Saturday, June 24, 2017

Rome - Assisi - Rome - London - Canterbury - London

May 24, 2017 Peace and Good, The beginning of this week I was up in Assisi for a meeting of the definitory with the Presidents of the various federations of friars throughout the world (they are divided up into seven sections). I was there until noon on Wednesday when I took the train down to Rome so that I could catch a plane to London the next morning. I then went to Canterbury on Friday for the closing of the Theological Institute there. I had taught there a number of terms over the years. I got to see one of my classmates from the Biblicum where I graduated in 1984. The celebration was quite nice, and I have been able to talk with a number of the friars from the custody to get a read of what they are thinking as they prepare for their custodial chapter this September. I head back to Rome tomorrow afternoon where we start a week of Definitory. We had a couple of important decisions to make concerning our provincial in Naples. Things are not going very well there, so the General Definitory appointed a provincial to work on getting things in line with what they should be. We very, very rarely do this, but this was one case where an intervention was needed. Normally, we try to make our interventions in a less obtrusive manner (and I have been a member of the team to intervene over the past couple of years). I have finished some reading: The Hittites by Charles River Editors The Hittites were a great Middle Eastern civilization just before the Biblical era. They resided in Anatolia, what is today Turkey. Relatively little was known of them until relatively recently. What we do know is mostly from archeological remains that have been excavated. They were destroyed by various factors, but especially by the invasion of a Barbarian group known as the Sea Peoples. The Broken Window by Jeffrey Deaver This is one of the Lincoln Rhymes novels. This one involves a murderer who gets his information on his random victims from data entry and data farming companies. He is able to frame various innocent victims in his deluded quest. The thing that trips him up is that he frames Lincoln’s cousin for one of the murders, and Lincoln and his team are slowly able to sort it all out (but not without considerable danger for the murderer declares war on the members of the team. The Mohawk by Charles River Editors This is a short presentation of the Mohawk tribe which, at the time of the colonies, resided in what is today upper New York State and southern Quebec and Ontario. They were part of the five (later six) nations of the Iroquois Federation (whose agreement of confederacy was used by the Founding Fathers as they developed our way of government. The presentation is an honest short overview of their history and culture. Blood Game by Iris Johansen This is a detective novel mixed with some paranormal phenomena such as communicating with ghosts and evil masterminds who think that they are vampires. The style is not all that bad, but I really can’t say that I would read a lot of her books in the future. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary by Robert Alter This is a new translation of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) along with a literary, linguistic commentary on the material. The author has now translated most of the Hebrew Bible. His original job was literary critic, and he has used those skills along with a masterful knowledge of Hebrew and of the Jewish interpretation of Scripture throughout the centuries to give this new and insightful version of these books. I would recommend any of his books for those interested in Bible study at a higher level. If you want to start, the first book you could read by this author is the Art of Biblical Narrative. I hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Mt. St. Francis, IN - Mesilla Park, NM - El Paso, TX - San Antonio, TX - Rome

June 12, 2017 Peace and Good, I have now returned for a whirlwind trip to the States. It began with my attendance at the funeral of one of our friars, Juniper Cummings. He was 92 years old, and had been an Assistant General, a Provincial, a Custos in Zambia, etc. His death was the end of an era for his province. I was glad that my travel agent was able to change my ticket and arrange for my travel there. On Saturday after the funeral I flew down to New Mexico to begin my canonical visitation of Our Lady of Consolation. Most of the province is located in the Midwest, but part of it is in the Southwest. There are three friaries scattered through New Mexico and Texas, and I visited them this past week. I will visit the rest of the province in July. I have been at all of these friaries a number of times over the years, so it is like coming home again. One of the friaries is a retreat house (with friars involved in other apostolates living there), one a parish for the Native American and Hispanic people in El Paso, and one a house of formation. The weather was very hot, which got me ready for the heat wave going on in Rome right now. I returned yesterday morning. I am still in the arms of jet lag, but that is pretty much par for the course. I finished some reading: E is for Evidence by Sue Grafton This is the fifth novel about a private detective who is investigating an arson. She is accused of trying to cover up the crime. One of the suspects is murdered by a bomb, and then another is killed in another way. The detective is almost killed twice during the course of the story. Grafton presents a very likeable character in the person of the detective, and the action in her stories is always well done. The Goddess of Small Victories by Yannick Grannec This is a very strange, very good novel about an elderly woman who was born in Vienna before the war. There she met a mathematical genius who suffered from mental illness. The book outlines their lives together as it also tells the story of an archival researcher who is seeking the written records of her deceased husband. The woman is not the easiest person in the world, but a relationship develops which enriches both of them. The History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons This is a Teaching Company course on the history of the supreme court. The course is a set of 36 lectures, talking about judges, what is happening in the country, and the actual cases. The lecturer is an excellent presenter. He shows his prejudice here and there, but he is always clear to identify when that is taking place. This is a very good overview on the topic. Mind vs. Machine by Brian Christian This article speaks about the Turing test, a contest in which a group of people have conversations with real people and with computers which have been programmed with artificial intelligence. They then try to determine who was the real person and who was the computer. The computer programs are reaching the point where it is becoming more and more difficult to figure out which is which. Mount Dragon by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child I have read a few of the books produced by this team of authors. The others were either about a detective living in New York who was originally from New Orleans or a science fiction production. This one is about a genetic engineering project that goes array. These authors have a way of producing a riveting story with moments of genius in their forms of expression. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Rome - Mt. St. Francis, IN

June 1, 2017 Peace and Good, I hope that all of your are well. I spent the last few days in Rome doing some writing projects and getting caught up on paper work. I had intended on being there until this coming Saturday, but one of the friars in Our Lady of Consolation Province passed away and it was important for me to attend his funeral. His name was fr. Juniper Cumminngs, and he died in a nursing home in Minnesota at 92 years of age. He had been an Assistant General, the Provincial of his home province, the Custos of the Custody of St. Francis in Zambia, the Rector of the Seminary for their province, and the rector of the Shrine in Carey, Ohio. He was a kind and generous man, always joyful. I am attending his second funeral here in Mt. St. Francis, IN, just across the river from Louisville. Then, on Saturday, I will fly down to El Paso where I will spending a week doing a visitation of three friaries in that area in preparation for their provincial chapter next year. The trip yesterday was a bit of a jumble. When I got to the airport, the flight that was to take me to the States (Dallas) was already over two hours late. They booked me on another flight through Charlotte, but when I got there, I was three hours late because of thunder storms in the area. That is what happens with summer travel, especially later in the day. I got here, though, and tonight there is a wake service and tomorrow the funeral Mass. I finished some reading: The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the destruction of the cities of Tokyo and Yokohama by earthquake and fire in 1923. The Charles River authors are former MIT students who got together and have produced a series of short topic books. It is almost like a lengthened form of Wikopaedia. Zoo Station by David Downing This is a book about an English reported living in Berlin just before World War II. The end of the book coincides, in fact, with the takeover of the Czech republic by the Nazis. The reporter has a German ex-wife and son, and we hear about the strained relationship with his son was he is more and more nazified. In the meantime, the reporter risks everything to help a Jewish family get out of Germany. The topic reminded me a lot of the books of Alan Furst, one of my favorite authors. A Disposition to be Rich by Geoffrey Ward This is the story of the son of a Presbyterian missionary to India who became an investor on Wall Street. His partner in this enterprise was the son of ex-President Grant. Grant invested in his fund, and lost everything that he had. It turns out that the investor was a bit of a sociopath who created a big Ponzi scheme. He was eventually sent to prison for ten years. The whole time he was there, he played the martyr, blaming everyone but himself. The book is quite good, although the coverage of his parents years in India is longer than it really needed to be. The irony is that the book was written by the great grandson of the investor. The Crypto-Currency by Joshua Davis This is an article that speaks about the invention and use of Bitcoins, a currency that was invented by a computer programmer that does not have any authority, but which is traded and used for commerce throughout the world. Its only value is what it receives in its trades. The author tries unsuccessfully to identify its reclusive inventor. It is an interesting idea, but until some nation actually back up the currency, it is doubtful that it will have a lasting value. Dream Machine by Rivka Galchen This is the story of a theorist in Great Britain who has spoken of the possibility of inventing a quantum computer. Normal computers communicate in a series of choices between yes and no. This one would have a third choice, both yes and no at the same time. That would allow for an incredible number of possibilities to be evaluated at the same time, thus speeding up the process in an incredible manner. Some prototypes at a very primitive level are already being tried. Machiavelli in Context by William Cook This is a teaching company course on the writings of Machiavelli. He is best known for his work, “The Prince.” His name has given rise to the adjective “Machiavellian,” which means unscrupulous, conniving, etc. Yet, Cook shows that while one could question some of his conclusions, Machiavelli was at heart a republican. He places him in the context of his society (16th century Florence) in an Italy that was torn by divisions (especially after the invasion of the French army). Cook also studies Machiavelli’s other writings, including his history of Florence and his discourses upon the writings of Livi. Cook also produced a course on St. Francis, and both of these courses are enlightening. Have a good week Shalom fr. Jude Winkler

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Assisi - Rome

May 22, 2017 Peace and Good, Our meeting in Assisi went very well. When I got home to Rome, I was able to work up a set of minutes for the three day meeting along with a number of different addenda from other side meetings that we had in those days. This last week has been a meeting of our monthly definitory. This time the agenda was not packed, so we actually finished early. Today I have a couple of writing project that I must finish if possible, and tomorrow morning I head out to Padua for a few meetings on various topics. Padua is up in the north, not too far from Venice. It is only a few hours by train. I will meet with the editors of the magazine for which I write (the Messenger of St. Anthony) and then with the heads of the charity organization called Caritas Antoniana to see whether they might be able to help Franciscans International. One of my jobs is to be a liason between various groups to help each of them do its job better. The weather has turned quite warm. We have even had early summer thunderstorms in these days. We have a new guardian in our community: fr. Francesco Celestino. He is from Calabria, the toe of the boot of Italy. He was the custos down there, but their chapter was coming up and his job there would have ended. Our previous guardian was called back by his home province so that he might be the vicar (number two man) there. I have finished some books and articles: History of Hitler’s Empire by Thomas Childers This is a teaching company course (twelve lectures) on the history of the rise and fall of Hitler’s regime. This topic could easily have used double the lectures, for some of the stading lectures seem a bit rushed and enormous amounts of detail are sandwitched into the available space. Nevertheless, the presentations are good and thoughtful. In the Dark of the Night by John Saul This is a horror story in which a doctor collects the implements that mass murderers used to conduct their evil task. He dismantles them so that they will lose their mystic power. After he died, his lake side house is rented out to a family, and their son and his friends begin to reassemble the objects which reacquire their power which results in a series of murders. This is the first time I have read something written by John Saul, and I have to say I liked his style and would read more of his writings. The Bully Pulpit by Doris Dearns Goodwin This is a rather long account of the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft. They started out the best of friends, but ended up running for president against each other in 1912 when Roosevelt bolted from the party and formed a progressive party. They fought against each other, ending in the election of Wilson. The relationship was only healed much later. Ostensively, the title of the book has to do with Roosevelt’s relationship with the press. That is handled well, but it is not really the central topic of the book. Nevertheless, the book is well worth reading. Lonely Vigil: Coast watchers of the Solomons by Walter Lord Lord is famous for writing well-resourced accounts of events such as the sinking of the Titanic or the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk during World War II. This is another World War II account about the coast watchers (Australian, British and American) who resided on islands in the Solomon chain (in which one finds Guadalcanal) and reported to those higher up the movement of ships and planes. This gave timely warning to bases that were about to be bombed or to contingents that might have to defend themselves against enemy troop landings. This was a highly dangerous work, often behind enemy lines. One had to deal with jungle and sometimes hostile local populations (although many of the locals gave heroic assistance to the coast watchers). This is a true story that reads like a spy novel. Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants by John Frederick Walker From ancient times, people have used ivory as a gem, as a material to use for decoration, for worship, etc. Most ivory used has come from the elephant, although some has come from hippo, walrus, etc. This mostly involved the death of the elephant (although in early years much came from elephants that has already died and whose remains lay scattered on the ground. The trade was also long associated with the slave trade, for locals were captured by Arab traders to carry the ivory to the coast where it and they were then sold. This was a horrendous trade that led to the deaths of countless people and elephants. This book tells the story of the use and trade of ivory. It is not a sentimental work but rather is highly practical in its approach (e.g. in dealing with the question of a total ban on ivory trading which has led to unfortunate consequences for the local populations both of people and elephants). Mad Science by Mark McClusky The subject of this article is a man who is using scientific discoveries and apparatus to cook food. This includes vacuum pumps, centrifuges, etc. He has produced a massive cook book of the very best techniques to acquire the absolute best flavor and texture for meals. The problem is that the techniques are often long and difficult, and other than a few enthusiasts, the cook book will probably only be used by a few. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World by Ken Alibek Ken Alibek, the author of this account, was a chief scientist in the bioweapons effort of the old Soviet Union. He describes his and others attempts to weaponize the worst of all bacteria and viruses to be found, including smallpox, tularemia, Ebola, etc. While the Soviet Union constantly denied its existence, this program was extensive and often successful in their efforts. The effort continued into the present days (with Russia taking over the impetus) and it has spread to many other countries (e.g. North Korea, Iraq before the invasion, Iran, etc.) It is frightening in its consequences. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Chicago - Rome - Assisi

May 10, 2017 Peace and Good, I returned to Rome from Chicago on Monday, a week ago. The weather is changing and is quite nice right now. Thursday of this past week I went up to Assisi for a meeting of Franciscans International. I am on the Board of Directors of this organization. It is a lobbying group for all of the Franciscan families at the United Nations. They have offices in Geneva and New York. They do a lot of work fighting for human rights and for peace and against poverty. Every time I go to Assisi, it is like going home again. It is a beautiful town, and I would recommend that if anyone is coming to Italy, that person include it on his/her list of must sees. I often tell people that one could be lost in the allies of Assisi for five hours and never be afraid. I returned from Assisi yesterday and will be here in Rome until the beginning of June. Next week we have our definitory, and then I have a week with nothing scheduled. I will be able to catch up on some of my paperwork, with reports, daily reflections, and magazine articles. I finished some books: Without Mercy by Jack Higgins This is an account of the British secret department that battles the enemies of democracy with British, ex-IRA and American forces. In this volume of the series, the team battles an attempt by Putin in Russia to gain control of an oil empire by having an impersonator take the place of an assassinated oligarch. A sub-plot is the attempt of the Russian team to kill the members of this team who has foiled their plots in the past. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander This is the account of a near death experience by a neuro-surgeon who had a massive bacterial infection that stopped his brain activity for a week. He had always been a skeptic before when his own patients had recounted these types of events, but following his, he investigated reports of other near death experiences and found a remarkable similarity to what he experienced. He feels that this had to be real for there was absolutely no brain activity during his illness. The fact that he awoke from it after a week and that his memory and facilities returned slowly is a miracle in itself for people who are in a coma for that amount of time always suffer massive brain damage, which he did not. It is a good account which makes one think. Test-Tube Burgers by Michael Specter What if we could produce meat which did not come directly from animals. This article examines the attempt to find a technique to produce meat protein at a level that could eliminate much of the raising of animals (and their often cruel slaughter) by growing meat in the test tube. Right now this technique, while possible, is outrageously expensive. But with further research, it might be possible to do. One has to ask whether this technique, though, will ever reach the point in the near future that it will be used extensively. The Assassins by Alan Bardos This is the story of a young Englishman who is brash and is having an affair with his boss. The boss finds out and exiles him to a back waters – the Austro-Hungarian Empire just before the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. He ends up spying upon the assassins and almost saves the Archduke. This is very much written in the style of a number of spy and adventure novels written around 1900. The coincidences and the incredible talent (linguistic) of the Englishman are not believable. It is not a bad read, but not all that serious either. The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece, from Utopia to Crisis and Collapse by Paul Cartledge This is the history of the marshal race in southern Greece which managed to stop or slow down the Persians at the pass in Thermopylae and who eventually defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian War. They lived a life of preparation for war, treating their neighbors as slaves who had no rights, even that of life (for one of the things a young Spartan would do was to blood himself by going out and killing one of the so-called Helots at his whim. Cartledge gives the positive aspects of their culture (e.g. being ruled by two kings who balanced each other) and their negative. The City Solution by Robert Kunzig We usually think of urban planning as getting as much green and recreation space within the city. We view life in the countryside as more positive than that in the city (less crime, cleaner air, more space, etc. The author of this study challenges these assumptions. He speaks of the advantages of living in close proximity to the communication of ideas, commerce, using less energy for less travel is required to arrive here or there, the greater use of mass transit. It gives an interesting perspective. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Ellicott City - Chicago

April 27, 2017 This past week I finished off all of my doctors and dentist visits. All went well, so I am ready for another 50,000 miles. I always tell people that these are my 50,000 mile check ups, and unfortunately that is not all that far off the mark. On Sunday I travelled to Chicago to give a week workshop on the Letters of St. Paul to our postulants. This is the site for all of the men who are first entering our community. At the end of the program, if all goes well, they will enter novitiate which is also a year long program (held in Arroyo Grande, CA). At the end of that, they take their vows for a period of three years, etc. There are now 13 postulants, and they are a good group of men. We are covering one letter a day, and they have a million questions which I always like. I find I learn so much when I try to answer the questions, or at least have to research a bit to find an answer. I have also visited one of our Croatian friars who has been working in the diocese of Gary, IN. His name is Stefan, and I taught him many years ago in Rensselaer, NY. It was good to see him again. This stay is giving me the opportunity to catch up with a number of friars in the area. I finished some reading: Crowley, Roger Empires of the Sea by Roger Crowley This is a history of the interaction between the Christian world and the Ottoman Empire and its vassals in the Mediterranean during the 16th century. This includes the siege of Malta (which ended in a withdrawal by the Muslims) and the sea battle of Lepanto (which ended in a spectacular victory by the Christian forces which blunted the sea power of the Muslims and gave the rest of Europe breathing room to prepare their defense against the Muslim conquerors. The book is well written and actually exciting to read. The Writings of Francis of Assisi: Rules, Testament and Admonitions by Michael Blastic, Jay Hammond and Wayne Hellman This is a critical study of some of the writings of St. Francis. Our preparation for the writings of Francis was very poor when I was going through formation, and most of what I now know I have picked up along the way. This book uses many of the same techniques that I use in Bible study to examine the writings of Francis and what they meant to him and the friars reading them at his time. Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography by Kathryn Spink I read this book in conjunction with the canonization of Mother Theresa. It is a well written account of the saint. The author tends to defend her positions, but is honest enough to admit that toward the end Mother suffered from the ravages of old age and some of her decisions might have been impetuous and poorly thought out. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to read about the heroic choice that Mother made initially in adopting this form of life, and how she lived it to the best of her ability right to the end. Ill Wind by David Kirby When we think about air pollution, we are usually thinking of factories and cars in the United States that occasionally produce the smog that troubles many of our cities. This author speaks of studies done to determine how much pollutions (especially toxic chemicals such as lead) come from the smoke stacks of China which is industrializing all the more. The scientists have found ways to measure it and to track the patterns that it travels around the world. The Chinese government is not always helpful in this analysis, but by taking wind samples from high altitudes (either mountains or planes) one can get a good read of what is really happening, and it is not comforting. The Second World War by Antony Beevoir Antony Beevor is a good English military historian. I have read a number of his books. This is a long overview of World War II. Most of it is from a European perspective, especially English at times. Nevertheless, it is a very good book, well worth the time and effort which such a long book requires. Hitlerland by Andrew Nagorski This is not the first book that I have read that was written by Nagorski. I previously read a book written by him on Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. This book is a collection of the remembrances of American citizens who lived in Germany during the years in which Hitler came to power up to the expulsion of Americans when Germany declared war on the United States in 1941. It is a fascinating account of how diplomats and journalists tried to come to grips with what was happening. They almost all considered some of the things that Hitler did to be helpful (full employment, a stable economy), but as they came to discover the dark side of what he was doing, they came to hate and even loath him. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, April 14, 2017

Rome - Ellicott City

April 14, 2017 Peace and Good, We finished our definitory meeting a day early in Rome, on Friday instead of Saturday. This was very good given that the past couple of meetings have been packed with things that took forever to resolve. Sunday I flew into Baltimore and have been in Ellicott City this week. I am here for medical check ups and a couple of small procedures. This happens when you reach a certain age. I tell people that you can tell the age of a tree by counting its rings, you can tell the age of a person by counting the medical referrals that the person receives at the annual check up. Doing all the travel I do, I was shocked by the incident on the United flight. I just don't see how the companies cannot guarantee that one can fly when one has made a reservation and paid for a ticket. That would be comparable to showing up at a hotel and being told that the reservation would not be honored. Something has to be done with all of this. Furthermore, I have experienced myself the indifference of United agents to the needs of their customers. I will fly up to Buffalo on Sunday to visit family for a couple of days, and then back to Baltimore to finish up the check ups. I finished some books: War, Peace and Power: Diplomatic History of Europe, 1500-2000 by Vejas Liulevicius This is a Teaching Company course on the various initiatives on diplomacy on the European continent from the time of the Tudors and Medicis up to the present days. The professor is well verse and eloquent. With a course this long, one really only touches the various eras quickly, but this serves as a good overview course on this topic. Father’s Day by Michael Connelly This is a Harry Bosch story about the death of a small child in an overheated car. Was it an accident or was the child left in the car on purpose. It is complicated by the fact that both parents are driven real estate salespersons, and by the fact that the child suffered from some mental defect. Harry is able to sort out the truth from the lies, especially relying on natural tells in the way a person says something (body language that gives away whether a person is lying or not). 1775: A Good Year for Revolution by Kevin Phillips This is a truly exhaustive study of the year 1775 and, as the author explains over and over again, how it was more important to the revolution than 1776. He gives a mountain of details on religious movements, agriculture, trade, politics, slavery and indentured servants, etc. It is a monumental study which leaves one with a wealth of information, possibly more than one ever wanted. Nevertheless, it does not really bog down in the details. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in this period. Crush Point by John Seabrook This is a scientific study on the science of crowd control. The author speaks of various disasters in religious processions (Mecca, India, etc.), at rock concerts and even in the Black Friday sales at Walmart. He speaks of various actions that can be taken by the authorities to minimize the danger to those in the crowd. The Brain on Trial by David Eagleman This is a scientific analysis of how brain chemistry and structure can affect the conduct of people. It asks the question of whether it is right to put people in prison for something that was beyond their control. It gives some very good examples. The author is not against letting the people who have offended run loose on the streets. He favors treatment (medicine, compulse control exercises) so that the person then becomes responsible for his/her actions. Winning by Alafair Burke This is the story of a woman detective who had been impersonating a prostitute to lure men so that they might be arrested for soliciting. She is kidnapped by one who rapes her. She overpowers him and has him arrested, but he is set free on bail. Her husband is crushed by what has happened and murders the man. The rest of the story is how the detective places the blame on herself, knowing that the courts would sympathize with her and let her off lightly. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude