Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ross Douthat: Decline and Schism in Religion

I don’t think I’ve linked to it in this space yet, but regular readers have probably already seen my long piece in the May issue of the Atlantic on Pope Francis’s biography and agenda and what his pontificate might mean for the future of Catholicism. The essay was written a little while before its actual appearance, as long-form magazine pieces tend to be, and there have been all sorts of recent developments around the church and the pontiff that deserve to be discussed afresh. I’m hoping to wade more fully into those issues next month, but first, before it slips too far into the past, I want to talk about the “s” word, schism — which features in my Atlantic essay, though perhaps not quite so prominently as the title suggests — in the context of the Pew religious data that made waves two weeks ago.

Read the rest here.

See also this related article.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The world is drowning in debt, warns Goldman Sachs

The world is sinking under too much debt and an ageing global population means countries' debt piles are in danger of growing out of control, the European chief executive of Goldman Sachs Asset Management has warned.

Andrew Wilson, head of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), said growing debt piles around the world posed one of the biggest threats to the global economy.

"There is too much debt and this represents a risk to economies. Consequently, there is a clear need to generate growth to work that debt off but, as demographics change, new ways of thinking at a policy level are required to do this," he said. 

Read the rest here.

Illinois facing "fiscal tsunami"

CHICAGO — Illinois is facing one of the worst fiscal crises of any state in recent decades, largely because it has mismanaged its pension system.

The shortfalls could potentially mean sharply higher taxes and cuts in spending. And even though the state’s highest court just this month threw out a landmark plan to cut worker and retiree benefits, some lawmakers say they may have to find another way to make those reductions as well.

Illinois’s problems resonate well beyond its borders. Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Kentucky are among the states confronting similar problems, and to them, Illinois is a model of what can go wrong — with political intransigence, mounting costs and a complicated legal terrain.

Read the rest here.

Fred Reed: Note to a Generic Pentagon General (This post is rated PG-13)

I have just read in Army Times that, to my delight, the Army is making soldiers wear the prettiest red high-heels in the pursuit of gender-equality. Yes. They look like little girls playing with Mommy's shoes. It has something to do with understanding the psychological problems of women, a matter of importance in combat. It necessarily was done with the approval of the Army's generals in the Pentagon, particularly Chief of Staff Odierno, since they are in charge of the whole Army shebang. I write them in astonished admiration, thusly:

Dear General,

I see that on your watch the Army is turning into a transvestite marching corps in high heels, a Ziegfeld cross-gendered or bisected gay-bath sexual zoo vacuuming up every sort of erotic loony, not to mention becoming a home for unwed mothers and prostitution rings. I commend you. I have always wanted to be defended by a freak show.

I do not question your qualifications for command. You doubtless have a firm handshake, a steely gaze, an imposing presence, and a perfect grasp of PowerPoint. But a general who is so afraid of feminists that he forces his troops to play dress-up, well, I mean, what if there is a real war?

Warning: Language and grossly non-PC content.
Read the rest here.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Americans gave their lives to defeat the Nazis. The Dutch have never forgotten.

They haven’t forgotten. For 70 years, the Dutch have come to a verdant U.S. cemetery outside this small village to care for the graves of Americans killed in World War II.

On Sunday, they came again, bearing Memorial Day bouquets for men and women they never knew, but whose 8,300 headstones the people of the Netherlands have adopted as their own. 

For the American relatives of the fallen, it was an outpouring of gratitude almost as stunning as the rows of white marble crosses and Jewish Stars of David at the Netherlands American Cemetery. Each grave has been adopted by a Dutch or, in some cases, Belgian or German family, as well as local schools, companies and military organizations. More than 100 people are on a waiting list to become caretakers. 

Read the rest here.

A War Story

One of the great cemeteries populated by the First World War

(I wrote this essay several years ago but think it worth reposting.)

From my grandmother and my cousin Sarah Jane (memory eternal) I gleaned the story of my great-uncle Francis Guy (known as Guy in the family). He was one of the older children (14 in all) of my great-grandparents who lived in Endicott New York at the turn of the last century. My great-grandfather was by all accounts a good man, hard working and God fearing as they used to say in those days. But he also had a reputation for being stubborn with a "my way or the highway" mentality.

By contrast my uncle Guy was a shy youth in his middle teens who had been born with some minor disfigurement on his face to which no one really paid any notice other than him. But he was very self conscious about it. In 1914 my great grandfather wanted him to get a job at the local shoe manufacturing plant run by the Endicott Johnson company, then the biggest by far employer in my home town. Guy was perfectly OK with this. But he asked if he could set aside a small amount of his earnings to save for an operation which he felt would remove the offending birth mark. My great-grandfather said no. He was a man who believed that if you were born that way, it’s what God intended and that’s the end of it.

Well he was also not very diplomatic about it and there was an argument, a real barn burner by all accounts. When it was over an ultimatum was given to the boy; do as you’re told or get out and make your own way in the world. In the heat of anger and hurt Guy left home.

Now at this time what would become known as the Great War had just broken out in Europe. Guy like a lot of kids of his generation had rather romantic notions about war. The United States had not fought a really serious one in almost sixty years and memory dulls with time. With the United States still neutral and in need of a job Guy struck out for Canada where he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army (Canada was part of the British Empire then). I am not sure if he lied about his age. He landed in the Princess Patricia Regiment which would gain great fame in the war. After preliminary training the regiment was shipped to England and then over to the continent where it joined up with the British Expeditionary Force holding the left wing of the Allied line with the Belgian Army in one of the few parts of Belgium not occupied by the Germans.

In February of 1915 during one of the innumerable back and forth battles near Ypres his unit assaulted the German trench works. The attack was repelled with the customary horrific casualties but Guy made it back to his own trench unharmed. When he looked back over the battlefield known as no man’s land between the opposing trench lines he saw amongst the human wreckage of war one of his close friends lying wounded. The odds of surviving in no man’s land were not good since neither side respected stretcher bearers or medics. The wounded were usually left to die. Guy leapt out of the relative safety of his trench and rushed forward to save his buddy. He reached him and under heavy fire dragged him back to the trench. After lowering the wounded soldier down Guy turned to drop down himself when he was shot in the stomach. He died several days later at a military hospital and was buried in one of the vast cemeteries near Ypres created by the carnage of the War to End All Wars.

My great-grandparents received the telegram while watching a silent movie at the local cinema house. The lights were turned on and half the town showed up to express their sympathy. The Canadian Army later (and retroactively) conferred the Military Medal on him posthumously which my great-grandmother was buried with. I am told that in Ottawa there is a book on display with the names of all of the dead of the Princess Patricia Regiment inscribed in it. A page is ceremoniously turned each day. On one of those pages is the name of an Irish-Catholic kid with a birth mark from a small town in upstate New York, Francis Guy Dwyer. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

The next worse thing to a battle lost, is a battle won.
-The Duke of Wellington

Old men declare war.  But it is the young who must fight and die.
-Herbert Hoover

In Flanders Fields

By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

Royal Canadian Army

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Church of England to consider transgender naming ceremony

The Church of England is to debate plans to introduce a ceremony akin to a baptism to mark the new identities of Christians who undergo gender transition.

The Rev Chris Newlands, the vicar of Lancaster Priory, has proposed a motion to the General Synod to debate the issue, after he was approached by a young transgender person seeking to be “re-baptised” in his new identity.

The motion, which was passed by Blackburn Diocese last month, calls on the House of Bishops to consider whether it should introduce a new service to mark the milestone in the life of a trans person. A spokesperson for the Archbishops’ Council confirmed that the motion had been received, but said it would not be debated imminently. 

Newlands urged the church to take the lead on welcoming a group that suffered high levels of discrimination. 

Read the rest here.

Banks as Felons, or Criminality Lite

As of this week, Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are felons, having pleaded guilty on Wednesday to criminal charges of conspiring to rig the value of the world’s currencies. According to the Justice Department, the lengthy and lucrative conspiracy enabled the banks to pad their profits without regard to fairness, the law or the public good.

Besides the criminal label, however, nothing much has changed for the banks. And that means nothing much has changed for the public. There is no meaningful accountability in the plea deals and, by extension, no meaningful deterrence from future wrongdoing. In a memo to employees this week, the chief executive of Citi, Michael Corbat, called the criminal behavior “an embarrassment” — not the word most people would use to describe a felony but an apt one in light of the fact that the plea deals are essentially a spanking, nothing more.

As a rule, a felony plea carries more painful consequences. For example, a publicly traded company that is guilty of a crime is supposed to lose privileges granted by the Securities and Exchange Commission to quickly raise and trade money in the capital markets. But in this instance, the plea deals were not completed until the S.E.C. gave official assurance that the banks could keep operating the same as always, despite their criminal misconduct. (One S.E.C. commissioner, Kara Stein, issued a scathing dissent from the agency’s decision to excuse the banks.)

Read the rest here.

Banks are the enemy!

Ireland Goes Protestant

After enduring centuries of Protestant persecution, Ireland effectively just voted to become Anglican. And they did it with a tacit nod from the Roman Catholic hierarchy who did next to nothing to oppose this with many clergy openly supporting gay marriage.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Britain resigns as a world power - Europe has become a US protectorate

On Monday, the Right Honorable David Cameron, prime minister of Great Britain, gave his first major speech after being reelected to his high office — once held by Pitt, Gladstone, Disraeli, Lloyd George, Churchill and Thatcher. Confronting a world of challenges — including Greece’s possible exit from the euro, a massive migration crisis on Europe’s shores, Ukraine’s perilous state, Russia’s continued intransigence, the advance of the Islamic State and the continuing chaos in the Middle East — Cameron chose to talk about . . . a plan to ensure that hospitals in the United Kingdom will be better staffed on weekends.

Okay, that’s a bit unfair. Leaders everywhere, including in the United States, understand that “all politics is local.” But spending a few days recently in Britain, I was struck by just how parochial it has become. After an extraordinary 300-year run, Britain has essentially resigned as a global power.

Read the rest here.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Commemoration of the Martyrs of the Communist Persecution

Liturgy in the church dedicated to the New Martyrs of Russia at the Butovo Firing Range and mass grave where tens of thousands of Orthodox Christians were shot or buried alive.

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Is anyone having issues with being redirected from the blog to another unrelated page? I have encountered a problem where if I open the blog and then open another tab, the blog redirects to another page as soon as I click on the new tab in my browser. I am unsure if this is a computer based problem or if some malware has infected the actual html of the blog itself.

Have I mentioned that I hate technology?

Update: Problem solved. Thanks Patricius!

Six held over 'dissident IRA plot to kill Prince Charles'

Six men have been arrested in the Republic of Ireland after police discovered bomb making equipment close to where Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall are due to visit next week.
Explosives and weapons were recovered at various locations as Irish police carried out more than 20 raids aimed at disrupting dissident Republican activity.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Apologies for the slow posting

We are still wrapping up dad's personal affairs and on top that I have been down with a nasty case of the grippe.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A reflection on the Victorians and death

EIGHT years ago, my sister-in-law suddenly died. Soon after, I began research on a book about attitudes toward death in the Victorian period. The more I learned about the practices of the past, the more I regretted not having known about them earlier, when my bereavement began. I found psychological — and even philosophical — reasons to prefer the Victorian celebration of death.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Complaint says crosses at Catholic school offensive, prevent Muslim prayers

Crosses in every room at Washingon D.C.’s Catholic University of America are a human rights violation that prevent Muslim students from praying.

That’s the complaint to the Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights filed by a professor from rival George Washington University across town.

GWU Law School Professor John Banzhaf takes the Catholic institution to task for acting “probably with malice” against Muslim students in a 60-page complaint that cites “offensive” Catholic imagery all over the Catholic school, which he says hinder Muslims from praying.

Read the rest here.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Cameron’s Victory Sets Stage for Fights Over Europe, Scotland and Austerity

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron, having achieved a smashing and unexpected outright victory in Britain’s general election, heads into his second term facing severe — even existential — challenges to his nation’s identity and place in the world: how to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union and Scotland in the United Kingdom.

In vanquishing the opposition Labour Party and winning an absolute majority in Parliament, Mr. Cameron gained the right to govern without a coalition partner, allowing him to claim a mandate on Friday to pursue his own agenda. But his majority is so narrow that it will force him to tread carefully with his own fractious legislators to pass legislation and address issues that could fundamentally redefine 21st-century Britain.

Read the rest here.

Dad: 40th Day

Today marks the fortieth day since dad passed and the end of  formal mourning. Again, prayers for the repose of the servant of God John are much appreciated.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The Veneration of the Holy Relics of St. George the Great Martyr

'Captain Kidd's treasure' found off Madagascar

Buried treasure that may have belonged to the notorious Scottish pirate Captain Kidd has been discovered by archaeologists in Madagascar.

The office of the country’s president, Hery Rajaonarimampianina, posted the first image of divers recovering a hulk of silver on its official Twitter account on Thursday. “The discovery of a wreck and treasure in the waters,” read the message in French and Malagasy.

A joint UK-US archaeological research mission found the 55kg bar of silver in shallow waters off Saint Marie island, the office said.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Remembering the Lusitania (repost from 2013)

On this date in 1915 the RMS Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U Boat. Endless controversy has surrounded this atrocity ever since. For the record the British aided and abetted by the Wilson Administration lied through their teeth and tried to whitewash the fact that the ship was carrying war contraband from supposedly neutral America. Not that it was a massive amount, but it was there. And of course that doesn't excuse the German's who attacked an unarmed passenger ship that they knew damn well was packed with civilians including women and children. But that's not the point of today's commemoration, which I expect to get a lot more attention in two years.

Today I want to pay tribute to the ship itself.

At the turn of the 20th century steam ships were what connected the globe in the way airplanes do today. Then as now speed, and for those who could afford it, comfort were paramount. Lusitania was a  product of the intense rivalry between Germany and Great Britain in the decades preceding the Great War. Through most of the 19th century Britain had held a more or less unchallenged position as the world's principal maritime power, both in terms of her navy and her commercial fleet. This changed with the accession of Kaiser William II who was a huge maritime enthusiast. Quickly he began dedicating significant resources towards challenging Britain's supremacy, and in 1897 this paid off with the launch of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. Germany's new Atlantic gray hound stunned Britain and the world by seizing the record for the fastest crossing and with her four giant funnels she established a new era in which the "four stacker" became synonymous with size, speed, luxury and safety.

For the next ten years, while Britain fumed, the Germans built a seemingly endless series of ships, each bigger faster and more luxurious than the one before, and they had a monopoly on the coveted "Blue Riband." Adding insult to injury, on the other side of the Atlantic the great American financial wizard J. P. Morgan had set his eyes on establishing a monopoly over transatlantic shipping. In 1902 his new conglomerate, the International Mercantile Marine, absorbed the White Star Line, then the second largest British shipping company.

This turned British annoyance into outright alarm.

Wasting little time, the Cunard Line, Britain's largest shipping firm and White Star's chief rival, quickly warned the British government that they too might be bought out unless something drastic changed. Such an eventuality was unthinkable and the Admiralty quickly approved a huge loan to Cunard that was to be used to build two new transatlantic liners. But there were conditions attached. The ships had to be fast and they had to be built to naval specifications in case they were needed in a war.

With cash in hand Cunard set about planning the construction of two ships so revolutionary they would effectively end the transatlantic speed race for two decades. Those ship's were the Lusitania and her sister ship the Mauritania. They were built in different yards and fitted out separately including in their decor. But in terms of their engineering and general layout the two were near twins.

Lusitania was finished first and in 1907 on her second voyage she smashed the German speed record and seized the Blue Riband. In 1908 the Mauritania took the record and excepting a brief period in 1909 when Lusitania regained it, she would prove to be the slightly faster of the twin steamers.

When completed Lusitania was 787 feet long and 87 feet wide with the requisite four stacks. She had a gross registered tonnage of 31,500 tons that propelled by four brand new and very revolutionary turbine engines geared to four screws could move her at the near blinding speed of 28 knots with a service speed of 25 knots. The race for speed records was over and Lusitania's slightly faster sister would hold the record unchallenged from 1909 to 1928. Externally her appearance was such that she resembled an oversized racing yacht with her raked back funnels and sleek lines. Mauritania by contrast had a rather cluttered appearance on her top decks owing to a large number of ventilation funnles. On the Lusitania these were designed to be smaller and blend in more with the overall appearance of the ship.

But Lusitania had a flaw. When she left for her first sea trials the engines caused a severe vibration in the back of the ship which was intended for the second class passengers. The ship was redocked and major changes were made to her second class accommodations to reduce the vibration. Later in her career she would twice have additional adjustments made to her propellers to further reduce it. Even so, the vibration, while greatly diminished, was never completely conquered.

More so than in their outer appearance, it was in their interiors that the two ship's were most distinguished from one another. While their layout was nearly identical the Lusitania had a lighter and somewhat more informal air about her. Mauritania on the other hand was very much furnished in the classical Edwardian style with tons of dark wood paneling  In this respect Lusitania was somewhat more progressive in her decor.

What follows are some photographs of a ship universally regarded as one of the great liners. Sadly most of the images are black and white which generally fail in conveying the elegance of her interior accommodations. One simply cannot grasp the often bright and very colorful decor in her public rooms and cabins. Most of the pictures are large and detailed but the blog automatically reduces them so they fit. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Lusitania being launched.

During sea trials.

Arriving in New York on her maiden voyage.

This a massive and very detailed panoramic photo of her arrival in New York in September 1907. The contrast between the sleek modern liner and the sea of horse drawn cabs waiting on the pier is stark. You will definitely need to enlarge the photo.

After a rough crossing. Note the paint has been blasted off her by the North Atlantic.

Scenes from the boat deck. As originally configured the Lusitania, like most steamers of the period, carried the minimum number of lifeboats required by law. That was sixteen, four less than what the Titanic carried in 1912. After the Titanic disaster additional lifeboats were added for everyone on board. But many were of the "some assembly required" kind. And they proved utterly useless when needed in a hurry on May 7th 1915.

The first class dining room. There were two tiers and a stained glass dome.

Some views of the lounge and music room.

The first class entrance foyer with stairs and electric elevator.

The first class foyer off the Promenade deck.

The promenade deck. During Atlantic crossings, weather permitting, the deck was filled with passengers lounging in steamer chairs. Tea and bullion were served on trollies every day at four.

First class smoking room. Sorry ladies. Gentlemen only please.

First class reading and writing room. Quiet please.

Second class entrance foyer.

Second class dining room. While the cabins (see below) in the second class were much smaller than in first, the public rooms were well appointed and quite comfortable. The passengers here also enjoyed generally very good food (see the menu below). For many years Cunard openly advertised that second class was the best way to travel for the money.

Second class lunch menu. Click to enlarge and read.

Second class lounge.


Second class smoking room. Again, men only.

Second class ladies withdrawing room.

The purser's office.

The verandah cafe. There were huge sliding glass doors that were opened to the back of the first class promenade deck when the weather was agreeable.

Some views of first class state rooms.

First class state room deluxe with adjoining bedrooms.

Some views of the two first class regal suites. These came with such astonishing amenities as separate bedrooms, a sitting room/parlor, a private dining room, a trunk room and room (probably closet sized) for one's personal servants. And the ultimate in sea going luxury for which one would pay out the nose... a private en suite water closet and bathroom. Prior to the Second World War private bathrooms were a rare, and expensive luxury at sea. Even millionaires typically had to put on their slippers and bathrobe when nature called in the middle of the night and hoof it down the hall. Those wishing to take a bath would first have to make an appointment with the ship's bath steward. These rooms also had sinks with both hot and cold running water. Most staterooms had only cold water. Hot water for shaving or washing up was delivered at appointed times, usually in the morning and when the dressing gong was sounded for dinner. It could also be requested at anytime via your cabin steward.

A second class cabin. Unlike in first class those traveling in the second class got rooms that were small and would be considered cramped by today's standards. Typically they came with the more traditional berths and in a two berth cabin one would see a small sofa and a chair. They also had a sink with running water, an armoire, and space to stow a couple of suitcases or a small trunk. In those days people often traveled with more than they do today. But on a ship space was limited so you would tag all of your luggage before boarding  indicating "wanted" or "not wanted." Not wanted was sent to the baggage hold until arrival. Also in second class you were likely to be sharing your cabin with someone unless you booked all of the berths. These cabins were usually two or four berths (for families traveling together). Bed curtains on ships of this period were more than decorative. They also served to offer some privacy if you were sharing your cabin and even in first class they helped keep the heat in and the chill out. Outside of the public rooms, central heating was rare on pre Great War ships. And the North Atlantic is notoriously unpleasant most of the year. Passengers embarking on a transatlantic voyage were well advised to pack warm clothes and long underwear even in the summer.

Third class cabin. Contrary to popular belief it was the third class or "steerage" who provided the profit for the big steamship companies in the pre-war years. They required the least service and the fewest amenities and could be packed in to much more cramped spaces. On the Lusitania the third class cabins were generally quite spartan but still liveable. There were no dormitory style steerage quarters. All third class passengers had cabins which had between two and six berths. Each cabin had a sink with running water. As in the second class, you could pretty much guarantee that you were going to have roommates. Also there were no "bath" facilities on most ships for the third class though Lusitania did have generally decent lavatory and washrooms.


Third class dining room. The dining room was located forward and meals were served in two sittings. Food in the third class was generally edible and for many probably better than what they were used to. Unlike in some other immigrant ships of the period, here the third class appear to have been treated as paying customers rather than human cargo. They ate off real plates, with flatware and actual glasses for drinking. It wasn't first class but they were treated better than most immigrants during that time. The third class also had their own smoking room, ladies room and a piano in the dining room which doubled as a social hall in the evenings.

The officer's lounge and smoke room.

The bridge and wheelhouse.

The great liner today.