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