many parts; and each man, as a rule, chooses the part which suits his own peculiar domestic condition. As regards bodily labor, even had man never fallen from the state of innocence, he would not have remained wholly idle; but that which would then have been his free choice and his delight became afterwards compulsory, and the painful expiation for his disobedience. “Cursed be the earth in thy work; in thy labor thou shalt eat of it all the days of thy life.”
In like manner, the other pains and hardships of life will have no end or cessation on earth; for the consequences of sin are bitter and hard to bear, and they must accompany man so long as life lasts. To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently – who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment – they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present. Nothing is more useful than to look upon the world as it really is, and at the same time to seek elsewhere, as We have said, for the solace to its troubles.
*

I like that the gospels have a variety of dates written. You get the immediacy of Mark, the just-the-facts approach, as well as John, which is the gospel which is the fruit of meditation on those events. John sees connections others miss, the fruit of contemplation, much as someone may see the past in context, saying “oh! That lead to that didn't it? I didn't see it at the time.” We can see the deeper meaning, often, only over time.

Cruise Trip Log








FRI:

Someday I'd like to end the week before vacation without being more scattered and stressed than a speed addict at a meth convention.   Dang, took some heavy lifting to get those bits and bytes where they were supposed to be.  All uphill, with the programs fighting me every step-inch of the way.  But it is what it is, problems and computers go together like Clintons and scandal.
My computer affair
Entangled hopelessly in code
Codas elusive,
Just the pang of unease
Over something forgotten --
The stove left on
The water running
A seam of spilled computer
Ruining my reputation.
The tenebrae of affairs
Spilt fluid of obsession.
Of course my work angst is stunningly relative, and should and would be laughed at by all of the Third World and three-quarters of the First.

SAT:

Finally. Finallllly! Authentic Caribbean heat, and a live uptempo rumba band.  Accept no substitutes. The day started wan, with no sun on balcony and I felt restless for the heat so we headed to pool deck and it was an "ahhhhhh" moment more sharp than the  first taste of coffee on a sleep-deprived morn. Breezes and sun graced that electric 89 degree atmosphere. Girls with Corinthian curves and proud miens lounge pool-side in Aphrodite splendor.

Surprisingly, didn't mind the two plane rides it took to get here. Was sufficiently worn out by 5am wake up to spend both rides on the edge of morphic bliss.

I always feel slightly ashamed to report going on a cruise because it is to travel what McDonald's is to fine food. It's easy and quick but not big on experiences beyond the shallow sun-on-my-face, food-in-my-belly variety.  Usually doesn't involve in-depth discoveries of other cultures to put it mildly. The closest we'll get to the foreign is our waiter.

*

Sad incident on the plane - a guy we waited in line behind to board the plane fell ill during the flight.  Flight attendants were rushing to and fro, getting a defibrillator and asking just like in the movies if there was a doctor in the house. Apparently he passed out and was potentially having a heart attack.  Steph (impressively) was thoughtful enough to grab my hand and offer prayers on his behalf. As we touched down the pilot or an attendant asked that we remain seated while paramedics boarded and took the patient off the plane first. The poor man, father of two teenagers, was conscious and answering questions as we deplaned.

A constant danger is to think of a stranger as a stranger; to be even slightly indifferent to the plight of another is as stupid as my arm being indifferent to plight of my injured foot. We're connected more than we know if we could but see it.

*

The weather in Florida is certainly changeable, but it's charming in a way, like a fickle pretty woman. Sure enough in less than an hour the sun is back. Hard to take rain seriously here, or cold for that matter.  The muster drill, aka the buzz kill drill, was relatively painless.

But just now the thrilling release of the boat from her pen, a right turn into a sea as open as a farmer's field in remotest Iowa.  As much as I liked the port and it's quaint little sandy beach across the way it's the sea for which I thirst, the whitecaps flashing like lightning bugs in June. The overcast weather disappoints not, it just makes me appreciate my balcony and the promise of more to come. I stack the chairs and get another half-foot of view, and so now I'm above the tinted zone.  The ocean looks more daunting on a cloudy day, more a force to be reckoned with. I feel unexpectedly moved by the slip-leave of land, with the other wedding cake cruise ships left on anchor.

SUN:

My collecting impulse is triggered by cruises even though I know it's futile. I collect pictures of the view from the balcony even though it's a weak substitute for seeing the real thing. I write this trip log. And even more impossible is to “collect” the rich, idiosyncratic scent of the hallways. Must be present to win I suppose. I always want to try to extend vacation experience into “real” life, much as Peter wanted to hangout on the Mount of Transfiguration and not Calvary.

Speaking of which, sad to see no Masses or non-denominational services on this Sunday morning. Instead, we get a yoga service. Secularization increases … 3600 guests but no Christian offerings. It was motivation to pray, for sure. Discouragement is not from God, as St. Ignatius.

*

Room service breakfast, ahhhh. Headed for more coffee on promenade deck and stopped by the empty but picturesque English pub. Took pictures of that gorgeous art-lined interior. Old English paintings of fox hunts and monarchs, plush leather sofas, antique books….

*

Read something last night about the terrible cost of the building of the Panama Canal. 25,000 deaths, mostly Chinese laborers. They asked for opium, their drug of choice, but we're denied by the French in charge and many committed suicide. An example of a mood-altering drug saving lives in the midst of misery? Or was it partially the result of coming off what was for them a stable pleasure? Perhaps the morale seems to be to give up pleasures reluctantly. Or, alternatively, don't get unduly attached to them in the first place. I think of an agnostic author's advice to be on the lookout for adding new pleasures to one's life since old ones can grow stale or be suddenly unavailable. Seemed reasonable to at the time but not exactly the gospel message.

*

The light feels so different in the afternoon (about 1:30) that it feels like we've landed at a completely different part of the ship even though it's the exact same spot. What is it about late mornings that enthrall? 10:30, 11, 12 - magic time. Mere brain chemistry?  Gal at pool trading Emily Griffin's “One and Only”.  I'm reading “Love is our Mission” as saltpeter, and as Salt from Peter.

MON:

A bit of funky local color: a broken down old boat comes speeding towards us. It veers towards the back of the ship then rides in tandem with us, side-by-side, for about thirty seconds before jetting off. I assumed it was legit in the beginning but now think him was a joyrider.

Overcast day with wet balcony at 6:30am but it soon reversed itself.

*

Today was a 9:30 call for snorkeling on the Belize reef followed by a an hour or so at a Labadee-like island called Starfish island aka Bannister Island. Wondrous light green water the color of our old cat's eyes.

We started with a tender (not a moment, but a small boat to the reef). We sat across from a couple tattoo-laden transplanted upstate NY boys with their attractive wives.

One of the girls, in her late 20s with blonde hair and toothy smile was the spitting image of Elizabeth Duffy, and thus I felt warmly disposed to her. 

One of the dudes was a Marine not long from the Middle East with a gigantic full-back tattoo of Michael the Archangel complete with sword and slain head of Satan. He also had obscure sequence of letters and numbers that he said was the tail number on the Cessna his father and grandfather taught him to fly on. Laughed about how many people thought it was a prison number, as if he's advertise and want to remember that. Had two scars going into the service, one from the bite of a leopard and scratch from a lion. Sounds hard to believe but regardless a sheltered life he's not lived.

He had a chance to be accepted into Harvard, irregardless of grades, by virtue of being the ultimate legacy: his ancestor being involved with the founding (a Mather of Cotton Mather fame). But he'd still have to pay the huge tuition as well as survive academically. Instead he opted for the Marines. His father focused on money as the obstacle while he did the grades.  Not surprisingly.

Eventually we arrived at the dive site and plopped several feet into the water. These sorts of tours aren't ideal because there's a lot of congestion. It's sort of like a group hike in the forest - you can't really dissociate into wonder.

Afterward punch and the beach! All severely short lived. No time for reading; instead walked the grounds and swam in glowing crystal water that had a surprisingly muddy bottom. Drank a local Belize stout. 2pm curtain call! Say it ain't so! To call this beach picturesque and idyllic would be a giant understatement. On the way back a drunk girl went wild (“I feel 13 again”, which was likely four years ago), as did the coal-black ship mate and impromptu dancer whose muscles had muscles. He tried to get one of the Marines to dance but he pointed to his white skin and said, “I'm white, I can't dance.” But he danced a move or two to make the crowd and his Elizabeth Duffy wife happy and then mock-complained, “Oh fine, I just got my wife pregnant!”

A raucous crowd.

*

Sun-bleached waters
Boatman, pass by!
The last tender sails
While small craft
like small fry
dip and dive and
I feel the freedom
Of not being big.

*

Sun constellations spray the sea
As I rest in the quiet easy
Aboard this monastic balcony
The ship at rest, for awhile,
The lozenge of the day not consumed.

*

A vista expansive as sea
Salt tang of strangers' stories
And skin bling still ring
In the concupiscent marrow
Where curiosity rides.

*

I like the ship at rest - it feels as though the relentless march of precious vacation time has been arrested.

TUES:

Carelessness is punished, even (especially?) on vacation; I didn't use ear plugs in the ocean, alas. On the snorkel excursion I dove down a few times and the pressure pushed water into my right ear, far enough that I couldn't tilt and shake my head enough to get it out. Hours later, back in the room, I tried blow-drying it but the damage was done. We tried finding “Swimmer's Ear” at a store on the promenade but no luck and the infirmary was closed. Woke up in middle of night with completely clogged ear, which I assume will be the new normal for awhile. Tried using q-tips but either no luck or I was afraid to go in too deep.

Infirmary said ear irrigation "hundreds of dollars" so settled for ineffective rubbing alcohol towelettes. Be “interesting” (I say with faux detachment) to see if this develops into a full earache ala nephew Matthew.

*

Quick morning cigar on balcony before tying up to Mexico and eating breakfast in bed. Then post-infirmary I checked out the art gallery – three or four interesting offerings. Too bad it's all so expensive. I wonder if art-as-investment has spiked prices across the board. A picture may be equivalent to a thousand words, but a thousand words (even from a Joyce or Salinger) are much cheaper. Of course words can be mass-produced. 

*

Seamless entry into Cozumel. Taxi left us at the gates of nostalgic Playa Azul, and the beauty and familiarity of the place seemed to say you can go home again. Interior only minimally changed (a tasteful nude beside a relocated small library) and the gift shop was moved. Grounds and restaurant are stellar and timeless.

The cab driver left us off at beach entrance (i.e. the back way), looking out for us I now think, but at the time I thought he had something to hide, not pulling in the front entrance, and for the “costly” price of $16 ride even though I learned later it's the going rate. Sad I don't give people benefit of the doubt more often.

I put in an earplug and hoped for the best, entering the water again to snorkel today. I figure water trapped in the ear is like getting pregnant - abstaining won't change the situation.

The snorkeling at Playa Azul was fantastic, a home run. Saw tons more fish than in Belize and of plenteous variety. Cool to see the fish bright with color in their busy kingdom, looking like swimming flowers.

*

Reading a book on Mexican national character makes me think I was supposed to born south of the border and not just for the sun – Mexicans are highly individualistic and not joiners. (Catholic too!) I wonder if Myers-Briggs results differ by nationality. "When God made me born a yankee, he was teasin'".

Mexicans are much worse at team sports than their country's size would indicate. The vast majority of their Olympic medals since 1900 are in individual sports.

*

Round 4pm we rolled, heard our graying taxi driver point out with pride the tourist traps, picked up some souvenirs for the grandkids at the pier tourist traps, and drank a $1 can of Dos Equis while listening to a mariachi band play La Bomba. Felt sad to leave authentic Olde Mexico!

Now we face the music: Cap'n comes on the intercom, in his distinguished authentically accented English, and says tomorrow morning will be not be too tropical - cooling and rainy and clouds in between. Nothing a book and a brew can't solve I suppose.

Back to cabin where I put myself in the hands of Dr Steph who showed me how to do a do-it-yourself ear irrigation. Somewhat counterintuitively it's to spray more water in the ear, albeit with the bad ear pointing down so the water can immediately drain. Still it's an act of faith to basically be putting more pressure on the wax and assuming it won't clog further. Except it's very warm water, the goal being to melt the wax, which I guess It did after about 30 flushes. Finally relief, the big breakthrough – I could hear again! In stereo! Just hope the seawater didn't infect the ear during the 36 hours it was parked there.

WED:

The unbearable bareness of being…at the pool. We got their early and often, pre-9am, anticipating the short-sunned time (rain predicted all afternoon) and the desperate to reserve a spot at the elusive “quiet” pool. The 63-yr old newlywed woman next to us was quite gabby so between dipping in on that and the distracting visual environ, I wasn't able to execute morning prayer with much attention, alas. Maybe get some credit for trying. It's possible a Royal Caribbean cruise pool is the place on earth least conducive to prayer, is most unlike a monastery, with the possible exception of a Vegas casino.

At last, released by clouds and threat of rain from our concrete & human jungle, I savor the balconic view of blue-dyed waters rolling with comforting repetition. I listen to Julieta Venegas sing Me Voy on this, the last day at sea. I have a sudden desire to read a Laurie Colwin novel.

The sun and heat were tropical all morning and into late afternoon, proving sea captains can be bad weather forecasters. Sweat poured from me like money from an NBA rookie's hands.  I think I like something more akin to camping, although we could've pretend-camped on our balcony more oft. Today definitely should've been much more on balcony.

A ship passes and I get obsessed snapping artistic pictures of the forlorn ship in the gloaming with dramatic clouds and rain as accompaniment. (It's owned by an oil shipment company.)


Watching the hypnotic waves reminds me of that nature show where they just filmed in real-time and just left the camera run in a natural setting with no narrator or commentary, at a place like a ocean shoreline or Asian landscape or New England early morning fishing village. In a “reality” show culture of heavily edited fiction, that may have been the most countercultural show since Bishop Sheen's (although his popularity suggests it wasn't that countercultural - sure would be now). There's the slow food movement, how about slow television?

*

After a late-day workout and a hot shower we had a pleasant final dinner served by our waiter K. from a small island off the coast of Africa called Mauritius. He claimed his home was beautiful and crime-free, and later I checked a world fact book and it seems he wasn't biased. Very functional country despite proximity to Africa, where he said “people will kill you for no reason at all!”

He wants to be a hotel manager on land and he emphasized the “on land” part. Said his passion is fishing, mostly swordfish and tuna, and that he likes serving Americans because they're so much friendlier than Europeans or Asians. His favorite ports are in U.S.; New York and I think he said Key West.

THRS:

We woke to nice view of Fort Lauderdale harbor. Dark outside with lights aglow.

Later I picked up java and sat for a moment in the cushy leather chairs outside the vintage wine shop on the promenade deck. They were marked “Reserved”, which lent it a forbidden fruity flavor:


Felt quasi-instant nostalgia for the Me Voy song'd moments on the balcony watching the Euronav navigate a storm, and for the first day with the sun-memory imprinted on my skin.  It was 1pm before I could blink; most of that time is now listed on a federal database as missing.

April 17, 2015

Three Quick Takes

It feels kind of ironic that the very thing that works against humans every second of every day - the force of gravity - is also our greatest friend. We grunt with effort to get up from a chair or to lift a heavy box and yet in zero-gravity space, the joy of never having to move a muscle, to float above it all literally, will result in a very brief life unless you're doing a constant amount of resistance training.

Surely there's a spiritual parallel in that the very thing that makes us grunt with effort, be it forgiving someone or fighting discouragement, is that which keeps us alive. I suppose our foe is our friend when it comes to overcoming inertia.

*

Ah gliddy glupe goopy ah la la lee low… to borrow from Good Morning, Starshine.  I feel it almost incumbent upon myself to introduce the grandkids to that song, although that could be introducing them to a lifelong earworm. Also had a sudden inspiration to want to get them a ship in the bottle. Both are cases the evoked wonder when I first experienced them.

*

The following, from St. Vincent de Paul newsletter and aimed at eradicating material poverty, is likely applicable to spiritual poverty as well.  It certainly echoes what our recent Holy Fathers have done so much of (i.e. encouraging & cheerleading):
Many of the life skills that we have learned in our middle class life are exactly what people in poverty lack. Much of the task is in encouraging and cheerleading, because they have to do the hard work of change. They sometimes need pointing in the right direction and encouragement to meet this challenge. 

April 15, 2015

Unconnected Items Connected by an Asterisk


One thing about moving to Columbus that bothered me, admittedly very little compared to distance from family, was that I was moving away from “Catholic Cincinnati” and heading to far less Catholic Columbus. At least that was my initial impression given that Cincinnati had roughly double the number of Catholics as Columbus. But a funny thing happened on the way up Norte - I found myself in a healthier diocese by most measures: better bishops and more orthodox leadership, better vocation outlook, and far fewer priestly pedophile scandals. Much better seminary too (i.e. the Josephenum versus Mt. Saint Mary's), so I guess you can't judge a church by its numbers.

*

I'm not a gun-owner (though I played one as a kid), but a recent AP piece was a classic op-ed half-dressed as “news”. The big tell was: “NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, never given to understatement, predicted doom for the nation if [Clinton] should win.”
My question: is there any possible way that the AP would write that about the Emily's List president, who presumably is never given to understatement either (i.e. we'll have back-alley abortions and a war on women if a Republican becomes president)? Or Planned Parenthood?
No, Emily's List and Planned Parenthood are treated with respect and deference while the NRA is treated with a snark and derision that is apparent even in the opening line: “The prospect of Hillary Clinton's imminent presidential campaign dropped like a gift from the heavens…”
More accurately, the prospect of an unbiased AP would be a gift from the heavens.

Sure, pointing out liberal bias is shooting fish in a barrel but I suppose sometimes it must be done. Or maybe not, given how little complaining does. The response to liberal bias was the creation of talk radio and Fox News, so I suppose what the liberal media has sewn it has now reaped in alternatives.

April 13, 2015

Losing the Reality Behind the Suffering


I read Mother Teresa's book Come Be My Light when it came out a few years ago, and what was ultimately memorable for me about it was not God's love, or her love, but her suffering.

I don't think she'd like this to be the takeaway from her diaries although admittedly I'm sure others were left with more inspiration. I can hold up the evidence that she herself did not want her notes/journal made public, if possibly for different reasons, but who are you gonna trust more to make that decision: a soon-to-be-saint or her spiritual advisor whom, presumably, is not quite as saintly?

I'm reminded of a line from Raymond Arroyo's marvelous biography of Mother Angelica in which he quoted her as instructing him not to emphasize her suffering lest we miss the reason for it and the motive behind it.

And in Praying the Rosary with Pope Francis, the Holy Father is quoted as saying that "the logic of the Cross is not primarily that of suffering and death, but rather that of love and the gift of self which brings life."

April 10, 2015

Jonah Goldberg's Latest....

...from his newsletter on the '16 nomination fight:
"As I’ve written a lot over the last couple years, I think the GOP has a persuasion problem. There are lots of reasons for it. Among them:

-George W. Bush was an honorable man, but a lackluster speaker and intellectual salesman. He testified about what he believed more than he argued or explained. It’s been a very long time since we had a president who could articulate a conservative worldview in the way Barack Obama and Bill Clinton could articulate theirs.

-The Republican party and conservative movement reward people who can most effectively tell audiences what the audiences already believe and want to hear. This can lead to contests over purity rather than ones over effectiveness or persuasiveness.

This dynamic has elements that are unique to the right, but it also aligns with larger cultural and technological changes that allow people to choose what they want to hear from the media à la carte.

...[Republicans] have to be better communicators than their opponents to cut through the built-in advantages Democrats have. This was the secret to Ronald Reagan’s success and William F. Buckley’s, too. (If the media had its way, George Wallace, not WFB, would have been the official spokesman of conservatism in America.).

*

"I haven’t picked a favorite in the field yet, and I really don’t plan to for quite a while, if ever. But I will say that my bias is towards those who can effectively and persuasively articulate the conservative position and/or have an established record of actual policy accomplishment. The first criterion disproportionately benefits the senators, the second the governors...

Glibness alone isn’t what’s required. Persuasiveness matters. Ted Cruz is one of the most impressive talkers in American politics, but can he persuade people who don’t already agree with him? That remains to be seen. Rand Paul and Ben Carson are great at saying what they planned on saying, but they have more trouble answering questions they didn’t want to be asked. I’ve yet to see Rubio, Cruz, Jindal (or Fiorina) thrown by a question. I can’t say the same about Scott Walker, who I still have very high hopes for. While I think he isn’t in the same league as Cruz, Rubio, Jindal, Christie, or (sorry folks) Bush in being able to discuss and debate national policy issues, Walker has the advantage of having accomplished things that none of the others can hold a candle to (with the possible exceptions of Jindal and, again sorry, Bush). Cruz can talk a lot about how hard he fought, but he can’t point to a lot he’s accomplished as senator."

Baseballus Resume-us!