Friday, December 23, 2016

Rome - Geneva - Rome

December 23, 2016 Peace and Good, I have been in Rome for these past couple of weeks for our definitory meeting. The meeting in December always seems to go on forever, and this year was no exception. It seems as if things develop over the fall, and they have to be decided before the end of the year. The meeting went well, but it was very, very long. As I have written before, every time one of us takes a trip, we give a report on it - so the discussion involves all of the situations all over the world. On Wednesday I took a quick trip up to Geneva to help write several documents for Franciscans International. In theory, this could probably have done by e mail or by skype, but I always find it best to do it face to face when that is possible. I have the notes now on what has to be in the documents, and I will be working on them over the next few weeks. It should not take all that long. I will be here in Rome until Sunday. That evening I fly out to London where I will overnight. (It is a frequent flyer ticket, so you have to take the connections they give you.) I will fly into Baltimore on Monday and will be in the States until January 5th. I have finished some books: How to Hatch a Dinosaur by Thomas Hayden This is a science essay which talks about the attempt of scientists to reverse engineer the chicken to develop more of its dinosaur characteristics. Very often the DNA necessary for various traits is still present, but it is being controlled by various stopper DNA which short circuits the ability of the organism to develop in a certain way (e.g. growing teeth). The scientists plan to cancel the effect of that blocker DNA to see how much like a dinosaur they can make the offspring of chickens. Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World by Thomas Evan This is basically a presentation of President Eisenhower’s years as a president. These were not easy years for Ike who much more preferred his status as a war hero. Yet, he managed to guide the US through some very difficult years, especially in regards to its atomic policies. Ike was an ardent card player, and he knew how to bluff. He would constantly talk tough (or use one of his underlings to play tough cop to his nice cop). Yet, he never revealed whether he would actually use nuclear arms. There are indications that he knew what a worldwide disaster their use would have been, but he allowed for their continued development (although he limited their growth which was being proposed by some rather paranoid members of the military and his advisors). This book also nicely covers the development of the U2 and its use and its being shot down. This is a very nice, fair portrait of President Eisenhower. Made in China by Tony Perrottet This is a travel essay on the attempt of various Chinese entrepreneurs to develop an industry of fine food and wine in China. The Chinese have managed to establish wineries and make wines that are capable of winning international honors. They are making fine cheeses (even though most of the Chinese population is lactose intolerant) and caviar. Many of their products are not yet accepted by connoisseurs, but they are slowly being embraced by both the Chinese and even outsiders. The Girl from Krakow by Alex Rosenberg This is the story of a young woman from Krakow who is Jewish. She studies law just before World War II. Even then, she suffers prejudice for being Jewish, but then when the Nazis arrive it becomes much, much worse. She is married and has a child, but things go very wrong. She also has an affair with another man and a woman. The tale is twisted and at times improbable. The gentile characters are often demonized a bit too much. I didn’t especially like this book. Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist by Br. Guy Consolmagno This is the story of an astronomer who works at the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gondolfo. He speaks of his vocation to the Jesuits and his choice to work at the Vatican. He strongly argues that the Church does not oppose science, but that faith and science each have their own territory. Nevertheless, science can lead one to faith, and God wanted us to discover this world as an act of praise to Him as creator. He speaks of his work with meteorites and especially the discovery of the source of many of them. He closes with his work on a sabbatical in Antarctica with others to find meteorites in the ice down there. The Long, Curious, Extravagant Evolution of Feathers by Carl Zimmer This essay speaks about the question of how feathers evolved. There are certain bud tissues that give rise to skin at times, and protrusions on the skin such as scales at times. Scientists ask whether they might be the source of feathers. Furthermore, Chinese archaeologists have discovered dinosaurs that seem to be covered by pin feathers, even though they do not seem to have been able to fly. Could that be a major clue as to how feathers evolved? Merry Christmas fr. Jude

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

London - Mesilla Park - Rome

December 6, 2016 The Memorial of St. Nicholas Peace and Good, This past week I travelled back across the Atlantic to attend a meeting of the three definitories (councils) of the three provinces in the Mid-West and California. I was just an interested spectator at this meeting as the friars spoke about how they could collaborate in their ministries and other activities. There was a very good spirit at the meeting which was the first of what we hope will be a continuous dialogue. The three definitories then met individually, and I was able to attend a part of each of the meetings for different reasons. The meetings took place at Mesilla Park, New Mexico. This is about a half hour west of El Paso, and we have a very nice retreat house there where the friars are always incredibly hospitable. Friday I flew back to Europe, arriving on Saturday, two days before my luggage. It actually arrived a couple of hours after me, but the local company that was supposed to deliver it was very remiss in getting it to me. They called three times, morning, afternoon and evening, each time giving an expected arrival time. I will be here in Rome now until Christmas day (with a probably two day trip up to Geneva to take care of some business). This is a good chance to catch up with my jet lag. I finished some books: Berlin Nights by Nick Paumgarten This is a troubling travel article on a visit to the night life in what used to be East Berlin. It gives the word decadence a new meaning. The music heard at the clubs visited is mostly techno rock, but it is not the music that attracts the crowds that visit the clubs. It is sex and drugs and drink, etc. It speaks of a society that has lost all sense of its values and lives to be entertained (but in a sad, confused manner). The Sages by Charles Morris This is an account of three famous financiers: George Soros, Warren Buffett and Paul Voelker. The first two were investors and the last was the head of the FED during a period of inflation which his policies gradually broke. Soros is famous for his international investments which include currency trading (and possibly manipulation) while Buffett is famous for investing in companies which he trusts (and his tendency to treat the companies with respect and not use them for his own profit). The book gives a short biography of each figure and an overview of his financial strategies. It is quite informative. Big Russ and Me by Tim Russert This is a bit of a biography of the father of Tim Russert, big Russ, who taught Tim Russert many of the values that led him to be a tremendous success on the Sunday morning press interview programs. Russert was known as a fundamentally decent man who was always well prepared for his interviews. He would ask the tough questions, but in a respectful way. An added plus to this book is that he is from Buffalo, my home town. He referred to many of the places and foods which I knew growing up. This is a warm and wise presentation. Tabula Rasa by Ruth Downie This is a volume in the Medicus series. They speak about a doctor in one of the Roman legions who is stationed in Britain and is married to a native Britain named Tillie. They are called upon to investigate various mysteries. In this case, one of the doctor’s assistants disappears. In the meantime, a British child sees someone burying a person in the construction project that would become Hadrian’s Wall in northern Britain. Finally, a native child disappears and the locals blame the Romans for the kidnapping. The action is well written, the dialog quite good, and the Medicus and his wife are likeable. I recommend this series of anyone who wants to get a sense of life in the Roman legions. The Peanut Puzzle by Jerome Groopman This is a study of the cause of food allergies in small children. The common wisdom had been that it was better not to expose very small children to possibly allergic elements (milk, peanuts, etc.) until the child has developed his/her immunity at around six months old. Now the current seems to be heading in the opposite direction – that it is better that the child be exposed early so that the child might develop a normal reaction to these allergens. Furthermore, studies have been conducted on how to desensitize children who are allergic. Scientists have found that eating cooked foods that have the allergens tends to change the form of the allergens sufficiently that the child might not have a reaction. Then, if the child continues to eat those cooked allergens, that child might very well develop the ability to digest normally even uncooked forms of the same allergen. Our Body the ecosystem by Virginia Hughes This is an essay which concerns experiments done on the bacteria that grow upon the skin of people with asthma and eczema. They are trying to figure out whether the make-up of those suffering more or less matches that of those who do not. Furthermore, they want to know if the make-up changes when someone is about to suffer from an attack of the disease. They do this all by taking small tissue samples and checking for a particular gene marker on the DNA to see which bacteria are present. Hope you have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude