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.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Chicago - Ellicott City

November 11, 2020 Peace and good, I am sorry that I have not written for a while, but I forgot to check in. These past two weeks I was in Chicago for a series of meetings. The first week was a zoom meeting with the General Definitory. This was a bit difficult because we had participants from Korea to Italy to the US. I was getting up to turn on the computer at 4 am, while the friar in Korea was going until 3 am his time. Zoom meetings are good, but they are exhausting. We found that you can really only go for about 2 hours before you have to take a break. Then, the second week, we had a zoom meeting with the major superiors of our federation (Australia, US, Canada and Great Britian/Ireland). The meeting went very well. One of the things that we are doing in launching an office to handle requests for assistance in our missions. Up to now, we have been able to get money for social projects, but we also need formation houses, education costs, etc. The friar in charge, fr. Valerio Folli, is a gem. He is from northern Italy, and has worked with a similar project in his own province for years. I was also able to film a series of blogs for our website on the concept of peacce in the Bible. Eacch is only a couple of minutes long, and I was able to finish about 35. I am now in Ellicott City. The past couple of days I have had a couple of small medical procedures - preparation for a dental crown (which fell off due to a Korean gummy bear) and a bit of skin cancer removed (Basil cell). I will head back to Rome a week from Saturday. That, of course, is if they still let people enter Italy. It seems that the rules change every five minutes. I have not had a flight in the past eight months that was not rescheduled or cancelled. I finished some reading: Earth’s Changing Climate by Richard Wolfson This is a series of lectures from the Teaching Company that looks at the phenomenon of global warming from a very scientific background (without getting into politics as much as possible). Wolfson gives the data, explains how the data does not produce an exact picture but rather does foreshadow certain strong possibilities, and outlines various projections as to what awaits the world if action is taken to lower Carbon Dioxide emissions (and other greenhouse gases) and what awaits if we do not. Albert Einstein by Walter Isaacson This is the second book by Isaacson that I have read. The first was a biography of Leonardo da Vinci. Both books were excellent. In this book he deals with very esoteric scientific concepts, but he does so in a way that shows both he understands what they mean and in a way that helps the reader to understand. Einstein comes across as a complex figure who was a pacifist until the Nazi horror forced him to recognize the need to resist, a pacifist who nevertheless urged President Roosevelt to investigate nuclear fission as a weapon, etc. His family life was not always ideal, especially with his first wife. Yet, he does come across as a dreamy but also fundamentally humble character. Books that Matter: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire written by Edward Gibbons by Leo Damrosch This is one of the Teaching Company Courses. The professor gives a good overview of the various topics covered by Edward Gibbons in his masterpiece of the late 18th century, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Damrosch readily evidences the prejudices of Gibbons, but also complements him highly on his incredible research and arrangement of scattered information to give a logical timeline and a learned evaluation of causes and effects in the process. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell This is a book in a collection of significant books to read which is available on Kindle. I would have never read it, but it was the next in line. The author is writing about the difficulties of being poor in the midst of the industrial revolution in the manufacturing cities of England during the 19th century. The poor struggle to survive, while the captains of industry try to protect their privilege even at the cost of oppressing the poor. The book gives a sense of the religious faith of the people, heavily influenced by the Methodist movement. The action is a bit melodramatic, the style of the day in which the book was written. It was good, though, to go through a book of this period. Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic by Jill Jonnes This is the story of how the Pennsylvania Railroad managed to dig tunnels under the various waterways surrounding New York and build Penn Station at the turn of the 20th century. They were up against numerous physical problems, as well as political problems (for the Tammany was still very strong in New York City at this time). The account gives a good picture of those involved in the process, especially of the always honest and trustworthy president of the Penn Railroad, Alexander Cassatt, the brother of the famous artist Mary Cassatt. King George VI by Hourly History This is a short, well written biography of King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth. There is nothing shocking in the account. The low point in the abdication of his brother in order to marry the woman he loved. The high point is how George, who was never the most outstanding figure, stepped up to the bat to help lead Great Britain during World War II. A Tour of the Cell by OpenLearn This is a short treatment of the various elements and mechanisms of the cell (whether plant or animal). The course tends to be highly technical, so this course should not be considered for the casual reader. It would serve most for someone who was studying for an exam on cytology in medical school. Seeds of Hope by Jane Goodall The author of this book is the famous Jane Goodall who lived with chimps in Eastern Africa for so many years and produced important studies on their behavior. This book deals with the importance of plants (in a number of different dimensions). It speaks of the value of surrounding oneself with plants, of deforestation, of attempts at reforestation, of genetically modified plants, of industrial farming, etc. It is quite good, but at times a bit strident and pedantic. Keep Safe. fr. Jude

Friday, October 23, 2020

London

October 23, 2020 Peace and Good, I am still in London. I did my two weeks of quarantine, and now I am allowed to leave the house. I take my daily walk along the shore of the Thames (on the south side of the river, not all that far from the ferris wheel called the Eye. It is strange, however, with many people wearing masks and everyone trying to avoid close contact. Coved has gotten worse in the UK in these days, especially in the western cities of Liverpool and Manchester. They are classified at the 3rd level of isolation, while London is only at the 2nd level. The weather has been horrible with it raining almost every day. I like to walk in this city, but between covid and the weather, I have not done too much outside. I have had a great opportunity to do some writing work. I have finished editing my meditation book on Franciscan Spirituality, and today I will finish the first draft on my new children's Bible. I leave tomorrow for Chicago where I will be for a couple of weeks. I have finished some reading: Pompei by Robert Harris This is one of many books by Robert Harris that I have read. It deals with the explosion of Mount Vesuvius toward the end of the first century AD. The hero of the story is an acquarius, a man responsible for the care and maintenance of the aqueduct that brings water into this part of Italy. The action is very well written, and the characters are memorable, as in all of Harris’ books. Death at Beggar’s Opera by Deryn Lake This is one of a series of books written about an apothecary working in London named John Rawlings during the 18th century. He works part time as a detective for a magistrate famous for his crime solving ability nicknamed the Blind Beak. The action takes place in a privileged society and is filled with attitudes which are better read within their historic context. The morality of that particular era, at least among the privileged class, seems loose at best. Yet, the book comes together well and was a pleasant read. The Battle of Berlin by Hourly History This is a short outline of the warfare that led up to the fall of Berlin during World War II and some of the episodes during the fall itself. It does not give anything new, but it is a good review of the topic. Winter Moon by Dean Koontz This is a science fiction story of how a family who flees the violence and insanity in Los Angeles (especially since the father is an injured police officer who lost two of his partners in the past couple of years). They end up in Montana where they come into contact with a horrible extra-terrestrial monster which threatens humanity. The story is well told. The Young Turks by Charles River Editors This is a short history of the movement that moved the Ottoman empire from being an inward looking, dying entity to the modern state of Turkey. It did not occur easily, and there were many twists and turns along the way. It was finally Ataturk who was able to suppress the Caliphate and to create a single culture (by suppressing many of the minorities) in today’s Turkey. Augustus by John Williams This is one of the books which I purchased from Chirp Books. It is a discount outfit which allows one to listen to books (but not download them). This biography is written in the form of a series of letters and memorials on the various topics. A lot of attention is given to Augustus’ relationship with his daughter Julia whom he had exiled because of her adulterous conduct. The book proposes that this was an attempt to save her life from Augustus’ successor (and her husband) who would have had her killed. The book is well done. Must History Repeat Itself: the Great Conflicts of this Century by Joseph Nye This series from the Teaching Company studies the great conflicts of the 20th century and gives insights into how to respond to the situation in which we find ourselves today. It is one of the older series for it deals with the fall of Communism but does not deal with the rise of militant Islam and terrorism throughout the world. Keep safe. fr. Jude

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

London

October 13, 2020 Peace and Good, I have begun my second week of quarantine in London. I am staying at our friary not to far away from Waterloo Station. Here is Great Britain, the quarantine means that you cannot leave your house. For the first six days, that meant to stay mostly in my room and avoid the other friars when I went down to eat. Fortunately, there is a nice roof on which I can do my daily walk. Corona has spiked again here, but especially in the north of the country. The Prime Minister has established a three tier system according to how much danger there is, and each tier has a different level of restrictions. I have been editing my Franciscan meditation book. 2/3's of it is done, and I am awaiting the proofs of the last third in the next couple of weeks. The weather here has been atrocious. It has been raining almost every day. I will finish my quarantine this coming Saturday, and then I have a series of meetings. I will be leaving London for Chicago on the 24th. I have finished some reading: Archaeology: An Introduction to the World’s Greatest Sites by Eric Cline This is an excellent and entertaining series of courses from the Teaching Company. It deals with archaeological techniques and finds throughout the East and West (centering on the ancient civilizations of the Mid-East). The professor who gave this presentation has a witty and funny style that makes series a joy to hear. Mysterious Polynesia: the Myths, Legends and Mysteries of the Polynesians by Charles River Editors This is a short book about the various myths among the Polynesian people. The book spends quite a bit of time talking about the stone monuments found at Easter Island – why they were constructed, how, etc. While the myths of the Polynesians are often similar throughout the range of their settlement, one nevertheless finds quite a bit of individual content in each band of islands upon which they are found. Pearl Harbor: Hinge of War by Richard Freeman This is a short overview of what led up to and what happened on December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor. The book is not intended to be all inclusive, but does give a good synopsis of the situation. Postwar by Tony Judt This is an extensive treatment of Europe in the aftermath of World War II up to the present days. I deals with the period of reconstruction in the immediate aftermath of the war, and then with the various movements that swept across Europe (both West and East), including labor agitation, industrialization, the failure of the soviet system, terrorism, etc.). The book is well written, and a source of an enormous amount of information, but its length requires a real commitment. The Battle of Tarawa by Hourly History This invasion of the small Pacific island during the early days of World War II by the marines was one of the bloodiest battles fought during the war. The island was small, but the Japanese were well prepared, and the US forces had not yet learned many important lessons about amphibious warfare that they were to learn and incorporate into the plans after this battle. Emperor Hirohito by Hourly History This is a short biography of Emperor Hirohito of Japan, especially in the years leading up to his reign and his role during World War II. The book, in fact, all but ignores what he did following the war, even though he continued to reign for another thirty years. It asks the question of whether he should have been indicted as a war criminal, given his acquiescence to many of the things his army and navy did during the war. Two Graves by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child This is another of the Preston and Child books that I have read. I like the series very much. This involves FBI investigator Pendergast and the death of this wife by the hands of a group of renascent Nazi’s who have set up a secret human breeding program in Brazil. Some of the action is a bit more fantastic than the other volumes in the series, and I could say that this is not my favorite of their books, but even so it is good enough to recommend. Have a safe week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, October 5, 2020

Chicago - London

October 5, 2020 Peace and Good, This past week I have participated in a provincial assembly in Chicago for the St.Bonaventure Province. The meeting went well. Originally it was to be a provincial chapter, but they could not guarantee a quorum because this province is in charge of the delegation in Australia and the borders there are closed. There was a very fraternal discussion, and a couple of decisions were made which were painful but necessary. The flight to London was good, although again there were not more than 1/6th of the seats filled. The border control was very easy. I had to fill out a long form on the internet before I flew, but at the passport control it did not take more than 30 seconds. I will be quaranteened for the next two weeks in our friary near Waterloo Station. The friars here have already shown great hospitality. I am trying to stay in my room most of the time because a couple of the friars here are hospital chaplains. I would hate to give them the virus. I have to stay in my room for the first week, and in the house for the week after that. The weather here is pretty much what one would expect: cloudy and rainy. I finished the following reading: All that Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality, and Solving Crimes by Sue Black This is the story of the life and work of a forensic pathologist. She speaks of the necessity of autopsies, both for the person involved and for the teaching of medical students. She deals with her work in crime cases, as well as in cases of crimes against humanity such as the massacres in Kosovo. She does not speak much about the afterlife, for she seems to be a skeptic in that, but she does speak about the need to respect the dignity of life and even of the dead. Deep Down by Lee Child This is a short Jack Reacher novella. He is presented as a type of macho, secret agent who is sent to investigate the leaking of secret munitions data to industrial spies during a Congressional hearing. It turns out that the mole is actually a secret Soviet agent who was gathering information on gun specifications to intuit Pentagon warfare plans. The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church – The Story of John XXIII and Vatican II by Greg Tobin This is a short, but finely written biography of Pope John XXIII, especially centering on his papacy. We see John as a traditionalist in many ways, but also someone who was so pastoral and so open to the movements of the Spirit that he was able to call the Second Vatican Council and steer it in the right direction. Firestorm by Marshall De Bruhl This is an overview of the air warfare fought by Britain and American against Germany, concentrating especially in the firebombing of the beautiful city of Dresden toward the end of the war. There has been a lot of judgment cast upon that decision, but De Bruhl tries to explain how the reasons for doing the bombing were actually more complicated than often notices (e.g. the specific request by the Soviets to destroy marshalling yards for railroads to prevent reinforcement of Nazi troops at the front, and the fact that Dresden was one of the major marshalling yards). Yet, the terror of the event leaves one breathless. King Henry VII by Hourly History This is a short biography of the founder of the Tudor dynasty. He was an unlikely heir to the throne, but he managed to invade England and defeat Richard III. There is a huge debate over whether Richard III was really as bad as he is sometimes portrayed to be, for most of what was written about him was written by authors working in the Tudor era, so naturally their portrait of him come out negative. Henry is portrayed as a good ruler and a tightwad (whose accumulated treasures were then squandered by his spendthrift son, Henry VIII). The Dissolution of Czechoslovakia by Charles River Editors This short book deals with the creation of the state of Czechoslovakia, its difficulties with the Nazis, its time under the soviet system, and its regaining of freedom which led to the dissolution of the state into the Czech republic and Slovakia. King Darius the Great by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of the great emperor of Persia who managed to extend the boundaries of the empire to its widest extent. His one failure was his invasion of Greece when his troops were turned back at the Battle of Marathon. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, September 25, 2020

Chicago

September 25, 2020 Peace and Good, I arrived in Chicago this past Sunday. I flew from Rome to London, and then from London to Chicago. I was a bit worried about the connection in London, but I should not have been concerned. So few people are travelling that there was no problem making my way through the airport. The flight from London to Chicago could not have been more than 1/10th full. I fully understand why the airlines are asking for help. The flight from Rome to London was the only BA flight that day. Usually there are four or five flights a day. The weather here is wonderful. It is warm, but not super hot. One of the friars here is working on a series of podcasts for our vocation office. I did a who bunch of podcasts on peace (especially from the Bible) for him. What is good is that it can be difficult to get friars to do things on time, so he will not have a stockpile of possible podcasts (only between 2 and 3 minutes each) to use when needed. I always enjoy doing projects like that. Tomorrow morning I will write an article for one of the province's newsletters. I have come here for a province assembly which will be held this coming week. Then on Friday I will fly over to London for some meetings. I have finished some reading: Roosevelt by Edwin Grosvenor This is a series of essays by scholars and others on FDR, especially speaking about his role as president and commander in chief during the dual crisis of the Great Depression and World War II. The essays vary in value depending on the particular topic and the talent of the individual author. Nevertheless, some of the topics treated are valuable. Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin This is an extensive collection of short essays on topics of Jewish history and culture prepared by Rabbi Talushkin (this being the second book by this author which I have read). The information was collected to serve as a type of adult education for Jewish people who did not know enough about their faith. The book contains a ton of good information, and is well presented and documented. Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile This is the story of how a representative from a rural district in Texas who was addicted to womanizing and drink and who nevertheless plays a crucial role in the financing of the Mujahidin rebellion in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. The author is very honest in his appraisal of both Charlie Wilson and the CIA during this time. The story is very, very good, and it leaves one wondering at the eventual unintended consequences of actions taken (e.g. the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of Islamic terrorism, etc.). Colossus by Michael Hitzik This is the story of the construction of the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. It was begun at the beginning of the Great Depression. The project was so great that the only ones who could build it was a consortium of six construction companies. While the book praises the organizational ability of those who built the dam, it also deals extensively in the poor treatment of the workers, including the dangerous conditions in which the workers were forced to do their work. The Return of George Washington: Uniting the States 1983-1789 by Edward Larson This book deals with the period after the resignation of Washington as General in Chief of the US forces and his eventual assumption of the presidency of the republic after the ratification of the Constitution. It deals especially with Washington’s role in the production and acceptance of the constitution, which was far from a given considering the opposition of many to a more centralized form of government. Ndrangheta by Charles River Editors This is an outline of the formation and history of the Mafia which grew up in the southern Italian region of Calabria. It is one of the less known groups, and thus it was able to grow in importance and wealth in an almost stealth manner. Al Capone by Hourly History This short book gives an account of the life and career of the famous Chicago mobster. He made his money especially on illegal alcohol during the prohibition, but that did not stop him from getting into all sorts of other illegal activities. He was imprisoned for income tax evasion, and eventually ended up in Alcatraz. He was released in poor health because of his advanced case of syphilis, and died all but lost in dementia. Have a good week. Stay safe. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, September 18, 2020

Cortina

September 18, 2020 The Feast of St. Joseph of Cupertino Peace and Good, We have been in the north of Italy, in a valley in the Dolomites, all this week. We have tried to balance work (our definitories) with time in the country. This area is incredibly beautiful. We are surrounded by medium size mountains. The weather here has been magnificent, compared to Rome where we hear there is a heat wave. Tomorrow we head back to Rome, and then on Sunday I head out to Chicago for a province assembly. I have finished some reading: Patrick Henry by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of the famous author of the saying, “Give me liberty or give me death,” a line that he probably stole from another author. It follows his career, coming out of nowhere to become a patriot of the first order. It also deals shortly with his opposition to the constitution of our country, for he felt that it produced a government that was too centralized and too powerful. Interestingly enough, he fought against the proposal of a couple of states that would have allowed them to negate federal laws whenever individual states did not agree with them. The Han Dynasty by Charles River Editors This is one of the short books on a particular topic by Charles River. Unfortunately, this one is packed with so much detail about the intrigues of various emperors and their courts that is all but unintelligible except for an expert on the topic. Carl von Clausewitz by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of the famous author of a course book on how to wage warfare (compiled by Carl and then edited and published by his faithful wife). While he was never in charge of great numbers of troops, he studied the various aspects of fighting and produced a work that is still considered a classic on the topic. The Tree of Life by Roland Murphy This is a very good overview of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament. It is a book that I intend to read over and over again every couple of years, for it was packed with good information about the books themselves and also other wisdom literature from ancient Mideastern cultures. Soapy Smith by Charles River Editors This is a short account of a flim flam man in the West. His career was mainly in the mining towns of the West, such as Denver and Skagway, Alaska where he met his end. He set up an entire gang which controlled the towns in which he dwelt. Wilberforce by OpenLearn This is a short account of the career of Wilberforce, the great hero of the battle against the slave trade in Great Britain. The course centers on his initiative to purify the morals of the country. He wrote a compendium of the spiritual life from a Methodist point of view in order to address the lack of religiosity that he found in society. The Fall of Saigon by Charles River Editors This is an account of the final battle of the Vietnam between the forces of the North and those of the dying republic in the South. It goes into great detail, more than I would have wished to read. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude