Thursday, January 14, 2021

Rome - Castro Valley, CA

January 14, 2021 Peace and Good, I left Rome this past Monday to begin my canonical visitation in the province of California. Most of the visitation will probably be done by phone and skype, but at least I will be in the right time zone. The regulations concerning covid were not all that bad. I had had myself tested a few days before the flight even though it was not yet required. Now the rules have changed and flight to the US will require testing. The flight from Rome to Frankfurt was fairly full, but that from Frankfurt to San Francisco was only about 1/4 full. We hit some awful air turbunlence at the Canadian/US border, the worst I have every experienced (for intensity and length of time). I am at our friary in Castro Valley. I am quarantined to the friary for ten days, but the first five days I will even avoid contact with the other friars. I just don't want to get anyone sick. I finished some reading: Caffeine: How Caffeine created the Modern World by Michael Pollan This is an audible books presentation. It is one of their original productions, and in two hours the author is able to present his relationship with caffeine, as well as a scientific and social study of the substance. I was able to obtain it for free (they allow two free audible presentations per month as part of their purchase package). The presentation is quite well done. The Sun Dog by Stephen King I always like King’s books, for he is a master of language and symbolism. In this case, a young man receives a polaroid camera as a present, but the camera only produces a picture of a scene in which a wild dog slowly becomes aware of the picture taker and prepares to attack him. This story takes place in New England, and there is an elderly store owner who has an emporia where he sells just about everything (and also is involved in other not so favorable activities such as loan sharking). Splendid Solution by Jeffrey Kluger This is an account of how Dr. Jonas Salk and his team were able to develop a vaccine against polio in the 1950’s. Salk comes across as quite a favorable figure, while his opponent, Dr. Lou Sabin, comes across as a petty, vindictive person. The account gives quite a bit of detail without getting lost in the minutia of scientific topics. I quite enjoyed the book. 36 Revolutionary Figures by The Teaching Company This is a collection of quick biographies of important figures who changed history throughout the ages. Some of the presentations are better than others (for they are taken from different courses and at times are really not intended to be a presentation of a person’s life). Yet, it was worthwhile listening to this course. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens This is a book I had written in high school, but I had not touched since. It was a joy to listen to it. I had not remembered much of it at all. Dickens has his style which is a bit flowery, but pleasant. Rome: A History is Seven Sackings by Matthew Kneale This is a fine book which speaks about the history of the city of Rome throughout its history from its founding until the present day. It includes the attacks by various groups of barbarians and by medieval and renaissance invaders. Sometimes the defenders of Rome were more successful than others. Sometimes the defeat of the Roman forces led to a terrible sacking, other times it led only to a change of very often arrogant leaders. The author is rather good in his portraiture. Genghis Khan by Walter J. Scott This is a short account of the life of this great Mongol invader. It presents the history just before his arrival, what he did, and what followed his reign. Rather than creating an actual empire, he created more of a movement that only loosely ruled the domains which he conquered (at a horrible cost for those who resisted him). The Battle of Bunker Hill by Hourly History This a short account of the Battle of Bunker Hill when the British attacked the top of a hill outside of Boston. While it was technically a victory for the British, it was what is called a Pyrrhic victory – that it cost the British so much that they realized that it would be difficult if not impossible to defeat the Patriots. Keep safe, fr. Jude

Monday, January 4, 2021


January 4, 2021 Peace and Good, I have been at home this past week, feeling a bit under the weather. I had an infection, which is well on its way to being over right now. Fortunately I carry Cipro with me, and that is the indicated antiobotic for this type of infection. (When you travel as much as I do and to the places I do, it is good to be prepared.) I had forgotten how strong Cipro is and what it can do to the microbiotica of the intestine, so I had to start eating yogurt to help replace the bacteria that I had done in through the use of Cipro. All is now well. Rome was quiet. New Year's Eve is always explosive, with fireworks being shot all over the place. It is not safe to be on the streets, for some people will throw anything they want outside of the windows (especially in Naples). When I worked in Ostia Lido years ago, there would be a carpet of broken glass on the street on New Year's morning from the broken bottles hurled out of the windows. The weather is cool with a lot of rain. This is very good for the farmers, because they really depend on the winter rain for the success of their crops. There have been shutdowns of a few days duration around the Christmas and New Year's holidays. That is now over. I am here until the 11th, and then I fly out to California for an official visitation. I will be in our friary in Castro Valley. I suspect that a lot of the visitation will be done on zoom, given travel limitations out there. I have finished some reading: The Gullah by Charles River Editors This is an account of the black population on the Sea Isles off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. They developed this own language based in a form of Pigeon English and the local languages of Africa which the slaves had used before they were brought to the States. After the Civil War, they were allowed to develop their own culture, which lasted until the isles became a popular resort area. The Burning Wire by Jeffery Deaver This is a Lincoln Rhymes story in which the famous criminologist is chasing two evil figures: one called the watchmaker who is being chased in Mexico City, and the other is a worker for the electric power company and who is killing people with electric arcs as a means of getting revenge for the leukemia from which he is suffering. The story has the usual twists and turns, the usual list of characters who are all a bit flawed. It is a very good example of Deaver’s works. The Studebaker Brothers by Charles River Editors This is a biography of the Studebaker brothers who began their business by manufacturing wagons during and after the Civil War, and who eventually developed a business of making electric and internal combustion powered automobiles. The book speaks of their rise and the eventual downfall of their business. This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust This is an unusual account of how the dead were treated during the Civil War. At the beginning of the war, little preparation had been made either for the dead or even for the dying. Eventually, a system to deal with the deceased was developed. This included methods of embalming the deceased, of shipping their bodies to their homes for burial in family cemetery plots, for dealing with those who could not be identified, the development of spiritualism in the effort to contact the deceased, etc. The author speaks of how the deceased of the southern forces were treated in the north and vice versa. The book is an interesting study on this one dimension of the suffering of people. The Roma by Charles River Editors This is a history of the Roma people, the Gypsies. They were originally from India and were often welcomed into new territories by the people and rulers. Their welcome then ran out and they were chased to the next region. The book speaks of their customs, their communal organization, their taboo, etc. The Saint and the Sultan by Paul Moses This is a very good book which speaks about St. Francis and his trip to Damietta, Egypt to encounter the Sultan of Egypt during one the crusades. While the Christian forces were trying to kill the Muslims, Francis did all he could to convert the Sultan (not as a form of victory over him, but rather to offer him something so precious to him). The author studies the writings of Francis which speak of opposing evil and difficulties with love and patience. He also speaks of latter accounts of the story and how those accounts were affected by political and religious circumstances when the accounts were written. I highly recommend this book. Have a safe week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, December 27, 2020


December 28, 2020 Peace and Good, It has been a quiet holiday season here in Rome. We have been in lockdown for a few days around Christmas and again around New Year. There are very, very few tourists this year, and many restaurants and shops have been closed. Italy begins its process of vacination today, as does most of the rest of Europe. I am not sure when I will be able to get mine. If I do not qualify in January when I am in California, I will have to wait until March and fly back for that. The weather these days is cool and rainy. (It would happen on the only days we can get out and take a walk around town.) I will use the day to catch up on a number of small projects. A group of friars have volunteered to cook these days so that the staff could have a few days off. That is quite a project for there are around 30 of us. They have done a great job. I have finished some reading: Henry Clay: the Essential American by David Heidler This is a long and drawn out account of the life and career of Henry Clay, one of the great politicians at the beginning of the 19th century (along with Calhoun, Webster, etc.). Clay was a key figure in the development of the Whig Party, which eventually died due to internal squabbles, especially concerning the slavery question. The book is good, but its length would mean that it should be tackled only by someone who is very interested in this era. Abandon Ship! By Richard Newcomb This is the story of the sinking of the cruiser Indianapolis. The ship had just delivered the atomic bomb to Tinian, and it was sunk by a Japanese submarine in the Philippine Sea. For some unknown reason, help did not arrive for the survivors for over four days, with many dying due to injury, the sea, and sharks. The book speaks of both the American and Japanese stories, of the actual sinking, if the struggle for survival in the sea, and of the legal aftermath. The account is well done, with much eye witness material. The Revelation of St. John by Martin Kiddle This is a fairly good commentary on the Book of Revelation. With that book, one always has to be careful because so many authors try to interpret it as a guideline of when the end of the world will occur and how. This author does not do this. I do not agree with every single interpretation he uses throughout his study, but overall his material is good. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey This is one of those books that I have long wanted to read. It is about a man who gets himself committed to a mental health facility to be able to escape a conviction on rape. There he ends up in a clinic run by a nurse who portrays herself as serving the needs of the patients, but who is really trying to control everything according to her own whim. The two inevitably clash, with horrific results. It is also a story of the liberation of those in the clinic who were too afraid to confront the abusive power of the nurse. Art Matters by Neil Graiman and Chris Riddel This is a lecture on the importance of art and reading for the culture of our day. The presenter is himself an author, and he speaks of the process of inspiration and the need to produce art for art’s sake and not to make money. One Night Stands with American History by Richard Shenkman and Kurt Reiger This is a series of interesting and often very humorous episodes in American history. It is definitely a light read, but one needs those every so often. Chasing the Ripper by Patricia Cornwall This is a short, strange account of how Cornwall reacted to the reaction of her theory as to who Jack the Ripper actually was. She was attacked by a number of conspiracy theorists. It was so strange to hear an author become so defensive. You're all in my prayers in these tough days. Shalom fr. Jude PS On this feast of the Holy Innocents, think of saying a prayer for the innocent who are still suffering throughout the world.

Sunday, December 20, 2020


December 21, 2020 Peace and Good, I got through the ten days of meetings for our General Definitory. It is a good group of men. We talk through things until we reach a consensus. No one is afraid to give his opinion, and no one tries to shut the other down. But ten days is a long, long time to meet from morning to night. The weather is cool, with rain every few days. Rome is not in a total shut down, but it does have its limitations. The 24th to the 26th and again the days around New Year's Day will be shut downs. I just heard about the quarantine for flight to and from Great Britain. Fortunately, on the 11th of January, my trip is via Germany. We will have to see what happens with that. I have finished my series of six articles for our magazine in Kenya. I was going to do them on the Blessed Virgin Mary, but then the Holy Father declared this to be the year of St. Joseph, so it was back to the drawing board. I can use the BVM idea next year. These days I will be doing a bit of work on a couple of articles I have been asked to write. I should finish them by tomorrow evening. This evening I am going to do a zoom meeting with some ladies in the States on Bible Study (three Mondays in a row). I am glad to be able to share some of my insights in this manner. I have finished some reading: Museum Masterpieces: Metropolitan Museum of Art by Richard Brettell This is a video series that speaks about the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Most of the Teaching Company courses that I have participated in up to this point were audio, but this course needed to be video as well (for one had to see the paintings, statutes, and other art objects). The presenter is filled with vitality without being too much. I enjoyed this course, and will continue to view more of their video courses. Paradise Regained by John Milton Recently I read Paradise Lost, the first time that I had read it. This was a companion poem. I was surprised that it went up only to the temptations of Jesus in the desert. I am now listening to a Teaching Company Course on Milton so that I might understand more of what the two poems are all about. Hue 1968 by Mark Bowden Bowden is an excellent war author. This book deals with the critical battle between the troops of the US and the Republic of Vietnam and those of the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese. This battle took place during the Tet offensive in 1968, and although the communist forces were defeated and expelled from the city, their attack and their early victories caused discouragement among the Americans. It was at this time that Walter Cronkite visited Vietnam and made the editorial statement that he thought that the US should get involved in negotiations because we were not winning the war (no matter what propaganda the military was issuing). Medical Pediatrics by Roy Benaroch This is a teach company account of how a doctor treats his pediatric patients. Benaroch is an excellent presenter of this topic. He deals with the patients with great knowledge and experience, but also with great compassion, always treating his patients with tremendous respect. The La Brea Tar Pits by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the history of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. The earliest use for the tar that came out of the pit was to provide construction material (especially for waterproofing various structures). It was only later that fossils were found in the pits of animals that had fallen in the pits and had become trapped there. Some of the animals were prehistoric and now extinct in America. In the Hurricane’s Eye by Nathanael Philbrick Philbrick is a very good author of American history. This book is on the battle of Yorktown. It deals especially with Washington and his struggle to hold his army and that of his ally together. He was frustrated by the fact that the French had promised to help him, but they had their own plans. Their greatest interest was how they might defeat the British in the Caribbean where the real profit lie. Philbrick gives a very good picture of the various parties and their motivations. The Battle of Gaugamela by Charles River Editors The is the account of the battle in which Alexander the Great definitively defeated the emperor of Persia. He was outnumbered, and the emperor of Persia had planned his battle well, but it was no good. The short book also speaks of the aftermath of the battle. Merry Christmas fr. Jude

Sunday, December 13, 2020


December 14, 2020 Well, we are already in the third week of Advent. I have been in Rome for these weeks, and last Wednesday we began our general definitory meeting (which in December is always longer than normal). We go through the end of this week. The weather is cool, but not really super cold. Last week there was quite a bit of rain, which is normal for this time of year. There are a lot of covid regulations given the situation in the country, which is not as bad as the States but nevertheless not all that good. Restaurants, for example, must close at 6 PM, which is very odd for in Italy most people don't eat their evening meal til around 8 PM. We have had some interesting news in these weeks. The custos of Assisi was named a cardinal, and a friar in Turkey was named the archbishop of Izmir in Turkey (Smyrna in the Bible). Both of these men are really fine people. I have been writing a series of six articles for one of our magazines in Kenya. I should finish the project today. Then I have two or three shorter projects to complete. I have finished some reading: City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker This is an account of a series of poisoning murders that occurred during the reign of King Louis XIV. It is possible that his own concubines were involved in some of the plots, including even the possibility of a plot against the king himself. This book also outlines the beginning of an investigative police force in the City of Light. It is quite interesting, but at times seems to devolve to scandal mongering (although given the morality of the time, this does not necessarily mean that what it presents is inaccurate). Midnight at Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham This is a thorough account of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. It deals with the Communist system and how the inefficiencies of that centrally run economic system led to design errors which largely caused the disaster. It deals with the individuals who set off the disaster through their mistakes or their own inefficiencies. It deals with the aftermath of the disaster in terms of the effect on the public and the government response. The book offers a number of personal portraits which makes its reading quite satisfying. The author does not spare the horror of it all, but presents everything calmly and fairly. Jomiini by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of a Swiss expert on warfare who first fought with the forces of Napoleon and then allowed his services to be bought by the court of the Czar in Russia. He was a contemporary of Clausewitz and while some of their theories correspond, others seem to have purposely been proposed in contrast to those of the other. Pandora’s Lab: Seven Stories of Science Gone Wrong by Paul Offit This is a study of some of the proposals made by scientists that have proved to be most damaging. One of the most obvious was the tendency to perform lobotomies on people in the hope to make them more manageable. The author attacks Rachel Carson’s presentation of the dangers of DDT, saying that its banning produced many, many more deaths through Malaria. Interestingly, he says that the proposal that vaping is dangerous is inaccurate, which theory itself has proved to be inaccurate in these past couple of years. The author is not really anti-science, but he is anti-sensationalism. His bottom line theory is that we have to follow the data. Imperial Twilight: the Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age by Stephen Platt This is a very good account of China in the period leading up to and during the two Opium Wars, wars that Britain fought for free trade (but also largely to permit British traders to import opium into China). What I truly appreciated about the book was that it did not get bogged down on war details, but rather painted an extensive picture of the society both of China and of the British traders. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in the era. Before Darkness by Michael Dean This is the story of how the industrialist Walther Rathenau succeeded in business, then as an organizer of material that Germany needed during the First World War, and finally in government after that war as a minister in the Weimar Republic. He was often attacked for the fact that he was a Jew and he was gay. He was eventually assassinated by the far right which saw his actions as a betrayal of Germany at the end of the war (the famous stab in the back theory). May the rest of your Advent be peaceful. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, December 4, 2020


December 4, 2020 Peace and Good, I finished my ten day quarantine on Wednesday evening, so I am free again. I used the quarantine time to edit my Lectors' Handbook for 2022, so I am ahead quite a bit. The weather here in Rome is wintery. That means that it rains quite a bit, but usually only part of the day. It is cool, but not cold. Everyone on the streets is wearing a mask. All of the progress that Italy had made after the first terrible months has largely been lost. It is strange because restaurants are to close at 6 PM, and most Italians would not think of eating supper before 8 PM or so. This means that the city has become very quiet in the evening. We are still celebrating the novena to the Immaculate Conception in our Basilica, although with social distance and masks, etc. We are the offical novena for that feast in Rome (for our theologians did a lot to foster this devotion). Every other seat on the pew is empty, but with that restriction, those seats that were open were all filled. The music is always beautiful. Friar Gennaro is a great choir director, and friar Mark Folger from California plays the flute beautifully. Next week we will begin 10 days of definitory. The definitory before Christmas has always been a bit of a tough push since we receive many end of the year reports. Still, Christmas is coming. I finished some reading: The Apostle Paul by Stanley Porter This is an interesting overview of the letters that have been attributed to Paul The author takes the view that he actually wrote 13 of the 14 once attributed to him (not Hebrews). This is a position not accepted by most scholars today, but he nevertheless gives good information concerning the letters. For me it is always good to read a position which I have not held to firm up what I believe about something lest I begin to mouth something simply it is because I have learned it that way. Alcohol and Human Health by OpenLearn This is a short overview of the effect that alcohol has on the human body, especially in terms of its overuse. It speaks about the symptoms of chronic abuse (to the liver, the brain, to unborn children, etc.). It gives a good overview of the problem and its treatment. Hitler’s Spy Chief: the Wilhelm Canaris Mystery by Richard Bassett This is both a biography of Canaris and an account of his role as the head of military intelligence for the Nazi regime during the Second World War. The book strongly insinuates that Canaris was playing a double game. While he was fervently anti-Communist and pro-German, he was nevertheless disgusted with the abuses of the Nazi regime. The book implies that he purposely leaked information to the British in some instances, and in others allowed things which he had learned to be shunted aside so that those discoveries could not be acted upon. He was executed toward the end of the war for his suspected knowledge and collaboration with the Staufenburg attempt on Hitler’s life. Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman This is a very well done biography of Alexander the Great. It is a book which I listened to, and I found it informative and even entertaining. I would recommend it to anyone who wanted to know more about the topic. The Poet by Michael Connelly This is a book about a newspaper journalist who tries to discover the murderer of his twin brother who was a policeman. The murders seem to be tied up with a series of murders committed by a pedophile. The policemen who are killed are all found with quotes from Edgar Allen Poe which are written as if they were suicide notes, but none of them actually committed suicide. The book is extremely well done. Domina, the Women who Made Imperial Rome by Guy de la Bedoyere This is a study of some of the major female players during the days of the Caesars, including Livia, the wife of Augustus, Julia his daughter, Julia his granddaughter, Agrippina, the daughter of Agrippa, etc. They are shown to have exercised considerable power behind the scenes, especially acting through their husbands, sons, etc. The book explores the Roman attitude toward women, toward purity and chastity, etc. – especially in its tendency to have a very clear double standard. The Washington Monument by Charles River Editors This is the story of the slow and painfully interrupted process of the building a national monument to the founder of the nation. It is surprising how many years it took before the government took responsibility for its funding and construction. Keep safe, fr. Jude

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Ellicott City - Rome

November 26, 2020 Happy Thanksgiving I finished my doctoring and dentisting in the second week of my stay at Ellicott City. Unfortunately, the crown that was to be attached was not ready yet, so I will have to return for that at a later date. They put my temporary crown in with a permanent glue. The trip back to Rome was uneventful, but strange. My flight on British Air had been transferred from BWI to Dulles airport, so I had to take a shuttle out there. The BA flight from London to Rome was cancelled, so I had to fly AlItalia to get in. Dulles was all but empty. Heathrow in London had quite a few folk, but not as many as normal. Getting into Rome was no real problem, as long as I agreed to quarantine for two weeks (which we do in our friary anyway). I got back Sunday evening, and I am still feeling fine. I do take my temperature twice as day as recommended. The friars bring my meals to my door. I am spending the time editing the Lectors' Handbook that I do each year (for 2021-2022). The weather here is cool, but nice. I am able to take daily walks on the terrazza outside of my room, so I do not feel totally isolated. The whole house is under quarantine for before I returned, one of the friars came down with covid. He is doing better, but it was touchy for he is a brittle diabetic. At this point, I will be in Rome for some time. I do not yet know when my next trip will be. We have a definitory the week before Christmas. I finished some reading: The Tanks of the World Wars by Charles River Editors This is a study of the birth and development of tanks and tank warfare in the First World War, the interwar period, and especially during the Second World War. Baron Johann de Kalb by Charles River Editors This is a biography of one of the Europeans who travelled to the US during the revolutionary war to help the patriots. Unfortunately, de Kalb was not at first welcomed, and even when he was, he was exceedingly unlucky in terms of those with whom he served. He died in a poorly run battle in the Carolinas when Gates, the commanding general, first bungled the attack and then ran away from the battle in a cowardly way. Xerses I by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of the Persian emperor who invaded Greece and encountered the Spartans at Thermopylae and then whose navy was defeated at Salamis. Although he face defeat in the West, he was highly successful in holding and extending the borders of his empire in the East. Paradise Lost by John Milton I had always heard of this epic poem, and it was time to read it. The poem is very, very long, and the style is that of the 17th century when it was written. There are thousands of references to Greek myths and other esoteric topics as Milton describes the creation of humanity and its fall into sin. The poem was well worth reading, but I will listen to a Teaching Company course on Milton before I go into the next of his poems, Paradise Regained. The Battle of Nicopolis This is a tragic battle between the western forces and the Muslims in Bulgaria. The Western forces were divided and led by a group of young, arrogant nobles who would not listen to the advice of others who had already fought against the Muslims in previous battles. The result was a resounding defeat of the crusaders and mutual recriminations among the combatants as to who was at fault. The 13th Juror by John Lescroat The 13th juror is the judge who can either accept to set aside a death penalty verdict at a murder trial. This is the story of a woman accused of killing her husband and child. She had every reason to kill her husband considering she came from a family where there was terrible spousal abuse, and she was suffering from it herself. Yet, she firmly refuses to plead guilty and seek mercy because she was abused. The action is well presented, and this is a novel worth reading. The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers by Thomas Fleming Fleming presents an inside look at the family lives and even some of the scandals of the founding fathers of the country. It is not a tell all book to denigrate the founding fathers, but rather looks at them with a realistic caution to show that while they were not perfect, they often tried their best. Washington comes across looking fairly good, while Benjamin Franklin falls quite short of what he could have been both as a husband and a father.