May 04, 2015

Cruise Trip Log


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.


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.


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 atheist Sol Gordon'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 me at the time but I'm not sure that's 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.


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. The tyranny of appearances.

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.


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.

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.


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.


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!

April 09, 2015

St. Thérèse's Non-Incorruptibility

Moving account of the 1910 exhumation of St Thérèse:
Many times during her last illness, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus had announced that, according to her desire, after her death one would find only her bones.

“You have loved God so much, He will do wonders for you ; we will find your body incorrupt,”  a novice told her shortly before her death.  This idea seemed to pain her, and she answered somewhat sadly “Oh, no ; not that kind of wonder!  That would be a departure from my little way of humility ; little souls must find nothing to envy in me, so you can expect to find nothing but a skeleton."

The work of exhumation presented many difficulties.  The coffin had been buried at a depth of 3m. 50 and was in a very poor condition...And while the priests chanted the Laudate pueri Dominum, one noticed, through the disjointed planks, the palm leaf, all green and fresh as it was on October 4, 1897, the day it was first placed on the virginal body of the Servant of God.  Was this not the immortal symbol of the palm she had won by the martyrdom of her heart? This subject of martyrdom of which she wrote: “The palm of Agnes is needed for the lamb . . . and if this is not through blood, then it has to be through love."

A few weeks later, the result of the exhumation came to the awareness of a professor at the University of X, a man of great intellectual achievement, of an eminent piety and, moreover, very favored by the Servant of God through all kinds of graces during the more than ten years he had known her.  First of all, he was saddened that the body of the angelic virgin had decomposed like everyone else’s.  As he gave in to his melancholy thoughts, he heard an interior voice answer him: “It was the dress of my day’s work that I threw off. I await the robe of the eternal Sunday ; I do not care what happens to the other.”

   “And so,” he said, “I had a light that consoled me, I understood that this dissolution will spread atoms of her body everywhere, in such a way that not only her soul but also something of her body could be present and do good on earth.

It seems to me, indeed, all that really belonged to the body of a saint is a relic.  If this is so, not only her bones but also the invisible molecules of matter can carry in them the grace of relics.”Is it not the answer to this desire so poetically expressed :

Lord, on your altars more than one new rose
                        Likes to shine.
            It gives itself to you ….. but I dream of something else
                        To be unpetalled !... »

April 07, 2015

Past, Present, Future

On Holy Thursday a strong streak of laziness struck. I didn't want to go. It's not a day of obligation, of course, which is always cause for perplexity. It's something that makes no sense except to maybe see it in light of the Church's opportunity to reserve one of its holiest days to the volunteers. Love can't be forced.

I'm so glad I went. My own helplessness was made manifest and yet I felt the kiss of God that assured he would love through me via the infusion of Communion. Capax Dei as Tom of Disputations greatness says.

I thought about how God offers us not just our bodies, our existence, but his Body. And not just his Body, but his soul and divinity. He wants to share his divinity with us! How incredible is that?

I thought of how I have to get over focussing on the morbidity of tragedies, of taking them under my wing, so to speak. How forceful the jetliner crashed by that Germanwings pilot struck me! If I don't look to God I will fail, looking at the figurative crashing sea. Same with that poor young kid who tried to save his dog in our local lake and perished. Or did he? What is faith but that bodily perishing is temporary? How beautiful and commanding the words, “I Am the Resurrection / I Am the Life”.

I thought of how death has been marginalized, has been made less by Christ. I thought of how at Communion Christ dies a kind of death on my tongue, dissolved but alive in Spirit. I thought of how when we say, “I am not worthy that you should come under my roof” we mean not just the roof of our mouths.  How different our situation is than the Roman centurion who originally said that: He was saying he was unworthy of Christ's presence in his house. How much more unworthy we are that Christ died for us! How much more intense is someone dying for you compared to someone coming to your house, even if to cure.  The Psalm today goes, “How can I repay the Lord / for his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise.”

What goodness? The goodness of existing. The goodness of His dying for us. The goodness of His being present to us in the sacraments.  There's a tendency sometimes to think his goodness to us as mostly a past event, that of the Crucifixion. But the present event is His gift to us in the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist! Our answer is to embrace his love.

That Amazing Political Recoil

The whip-quick retreat of Indiana and other states on the religious freedom bills is interesting to me not so much because I'm heavily invested in the outcome but just to see what really moves leaders. What power can move these paragons of political non-pulchritude?  What makes them dance like marionettes in this case but not others?

I admit to feeling enormous envy on how gays have achieved a seeming redefinition of marriage in the space of a dozen years while the march of unborn infants to the grave continues apace.

You might say politicians have folded due to popular opinion and perhaps that's true in this case, but it could also be the business community. Follow the money.  Follow the contributors to campaigns. And business has shockingly left on the issue. Why? Maybe because they fear a boycott. Companies have shown a devout deference to social media and the whole "Boycott Indiana" was surely an attention-getter for the chamber of commerce crowd.  Maybe because "cause marketing" has become so popular and LBGT issues are an easy one since it doesn't take a rocket scientist to get in front of an already enormous shift in attitudes especially among the young (ever a key demographic).  Maybe simply because all things gay have become cool, the "new black", and businesses want to be perceived as Apple-cool just as politicians want to nowadays. And maybe because businesses feel the have to attract and keep talented gay employees.

Maybe it's a perfect storm of all of the above. Which suggests the way forward for the pro-life issue is for a similar combine of interests - a shift among the young (already having taken place to some extent), a boycott of pro-abortion companies, a sense that life and not death is cool.

Tidibits of Varying Quality

17th century British citizen's (author Richard Burton) view of the national sins of various countries:

    Britain: laziness
    Italy: luxury and riot
    Spain: superstition and jealousy
    Germany: drunkenness
    Northern Europe: gluttony & intemperance

Times and reputations change! I certianly don't equate Germany with drunkennes.


I headed to Cincy on Easter listening to David Brooks on C-Span (later I would hear an interview with author of a book on James Madison, and then White House correspondent Ann Compton - so a goodly measure of Brian Lamb, God save him.)

Easter's gospel passage went, “[Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; that is where you will see him.” and I thought of this in terms of saying to us “Jesus is going ahead of you to Heaven; that is where you will see Him.”


My Catholic triumphalism can appear in strange places.

I'm mailing a Bible to an customer. I have it wrapped, but the mail guy thinks I'll save money if I put it in a smaller package. So he finds one, opens my package and removes the book. Stares at the cover of the Didache Bible.

“What's a Didache Bible?” he asked, saying “Didache” twice trying on different pronunciations.

I wasn't prepared to answer, and it's a bit complex. The Didache is a document from early Christianity, a sort of early catechism, while the new Didache Bible is the biblical text with commentary from the Catechism.

“It's a Bible with early Church commentary,” I say, somewhat inaccurately.

“Is it Christian?”


“Says here 'Catholic' on it.”

“Same difference!” I say.

“No, not at all,” he says with vehemence.

“Catholics are the originals… Accept no substitutes!” I counter, smiling.

He drops the subject, figuring no doubt I was a hopeless case.


Giddified by a freebie: Poetry Magazine's latest is free download. I read a black-centric poem and thought: it's awfully hip to be black.

This was also brought home by a press conference yesterday in which a black UK star called the white Wisconsin star a “n-----”. Which is the ultimate compliment, at least in the minds of some on Twitter. (One wag said it would've been great if the Caucasian player who was dubbed an honorary N-word responded by saying, "That's mighty white of you."

Even I, a middle-aged white conservative, find myself occasionally thinking white male politicians over 50 seem boring and stale, likely because I've been trained by the culture to view over 50 white men as boring and stale. I try to resist it, but if I'm trying to resist that, imagine an undecided voter?

That being black is cool is hardly controversial. Even a liberal NY Times writer recently said that Obama would likely not have been so attractive if he was white. That's surely part of the appeal of guys like Herman Cain and Ben Carson. Republicans are so desperate to be cool, that we'll take a long, hard look at somebody with no political experience if they're sufficiently tan. There are, what, six black Republicans in the U.S.? And two of them have run for president now. I guess they think the Republican party needs their coolness factor.

Police departments are surely the last vestige of having complete resistant to coolness, so it's not surprising that they draw the angst. The final frontier for African-American activism is surely police departments and criminal justice system.  Or, at least that's the next frontier.

One thing seems obvious: there's little forgiveness in black hearts for what they or their ancestors went through. Perhaps understandably, but still sad. The race problem will be a problem long after any and all remaining white prejudice is gone simply because the community is now built on that sense of grievance. 


On Holy Saturday I had a sudden desire to tweet “hope everyone's Lent was lenttastic!” A bit flip so I foreswore it.


Got a thirty minute massage the other day. Tight left shoulder was her expert diagnosis, and I submarined under the blue yonder, under distant blue waters, wondering where I left off in Odyssey and Moby Dick.

I thought of kayaking the Darby last fall. I thought of Samovars and Sam overs. I thought of snorkeling Cozumel, at our old place. I thought of how much of a tip to give her.  I thought of Belize, that fetchingly foreign name, how exotic it sounds. I thought of how tight I felt and if I was insulting her by not letting go more fully.

Was amazed by her dexterity, professionalism and the care that came through her fingers. You had the feeling that she sees the wonder in the human body, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

March 31, 2015

Book Review Humor

A textbook example of faint praise from The Economist:
“The Fishermen” may be the most interesting debut novel to emerge from Nigeria this year.
"Debut novel.” “Nigeria.” “This year” (still only three months in). “May be.”

That's some highlarious hedging of bets!

I'm not a student of debut novels from Nigeria from this year so I cannot weigh in. I refuse to weigh in despite the blogger's responsibility to express an opinion on each and every extant subject.

Nevertheless, I've often thought I could write the best debut novel by anyone who lives on my street, runs four miles per week and enjoys craft beer.

March 29, 2015

The Republican Establishment Worthy of Praise?

It's easy to reflexively disparage Republican big money donors and Republican elites (such as Haley Barbour) out of a democratic (small 'd') impulse, but I learned something today that is instructive.

Mark Halperin said in an interview that Mitt Romney was not the choice of the money men and elites despite Romney being wealthy and elite himself.

They wanted Chris Christie and in retrospect (hindsight being 20/20 of course) Christie was surely the better candidate since he didn't have the baggage of Romney's perceived elitism and flip-flopping. Certainly Christie couldn't have been worse given that Romney lost.

If you look back at 2004 the money men were not supporting John McCain, who famously had no money for most of his campaign. And again they were right since McCain was a flawed candidate with few new ideas, was too old in this (unfortunately) telegenic age, and an ineffective debater not willing to take Obama on.

So this time around maybe we should look upon the Republican establishment with a bit more respect. They're going with Jeb Bush, and time may tell if that's a good choice. Regardless, it surely hasn't been the establishment responsible for the last two presidential defeats. The fault appears to fall on the Republican primary voter.

March 27, 2015

Jesus & Daphne

Attraction seems such a social construct, so susceptible to environmental clues. And yet…yet there's also a genetic component, the idea that curves on a woman are attractive for reasons of fertility. I suppose there are biological limits to what we find attractive.

I think back to how much a single movie might've affected me, namely Daphne Zuniga in The Sure Thing. I wonder how much my crush on a girl back in college was unwittingly influenced of that movie. That look - high cheekbone, beautiful raven hair, twinkly eyes - was not always my thing.  In 5th grade through 12th, blondes held my fancy, perhaps because they didn't look like my black-haired sister with whom I regularly fought.

But I have to assume it was popular culture that ultimately altered my perceptions of attraction. Certainly even names themselves become popular as a result of the culture; Malcolm Gladwell I think once studied the names given to children as status indicators.

This too makes sense with respect to prejudices and racism. If you meet someone you really like who happens to be black, gay, polka-dot or named George, you might associate warm feelings, or greater openness towards, those who are black, gay, polka-dot or have the name George. Which is why we'll always have prejudice with us since impossible to have positive examplars possessing every possible prejudicial characteristic. (Serving all of your alliteration needs for over a decade now!)

Back in the '80s I often thought that my own popularity with girls was marginally dependent on whether some actor who looked just like me (but with great charisma) became popular in pop culture. Matthew Broderick being the closet. Because then those feelings that women had toward that actor might be partially transferrable to me, or at least would make them more open to me. I was looking for someone who looked like me to pave the way for me.

Sort of like Jesus. Here was someone who looked like us humans who could pave the way to God the Father, to make us look (and be) acceptable. The charisma of Christ was such that the Father couldn't resist the Son, and thus the Father looks on all of us humans more favorably.

March 26, 2015


This photo, in the latest Economist, just reeks of fascination:

For one thing, the utter inaccessibility.  To even try to approach such a house would likely get you killed. You don't go to a holler unaccompanied.

Second, the disparity between the girl and the house.  The house is falling down, ugly, neglected. The girl is none of those things. She's dressed in nice clothes, her hair braided. The shoes, crocs, seem well-suited for the muddy environment.

Looks like there's even a satellite dish on the house. Priorities seem reasonable:  personal appearance first, puppy care, and entertainment.  Home improvement projects last.

The article says that poverty in Appalachia has decreased significantly over the past fifty years due to food stamps and other government programs, but health has decreased, reflected in higher relative mortality rates.

IN THE hills around Paintsville, a small town in eastern Kentucky’s Appalachian region, some of the nicer houses have paths that wind from the front porch up to a gate. Through these gates family cemeteries with headstones and brightly coloured imitation flowers can be glimpsed. These hallowed patches of ground help to explain one of the things that puzzles outsiders about Appalachia: why the people who live there remain so attached to a place that has been a byword for rural poverty for at least half a century.

Cynthia Duncan, a sociologist who recently returned to Appalachia to update “Worlds Apart”, an influential book on persistent poverty first published in 1999, says that though poor schooling and a fondness for a familiar landscape do tether people to the mountains, Appalachia’s poorest residents also have a remarkable capacity for resilience when faced with hardship, of which they have seen plenty.

It Occurs...

It occurs to me that I don't have enough nearly enough glurgy pictures on this blog. Forthwith I shall remedy!

Three Takes

Stern ol' teacher Sister Ruth, 4th through 6th grade. A throwback. Came of age during the Depression and worked in Communist China teaching the heathens. Them and later us. 

I remember a few incidents like they were yesterday but only these few, probably because I spent so much of the time dreaming outside the present moment:

- the shock and awe of one female student crying and screaming “I hate you!” to Sister. The response seemed measured and calm, although I remember the eruption more than the response. I couldn't believe you could say that in class.

- How she loved all hymns because they expressed holy sentiments. Lyrics uber alles.

- How she didn't mind dull sermons because she knew someone needed to hear what was being preached. I recall being shocked by that notion; I thought only in terms of me, of course, and couldn't imagine “liking” a homily for the sake of another.

- Her comparing sin and forgiveness to the opening of a feather pillow from a height and watching helplessly as the feathers fell, seemingly irretrievable, except by God.

- And, of course, the time she called me “a dreamer”. I assume derogatorily, although I doubt I took it that way then. I think I thought it meant I was special.

Three years and that's all I recall. It's amazing how sometimes small things can be disproportionate in memory.

Ultimately (perhaps unfortunately) self-knowledge offered from the perspective of others is highly memorable, especially when it has never occurred to you before. When the mother at a party of fellow seven-year olds told me my name was “so common” her comment stung (did it at the time? Or did “common” only later seem a negative? the tricks of memory….) and has resounded in my head for over forty years though the children I was with at the party have been long forgotten. Words are often more memorable than people, which is an very odd thing if you think about it given how little they mean compared to people.

I think of Sister Ruth with affection now and a bit of awe at the self-giving emblematic of all those nuns. Like Nixon, we don't have them to kick around anymore and we're feeling their loss severely (i.e. in Catholic school closings and sky-high tuition). At the time Sister and I felt on “different teams”, that unbridgeable gulf between teacher and student, ruler and ruled. Now I feel like we're on the same team, oriented to the same goal of salvation, even though of course she was infinitely closer to her goal then (and presumably has reached it) than I am now.

I think also of likely the most devout Catholic (and counter-culture warrior) at high school was Mr. Mulchaey, a teacher concerning whom, at the time, I was mostly indifferent. He was a man's man but with a sense of wonder, wonder in the sense that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. I recall how airy and unreal that felt at the time. He was teaching theology-of-the-body-type concepts in the late '70s, or at least deep respect for the material God gave us and of the holiness of sex. Doesn't get more counter-cultural than that.

We had saints in our midst and we were blind – it's funny how we see clearly only in retrospect, of how those who sow seeds of faith do so with almost no immediate gratification. The long view is the Faith view, and given human nature I'm not sure there's any getting around that. We are all lagging indicators, usually only seeing the preciousness of people and the gift of Catholicism belatedly. Maybe not till Heaven.


Speaking of the afterlife, Blogger Bill at “The Gospel Truth” writes:
In the [preface] Father Robert Barron quotes a vision of St. Catherine of Siena where she suffered in her soul to even think that one of God’s creatures would be damned for all eternity. She said she did not know how to reconcile even one of your creatures made in his image and likeness should be lost and slip from your hands.
The Catholic Church is not one of just laws and judgments. It is the Church of love and mercy. But it is one pregnant with paradoxes and deep esoteric truths that most cannot fathom. God’s infinite mercy is irreconcilable with His absolute justice. It is the ultimate squared circle. We can’t understand it because it contradicts our human logic.
I also read a story about a priest who quipped while I am alive, I am all for God’s Justice but when I die, I am all for His mercy! A resounding Rush Limbaughesque Dittos to him!!

Read interesting article about a guy who collected John Updike's trash for years. In the article Updike was quoted as saying that in his work he was interested in the tension between following one's desires and the consequences, how we may listen to our inner (often sexual) urges only to find the “social fabric collapses murderously” but of self-sacrifice and duty it “results in man's private agony and dwindling.” Sounds like the classic dilemma, of whether trying to save one's life, or to save one's soul.  But a false dichotomy? – the last three pontiffs, Popes John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis hardly seem in agony or “dwindled” by their heroic adherence to Christianity.