Friday, November 24, 2023

Ellicott City, Md

November 24, 2023 Peace and Good, I almost wished you all a happy black Friday. It almost seems as if it were created first, and then people came up with the idea of Thanksgiving. I remember one Black Firday in Rome (where Thanksgiving is not celebrated). A store wanted to celebrate Black Friday, but they did not quite understand the concept. They had their window filled with black clothes on sale. I have been waiting for results of my various medical tests. I finally got a call Wednesday evening. I will be having another operation in two to three weeks to take out the masses on my right lung. They took out two from the left side, and two remain on the right side. I am glad to know what is going to happen in these weeks. I have been waiting a month since the last operation for indications of what would happen. I have been working on my latest meditation book and I finished the last part this morning. They will type set it over the next couple of weeks, and after I approve the proofs, it will go to press. I don't expect it to be on sale til next year. These things take a lot of time, especially since printing occurs in countries like South Korea. The weather here in Baltimore is beautiful fall weather. Cool, but mostly clear. I finished reading and listening to some books: Eschatology by Harvey Egan This is a Learn25 presentation on the Last Things: the return of Jesus at the end of time, the final judgment, heaven, hell and purgatory, etc. This is one of the best theological presentations I have heard in quite some time. I felt quite at home with many of the conclusions made by this professor. I would highly recommend this particular course to those who wish to listen to this topic. The Big Mysteries of Human Evolution by Elen Feyuerriegel This is a Great Courses presentation on the question of human evolution. It deals with questions of fossils, language development. racial differences, the dissemination of the first humans around the world, who were the first true humans and who are their ancestors and their cousins, etc. The presentation is filled with detail and one must take time to follow its development, but it is a good course. Isabella of Castille by Giles Tremlett This is a well written, extensive biography of the famous queen of Spain (who together with her husband Ferdinand literally invented the idea of Spain). She was not a queen consort, but a reigning monarch who had very strong views about many things. She is remembered for sponsoring the adventurous voyage of Christopher Columbus, but also is known as the monarch who exiled and persecuted Jews and Muslims from her reign. Clash of Cultures: Prehistory-1638 by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier This is an account of the first European settlements in America (not counting the Norse in earlier centuries) and their interaction (often violent) with Native Americans. This series of history books aims to give the major details without drowning its readers in detail, and the author largely succeed in doing that. Repressed by Jeffrey Deaver This is a novella about a man who has a very strange reaction seeing a car in a field at a fair. His family urge him to go to a counselor for he had been acting short with them for a while. He does this and uncovers a repressed memory that makes it all clear. But that is certainly not the end of the story. The Third Horseman: Climate Change and the Great Famine of the 14th Century by William Rosen This is a book which speaks about a period of famine that occurred in the mid 14th century in Europe caused by horrible weather (first incessant rains and then drought) and by man-made disasters, especially warfare. While it is supposedly about Europe, the author spends an inordinate amount of time dealing with England and Scotland. It is not really the best developed book I have read recently. Harry S. Truman by Hourly History This is a short biography of the man who has been known as the “accidental president.” He was a relatively unknown Senator when he was chosen to be the vice-presidential candidate with FDR for his fourth term. He faced incredibly difficult decisions on the foreign and domestic levels, and he proved to be much more than an adequate president (some would classify him as great). Frederick Douglas by Hourly History This is a short biography of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglas. Born a slave, he eventually escaped from his Maryland plantation. He became a famous author and lecturer on the topic of emancipation. He was the first man of color received at the White House as a guest at dinner. He became the poster child of what people of color could accomplish, giving hope to them and shocking those who still considered them to be inferior even after they were released from slavery. The Election of 1828 by Charles River Editors This is the account of the election of 1828. In spite of the fact that Andrew Jackson received the highest number of electoral votes, John Quincy Adams was chosen by the House of Representatives to be president (for no candidate had received a majority of electoral votes). Jackson considered this to be a dirty election for another candidate, Henry Clay, had thrown his support behind Adams and was then named Secretary of State. Adams was a one term president, soundly defeated by Jackson in the next election. Extraterrestrial Intelligence: Does Intelligent Alien Life Exist? By Robert Lawrence Kuhn This is a short course from Learn25 concerning the possibility of extraterrestrial life. It is actually only three lectures long. Each lecture is actually a series of interviews with experts in the field that are cobbled together. The professor asks the question of whether there is life out there, why has it never contacted us? What would be the consequences of some form of contact? How would that change our lives and even our theology? The presentation, in spite of its brevity, is extremely well done. Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings by Neil Price This is a history of the Vikings. It includes that history which we can identify, their mythology, their social life, their travels, etc. It is well developed and thorough. Church Farm House by Benedict Ashforth This is a series of short stories about a house where a mass murderer lives and the evil spirit that possesses them both. The stories are inter-generational. They are tied together well, and present a portrait of evil played out over time. The Oracle of Dodona by Charles River Editors Less famous than the oracle of Delphi, this site in northwestern Greece was a major site for an oracle dedicated to Zeus. It is mentioned by Homer and Hesiod and other ancient authors. The seers probably received their message by the movement of leaves of the sacred oak trees and by messages from birds, etc. It was destroyed several times over the course of history, the last time by the Christians and was largely forgotten til recent times. Have a good week and a meaningful beginning to Advent. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Ellicott City, MD

November 15, 2023 Peace and Good, The weather here in Baltimore is beautiful. It has been a wonderful Fall season. I have been waiting for a few weeks for the pathology report on the two masses they took from my lungs. One of them is just junk, but the other is a type of cancer. I have to see the oncologist to see what the next step is to be in treatment. There are still another two masses on the other side of the lungs. I spoke a few words at Mass this morning and my words dealt with gratitude. I have to keep this in mind in these days. I am trying to be grateful for the experience of having to slow down and accept the care of others. I want to be grateful for the wait that I have to go through between my various appointments with doctors and waiting for medical reports. I have always felt that surrender is the goal to which God is calling me, and lately God has been sharing an important lesson in giving up control with me. It is not that I want to be sick. But, I do see that it is where God wants me at this time, so I have to try to embrace it. I have been working on my next book which is a minute meditation book on saying from the books of Proverbs, Sirach and Qoheleth. The book is going very, very well, and I am already over half finished with it. I have finished some books and courses: The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Capon This is a brilliant combination of a cookbook and a treatise on theology. Capon is a very entertaining author. His premise is that God created this world as good, and it is our duty to celebrate it. We are not here simply to survive, but to thrive and rejoice and praise. He feels that one of the most important ways that we can do that is by eating well. In the course of the book, he speaks of cooking implements, ingredients, wine, setting the table, dinner parties, etc. This is the third of his books that I have read, (the others being the Third Peacock and Exit 36) and I have truly enjoyed all three Foreign Agent by Brad Thor This is an action novel about a Russian agent who pretends to be a Muslim terrorist and gets them to attack important American targets so that the US might be provoked to get into a war with Issus. The hero of the story is a Rambo like figure. Brad Thor is not exactly subtle, but as an action/spy novel it is not that bad. By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire by Ian Worthington This is a study of the lives of Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great. The authors main emphasis is on the fact that Philip was the one who established the nation and the army that then permitted Alexander to conquer much of the known world. Alexander comes across as driven, even to the point of mistreating his men terribly. The author sees him as a great general, but not necessarily the nicest of human beings. Sleeping Dogs Lie by Samantha Downing This is a very good novella which speaks of a murder discovered by the dog walker. It looks like the soon to be divorced wife might have done it until she, too, is found dead. There are various suspects, but there is a great surprise that only slowly develops in the course of the action. Jane Austin by Kelly Mass This is a short biography of Jane Austin and her writing. It deals especially with the fact that she had to write to support her family. It outlines her books, speaks of her difficulty in getting them published, and of their incredible success. Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World by Colin Wells This is a study of the culture and history of the Byzantine empire along with the other countries and cultures that came into contact with it over the centuries from its foundation by the emperor Constantine until its final conquest by the Turks in 1453. The author covers many dimensions of the story, e.g. the palace intrigues, the preservation of Greek culture, its cultural influence on neighboring areas, etc. It is well done and very interesting. Jesus and the Last Supper by Brant Pitre This is a very thorough study of various aspects of the Last Supper. Pitre is a great Bible scholar, very informed about Bible, post-Biblical, Jewish, etc. literature. He is able to present various suggestions and then show how they are either credible or not. I intend to read as many of his books as possible. Cultured: the Epic Story of Cheese by Janet Fletcher This is a Teaching Company short course on the various aspects of the making and selling of cheese. The author described the process, the variations, the varieties of cheese. She speaks of cheeses tied to certain specific areas. She contrasts cow cheese from goat cheese. It was probably more information than I needed to know about the topic, but it was entertaining. Courageous Spies and International Intrigue of World War I by Allison Lassieur This is just a short account of some of the major spies and terrorists of the Frist World War. It deals with Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Ferdinand, with Mati Hari, with Edith Cavell, a nurse who saved many allied prisoners, the Dame Blanche, a spy organization in Belgium to get information to the allies of German movements etc. The account is well done and informative. Brothers, rivals, victors by Jonathan Jordan This is the story of the interaction of three of the major generals of World War II: Eisenhower, Patton, and Bradley. Patton comes across as seriously unbalanced, needing fame all the time, but nevertheless a brilliant general. Bradley was more boring, but also more balanced and methodical. Eisenhower comes across as not necessarily a great military general, but as a magnificent political general to keep the various elements of the allied alliance in step and at peace. Milwaukee by Charles River Editors This is the history of this mid=western city, from the days when it was a fur trading center, to a farming center, to an industrial center. It speaks of the various nationalities that settled there. It also speaks of its decline and troubles in recent years, especially in racial discord. Rome Enters the Greek East by Arthur Eckstein This book was not quite what I expected. I thought it would speak of the mixture of the culture of the Greek world with that of Rome. Rather, it is a detailed historic study (almost seems as if it started out as a doctoral thesis) of the wars between Greece and Rome which led to the conquest of the Greek cities. The author speaks of how there were three fairly equal powers in that part of the world (Egypt, Macedon, and the Seleucids). When Egypt became weak (an internal rebellion, a child pharaoh), the other two sprang to invade. This is when Rome entered in and at first only forced its way in to balance the three powers again, but eventually took over itself. Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister by Jung Chang This is the story of the Soong sisters. There were three of them. One of them married Chaing Kai-shek, one married a very rich man, and one married Sun Yat-sen, and when he died became an important member of the Communist movement. They were from a Christian family, while not all of their actions (e.g. autocracy, blatant bribery, mistreatment of the poor) could be called Christian virtues. The story is well told, showing the good and bad side of each of the sisters. Have a good week and Happy Thanksgiving. Shalom fr. Jude

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Ellicott City, MD

November 4, 2023 Peace and Good, I have spent these days at Elicott City. Last Wednesday I had an operation to remove two masses from my lungs. They are being studied, and I meet with the surgeon on Monday to see what the next step might be. There are another two masses on the other side of the lungs, and he might want a second surgery to remove them as well. I got through the surgery very well. The worst day was the one following the operation. After that, there was very little pain or discomfort. I am back up to my 40 minute walk each day. For all the health problems I have had in these weeks, I am really doing quite well on a day to day basis. I have been working on my next book: a series of short meditations on the Proverbs of the Old Testament. It is coming along quite well, and I hope to have the first draft finished in a month or so (depending on what sort of treatment the doctor recommends). I finished some reading and listening: The Sayings of the Holy Desert Fathers, trans by Wallis Budge This is a rather long collection of the saying of the Egyptian desert fathers and mothers from the 5th and 6th centuries. They are very repetitious, and some of them either didn’t make any sense to me or were of a spirituality which seemed questionable to me. I guess the idea that these men and women rejected the world to serve God would necessarily carry a sense that the world was evil, but it seemed almost Manichean in its tone. Machiavelli by Patrick Boucheron This is a short account of essays on the life and work of Machiavelli. The author’s premise is that he has gotten very bad press over the ages, and that he was not really as bad as he has been portrayed. Rather than proposing that any means was legitimate to rule, he was actually speaking about how to better the very confused state of Italian politics (with the rivalry of Spain, France, the Holy Roman Empire, the papacy, etc. tearing the country apart). Eleanor of Aquitaine by Kelly Mass This short biography presents the life and career of this queen of Aquitaine who married first the king of France and later the king of England, Henry II. The film, “A Lion in Winter” speaks of their strange relationship as well as that of their children which included Richard the Lion Hearted and King John. The Athenian Democracy by Robert Garland This is a great courses presentation on the “democracy” which was to be found in Athens during the centuries during which the Persian invasions and the Peloponnesian were fought. The professor tries to present both the positive and negative aspects of this form of government in a theoretical manner, but also in the practical development of an Athenian Empire that was kind to Athenians but much less so to the other members of the league. Rome and the Barbarians by Kenneth Harl This is a thorough treatment of Rome and its Empire and its interaction with the barbarian peoples who lived near the empire, and who “invaded” it to bring it to its ultimate destruction in the West. Harl is an excellent presenter who gives a tremendous amount of detail without ever being boring. Rather than presenting a melodramatic story of hordes of barbarians crashing across the borders, he explains how the Romans coopted many of them to be part of their armies (thus training them in the techniques of Roman warfare) and how many of them simply wanted to settle in parts of the empire that were underpopulated and safer from more ferocious barbarians at their backs. Exploring the Mayan World by Edwin Barnhart This is an 8 part video presentation of a trip to the part of Mexico where the Mayans lived. It is a combination of an archaeological study, a travelogue of interesting sites, and an introduction to modern Mayan culture and gastronomy. The program really is more of an entertaining segment rather than being academic. Operation Greif by Charles River Editors This is a study of the attempt to confuse allied troops by infiltrating Germans dressed in American uniforms who spoke English across the front lines to confuse the allies and assist the capture of important military objectives. There were some successes, and there was widespread fear, but the results of this program were not what the German had hoped it would be. Marie Antoinette by Kelly Mass This is a short biography of the queen of France who was executed during the French revolution. The presentation neither defends nor attacks her. It simply presents the details and helps one see how she was incapable of responding to a very confusing and fluid situation. The Artist, the Philosopher and the Warrior by Paul Strathern This is an incredibly good study of Cesare Borgia, Leonardo da Vinci, and Niccolò Machiavelli and how they interacted. Leonardo at first cooperated with Borgia in inventing war machines, but he later withdrew his assistance when he saw first hand the terrible character of his patron. Machiavelli served as a type of ambassador to the Florentine state which gave him the opportunity to see Borgia up close. Borgia, the son of a pope, was a man who did whatever was good for him and his father. This is not the first book by Strathern that I have read, and I have always been pleased with them. The Kraken Project by Douglas Preston This is the story of an artificial intelligence program which escapes its bounds and alternatively threatens and is threatened by governmental organizations, evil people wanting to use it for their own purposes, etc. It is saved by its programmer and by a young boy who adopts it when it enters a toy robot. As the story proceeds, one comes to see the personality of the program and how it becomes more and more human. Cicero by Anthony Everitt This is a thorough study of the life of the famous Roman orator Cicero. Born to middle class parents, he fought to acquire the dignity he sought in a very class-conscious Roman republic. He became counsel and defended the state against the machinations of a young aristocratic, Catolina, who wanted to overthrow the system. He found himself in the midst of a failing government (due to the selfishness of many of the people in that system). He was eventually murdered by Mark Anthony (with the contrivance of Augustus) for his frequent attacks on him. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude