Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Ellicott City

August 23, 2022 Peace and Good, I have been in the area of Ellicott City for the past 10 days. Almost every day has involved a visit to some doctor or dentist. It is hard to get them in when I am on the road almost all the time. I have been having a bit of trouble with my legs, and so I had a few MRI's to see if the doctors could figure things out. They have not found anything serious, but they arestill looking. In the meantime, I have caught up with my daily reflections and have worked on a translation of a document for the Order (a bit over 60 pages) on formation. I finished it this afternoon, and will edit it when I return to Rome. Given that the due date was November, I am happy to have it almost finished. I will be heading back to Rome tomorrow, and then on to London on the 31st. I finished some books: The Ancient Spartan Army by Charles River Editors This is a short account of the birth of Sparta and its army. Unlike most societies which have an army, this, like Prussia, was an army that happened to have a society. The book speaks of how successful the army was in its many wars, but also of the negative dimensions (lack of respect for the individual, the horrible treatment of the Helots, etc. 8 Books That Changed the World by Joseph Luzzi This is a short course on literature that made a significant contribution to society, including the Bible, the Odyssey, the Divine Comedy, The Invisible Man (James Baldwin), etc. The professor is insightful without being esoteric. It was part of a series of short courses (an hour or two), but this gave much more detail and things upon which one could reflect for quite some time. Hitler’s Secret Army by Tim Tate This is the story of those British men and women who supported the Nazi’s during World War II, either by promoting their cause and supporting a peace with Germany, or who actually tried to spy for and assist in other ways the German war effort. The author points out the difficulties of balancing the need to control security but at the same time protect civil rights. He also points out how prejudiced the authorities were in terms of class distinctions, protecting the nobility and punishing severely the lower classes. Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz This is the first of series of books about a man who was trained to be an assassin from his youth (for he was an orphan). The program started as a government agency, but Orphan X broke off and sought to help people in disastrous situations. In this volume, he is attacked by others who were part of the program and it is not clear whether this is a government attempt to clean up the mess or a power grab by one of the former members. How 1954 Changed History by Michael Flamm This is a Teaching Company course sponsored by Audible which speaks of the important events in politics, science, sports, civil rights, etc. which occurred in 1954. The presentation is well done and entertaining. Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen This is the story of the US effort to use Nazi scientists in order to work upon jet airplanes, biological weapons, atomic work, and other projects. There was a sense of urgency after the war because of the dawning of the Cold War, and the fear that if we did not use their expertise, then the Communists would. Yet, this project white washed the highly criminal background of many of the scientists shipped to the States. Probably the most famous of them was Werner Von Braun, who worked upon the space program. Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch This is another contribution to the Rivers of London series which deal with a couple of detectives who work in a semi-secret department which investigates offenses that involve the misuse of magic. The author is brilliant in his presentation, making his hero, Peter Grant, a half white and half African, has a great sense of humor as he slowly learns to use magic in his work. Hitler, God and the Bible by Ray Comfort This is a short book that deals with how Hitler twisted the idea of religion to serve his notorious plans. The first half of the book is a short historic outline of the Third Reich, while the second half deals more specifically with Hitler’s attitude toward the faith, including setting up a false national church in Nazi Germany that would be at his bidding. Unfortunately, because the author is evangelical, he cannot stop himself at taking aim at Catholicism. The Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri This is part of a very clever series on a Sicilian detective who has to solve crime in the face of a bureaucratic government that not only does not help his work, but at times actually fights against him. In this volume, the hero has to solve the murder of a woman who is found nude in a house which she was having built. The entire series is entertaining. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, August 12, 2022

Palermo - Rome - Ellicott City

August 12, 2022 Peace and Good, I truly enjoyed the trip to Palermo. We celebrated the opening of a friary for hte care of older friars. The friars also showed me the beauty of Montreale (the most magnificent presentation of medieval mosaics) and Agrigento (a series of Greek temple ruins) and a few other places. I then flew to Rome and took care of finishing off a series of articles on the prophets that I was writing for one of our magazines in Kenya. Yesterday I flew from Rome to Baltimore through London. The first part of the trip was not bad, but the part from London left around 3 1/2 hours late. This has been the pattern all throughout these past few months. I am back in Ellicott City for a series of doctors' and dentist appointments. I will be flying back to Rome on the 24th. It has been hot, hot, hot wherever I go. Italy has been having a terrible drought, as has France. I finished some books: Ripper: the Secret Life of Walter Sickert by Patricia Cornwell This is a book that outlines Cornwell’s proposal that Jack the Ripper was really an artist named Walter Sickert, an artist who studied under James Whistler. Many of the points are well made, but Cornwell becomes repetitive in attacking the forensic inability of the investigators and her tendency to go from “it could have been” to “it must have been.” Washington’s End by Jonathan Horn This is a book that covers the period of Washington’s life from the end of his second term until the time that he died. It deals with his life at Mt. Vernon, and also about his relationship with President Adams (which was not always the best, given Adams’ tendency toward jealousy). The account is rather well developed and organized. The Reislauffer by Charles River Editors This is the story of the Swiss troops that fought throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance as mercenaries. They were incredibly successful in many of the battles they fought, especially in Italy. There is still a vestige of this group in the Swiss Guard who are the ceremonial guard of the Holy Father. James Moriarty, Consulting Criminal by Andy Weir This is a clever short novel about Moriarty, the archfiend whom Sherlock Holmes fought. Moriarty uses the same deductive techniques as Holmes, but he uses them to further his criminal efforts to become the most powerful criminal in London. Odessa by Charles River Editors This is a short study of the group that is said to be formed after World War II to permit Nazi war criminals to escape from Europe to South America and the Arab world. The author admits that it is not entirely clear that this group actually existed, but given the rather large number of Nazis who escaped, it would appear that they received help from someone. The author also emphasizes how Nazi scientists helped Arabs develop weapons and aircraft to fight against Israel. The Great Mortality by John Kelly This is an excellent treatment of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. The author treats the subject from many different angles. He speaks of the actual plague and what it was (probably a mix of Bubonic and Pneumonic plague. He deals with the literature that was written as a reaction to the event (e.g. that of Boccaccio and Chaucer). He speaks of the anti-Jewish persecution. He deals with the societal effects of the plague. Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Hourly History This is a short account of the life and career of the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a pastor in the Evangelical faith who became a major critic of the Hitler regime. He was eventually executed right before the end of the war. Perhaps his most famous book was the Cost of Discipleship, a treatise which describes how following Jesus is not easy. It requires all one is and has. Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat by John Kovacs This is an account of Churchill and his speeches at the very beginning of his taking over as Prime Minister in Great Britain and the time of its greatest danger. The author, who is an expert in this period of history, gives good insights into what Churchill said and why he said it. He traces the transition of Churchill from being a little appreciated fool to a great leader. The Martian by Andy Weir I thoroughly enjoyed this particular book about an astronaut who is accidentally left on Mars and who finds ways to survive and eventually to be rescued. The science and engineering described is fascinating. In a course I listened to, the premise of the book is off track a bit (if there were a wind storm on Mars, the atmosphere is so weak that it would not tear things apart and cause a part of the apparatus to impale the astronaut. Nevertheless, the book is very good and I am looking forward to reading more of Weir’s writing. Books that Cook: Food and Fiction by Jennifer Cognard-Black This is a Great Courses series of lectures on the treatment of food and its preparation and earing in literature. The professor is good, but possibly a bit too excited by her topic. She also becomes speculative in her interpretation of various scenes in the books and even the films which she describes. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Ellicott City - Palermo

August 2, 2022 Peace and Good, I flew to Sicily this past Sunday for the dedication of a friary for the elderly friars in this province. It is very, very hot here in Palermo. Yesterday, the provincial, fr. Gaspare, took us to a few of the major sites for tourism. The first was the cave site where the patron saint of the city, St. Rosalia, stayed during her career as a hermit. Then, we went to the Cathedral of Montreal. The image of Christ the Pantocrator is famous for it was used in Fellini's scene in Brother Sun, Sister Moon. It is the building with the most extensive use of mosaic in the world. It was truly magnificent. Finally, we visited our church of St. Francis. I did not know that the friars has such a beautiful church here in Palermo. It was great. This evening we have the dedication of the friary. Then tomorrow one of the friars is taking me to the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento (on the southern coast of Sicily). It is one of the best collections of Greek temples in the world (for quite a bit of Sicily was settled by the Greeks in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. On the 5th, I will be flying back to Rome. I finished some reading and listening: Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy I have read a number of Goldsworth’s history books on the Roman empire, and he is excellent. I thought that this book was going to be another history, but it turned out to be a novel about a group of Roman soldiers (from various backgrounds) fighting engagements in northern England during the early 2nd century AD. It was good to read this and know that the details were probably most accurate given the learning of the author. History’s Great Plagues by Christopher Fee This series of lectures through Learn25 was not quite what I expected. I thought it would be a history of the world’s greatest plagues, and it turned out to be a review of what literature said about those plagues. In a sense, this was even better. It explained certain reactions to the disasters and how they changed society. I have acquired a number of short courses by Christopher Fee, and I look forward to listerning to them. The Burning of the White House by Jane Hampton Cook During the War of 1812, the British landed troops and burned the capital city of Washington DC (at least the public buildings such as the White House and the Congress). This book portrays the British involved as well as the politicians on the American side such as President Madison and Representative King. It also gives an endearing portrait of Dolly Madison and her role in supporting her husband, the president. The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton This is the story of a train robbery in England during the Crimean War (and, in fact, it was the payroll of the soldiers fighting that war that was robbed from a train). The organizer of the robbery was a genius who take of every possibility, including what to do in the case that they were caught. The book is well written and quite interesting. The Tractate Middoth by M.R. James This is a short novella about an obscure book written in what seems to be Hebrew that has drawn the interest of various people, and which contains a secret about money that would never have been expected. Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy This is a masterful presentation on the history of Julius Caesar and his influence upon Rome and the world of his time. Goldsworthy is a good historian, and an excellent author. He sorts out fable from actual history, an especially important task given that many of the sources were written to push a particular agenda. I could easily recommend any of his books to anyone interested in the topic. Sherlock Holmes: Beyond the Elementary by James Krasner This is a short course by the Great Courses on the person of Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but especially on Holmes himself. The professor speaks of the personality of the character, who is at times almost appears to be a person on the authistic spectrum. He speaks of his relationship with Dr. Watson. The course is quite well done, and it was one of the free presentations from Audible. El Greco by Delphi Masters of Art This is a biography of El Greco, the Greek artist who ended up in Italy first and then especially in Spain. The author explains his artistic influences and how he used or rejected them. The book gives a catalog of most of the works attributed to El Greco. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude