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Papal skipping

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — politics and the pope — but you could go straight to Thomas Merton on contemplation, right at the end, and skip the rest ]

After a busy week, I have seven or eight unfinished ZP pieces to polish up and post — here’s the first.


SPEC papal skipping


  • Think Progress, Catholic Congressman Will Skip Papal Address To Congress, Cites Climate Change
  • Good magazine, Pope Francis to Skip Lunch With Congressmen, Will Eat With DC’s Homeless Community Instead
  • **

    Also skipped:

    Alito, Breyer, Kagan, Scalia, and Thomas skip papal address to Congress

    Notably absent were Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, all of whom are Catholic. Also absent were Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, who are Jewish.


    NPR saw fit to post The 10 Most Political Moments In Pope Francis’ Address To Congress:

  • Embracing John Kerry
  • A call to rise above polarization
  • A call for the country to open its arms to immigrants and refugees
  • A reminder on abortion
  • Strongly advocating for abolishing the death penalty
  • Poverty and the necessity of ‘distribution of wealth’
  • Business should be about ‘service to the common good’
  • Calling on Congress to act on climate change
  • Anti­war message and a call to stop arms trade
  • importance of family and marriage
  • Note also, from WaPo.. “The Jesuits refer to him as a mixture of a desert saint and Machiavelli.”


    As for myself, I particularly liked #2, the “call to rise above polarization”:

    Francis warned against the “temptation” of “the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.” .. He also noted one his heroes, American Thomas Merton, whom Francis said had “the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.”

    It is hard to say which party Pope Francis would chose under the rubric “Whoever is not with me is against me” now popular in Congress.


    And what, finally, of Thomas Merton himself? Who is this Trappist monk the Pope mentions?

    I had the good fortune to correspond briefly with Fr Merton while I was still an undergraduate at Oxford in 1964, more than a half century ago, and he was kind enough to say of my letter “It makes me feel somehow I am in contact with the human race”. His response can be found in Road To Joy: The Letters Of Thomas Merton To New And Old Friends.

    Here’s the voice of Thomas Merton, speaking of the central practice of his life — central, too, I would suggest, to the politics of this Pope:

    My latest for Lapido: renewing the power of holiness?

    Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — The Dalai Lama and the Pope: two saints, sorta, astride a supposedly secular world ]

    Pope Francis & Dalai Lama 602
    HH Pope Francis, HH the Dalai Lama. Photos: Jeffrey Bruno, Christopher (CC BY SA 2.0)

    My latest post for LapidoMedia is titled The Dalai Lama and the Pope: renewing the power of holiness. It begins:

    TWO figures of undoubted moral stature now dominate world affairs. Each of them is a religious leader. Each is known by the title His Holiness, but seems to wear the title lightly.

    For neither of them is virtue a lost ideal, neither is morality a private matter.

    Each preaches compassion, consideration for the poor, spirituality above materialism, and the care of the natural world.

    What do these two men have in common, that distinguishes their voices from those of other office holders and persons of power and influence?

    Certainly, each has been featured in Rolling Stone, which indicates their popular appeal.

    Each one’s office has a long pedigree, and each just might be the last of his kind. Perhaps there’s a clue there.

    It concludes with:

    First contemplation, then action: this is the secret uniting heart, mind and hand which gives these two figures their appeal and stature.

    And the need to join together to combat climate change is one arena in which these two men are in strong agreement.

    The Guardian reports from Glastonbury, ‘The Dalai Lama has endorsed the pope’s radical message on climate change and called on fellow religious leaders to “speak out about current affairs which affect the future of mankind.”’

    The Pope writes, ‘The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development.”

    Where will these two religious figures – moral icons of our age – lead our arrogantly secular world?

    To raead the whole thing, visit the Lapidoedia site.

    Ups and downs of the Catholic Order of Preachers (Dominicans)

    Friday, July 17th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — bearing in mind that ups and downs are transitory, and the eternal remains eternal ]

    In what was effectively a DoubleQuote in my terminology (see note below), Gregory DiPippo at the New Liturgical Movement blog today juxtaposed two articles about the Dominican Order of Friars. One had to do with a downswing in vocations to the Order, the other with an upswing.


    Fra Angelico


    First, the downswing: “the shortage of vocations in the order of Saint Dominic has reached dramatic levels.” Sandro Magister writes in San Marco Must Not Die:

    The fathers of the province of St. Catherine of Siena met again in chapter at the end of last May and reiterated to the superior general the request to suppress the convent of San Marco.

    If that were to happen, in the cloisters and in the cells wondrously frescoed by Fra Angelico (see above the Annunciation, from 1442) there would no longer be any friar to pray. From the library designed by Michelozzo, the first library of the modern era open to the public, the robes of the learned would disappear. What has been for centuries a cenacle of men of letters, artists, bishops, saints, would give way to a trivial guest house.

    The Masses in the church attached to the defunct convent would be officiated by someone from outside: from the not-distant convent of Santa Maria Novella, the only Dominican convent that would remain open in Florence.

    Second, the reverse: “The man who sets aside his personal dreams to more perfectly subject himself to God is not primarily saying ‘no’ to the world, but saying ‘yes’ to a renewed life with God.” The Dominican Dominic Bouck writes in First Things:

    After the ordination of eight of our brothers, there are over fifty of us studying for the priesthood or preparing to live life as a consecrated brother, about to be joined by fifteen more on July 25.

    Among those roughly 75 men are lawyers, a medical doctor, a congressional staffer, professional musicians, a radio host, several PhDs and professors, a particle physicist from Stanford, a former Google employee, a dean of admissions at a medical school, Ivy Leaguers, Golden Domers, and more who were successful in the world, but sought a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ and his Church, and desired to serve his people.


    It would be a tragedy for the Dominicans to close down their convent at San Marco, “as if the Franciscan friars were to decide to close the convent of Assisi” as Magister says — and in counterpoint, I’m heartened to receive news of an increased interest in the contemplative life here in the US.

    A note for Fr Augustine Thompson, OP, who writes for the NLM bog and is the author of the standard work on St Dominic’s brother friar, brother founder and friend, Francis of Assisi: A New Biography: my DoubleQuotes format is a format for the juxtaposition of ideas, based on Hermann Hesse’s concept of the Glass Bead Game, and philosophical kin, to my mind at least, with Peter Abelard‘s Sic et Non.

    Guest Post: U.S. Marines, the Forever Tribe by Stan Coerr

    Friday, January 30th, 2015

    [by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

    We at ZP would like to thank Colonel Stan Coerr for his permission to reprint this essay, written on the eve of  his retirement last July, after a quarter century of of military service in the Marine Corps Reserve and on active duty.

    Stan Coerr is the author of Rubicon: the Poetry of War and is a retired Colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve and works in the federal civil service.   He holds degrees from Duke, Harvard and the Naval War College, has been a fellow at MIT and Stanford, and was recently accepted to begin work on a doctorate at Oxford.  He is finishing a book on his time in Iraq, and his next book will be on the life and work of Dr. Bernard Fall.

    The U.S. Marines, America’s Forever Tribe

    by Stan Coerr

    Today is my last day in the uniform of the United States Marines.

    I write this not as a farewell. Rather, this is a reflection on this tribe of which I am a part, and which is inside me forever.

    What I remember of twenty- five years inside this brotherhood are vignettes: stories that indicate who we are and why we devote our lives to an organization such as this.

    Some happened to me; others I read or saw. All describe who we are as Marines.


    What everyone looking in from the outside must realize is that Marines are instant brothers, no matter the situation, no matter whether they have met before that moment.

    The Marines are a tribe.

    We have our own language, culture, mores and idiomatic shorthand communication.

    We have our own distinctive clothing. We cut our hair in a distinctive way.

    We paint our bodies with unique tribal markings.

    We undergo rites of passage to turn boys into men, the men we need to further the greater good of us all.

    We hand down legends of those who went before, who fell in battle, who did great and heroic things.

    We sing songs to celebrate them; we memorize what they did.

    We listen to the wisdom of the tribal elders, and we turn to them for decisions and guidance.

    Ken Schwenke and Mike Dossett are 180 degrees out from one another in style, but those of us fortunate enough to be Marine Options at NROTC Duke, a team forty strong in the mid to late 1980s, to this day benefit from the nurturing and guidance and demanding perfection of those two men.

    Bob Dobson was an exceptional battalion commander, a very deep thinker and a man who knew how to train Marines.

    I was fortunate to work beneath the finest general officers the Marine Corps can produce. I worked for George Trautman when he was both a Lieutenant Colonel and a Lieutenant General, and his relentless, driving intellect and fearsome demand for detail, analysis and good decisions sharpened me in ways I am still discovering.

    I was lucky enough to serve beneath Generals Mattis, Conway and Dunford, in both peace and war, and from when they were Colonels to their positions as four-star generals.

    The nation is fortunate that men such as these have set us on the course we follow today.

    The Marine Corps is people, and it is stories.


    I am marching a platoon down the streets of New Orleans during the Mardi Gras parades in 1989, as leader of the drill team.

    I was to the side of the team as they marched, so I was right next to the screaming crowds. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets, screaming and shrieking and cheering.

    Marine options in college wear navy uniforms but Marine Corps eagle, globe and anchor insignia.

    As we marched through the throngs, one man in the crowd, right next to me, saw my EGA and said simply, in a conversational voice and just to me:

    “Get it, Marines.”

    Never saw him, never spoke to him.

    A brother.


    I check in to Bob Dobson’s rifle battalion in Twentynine Palms, California in 1994.

    Then-Colonel Jim Mattis, the Seventh Marines regimental commander, called for me to come see him. I was not only just a brand-new Captain, but I was an aviator in an infantry regiment: I was not a key player.

    Colonel Mattis took his phone off the hook, closed his office door and spent over an hour, just with me, telling me his warfighting philosophy, vision, goals and expectations. He told me how he saw us fighting – and where – and how he was getting us ready to do just that.

    America knows him as the caricature: Mad Dog Mattis. Those of us who served with him know that he is a gifted, caring, warfighting general, and the finest of tribal elders.

    I am watching a film clip from Vietnam.

    Jack Laurence of CBS News, a very talented TV reporter and author of the magnificent memoir The Cat From Hue, was out in the jungle with a Marine rifle company.

    Somehow a Marine from another unit was separated from his brothers, and this company had found him.

    Laurence rolls tape, and approaches the company commander. This man is wearing filthy utilities. He is exhausted and thirty pounds underweight, with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth. A man with things to do and the weight of hundreds of lives on his shoulders. A hard, intense man.

    Laurence talks about the lost Marine, and asks: “Will you take care of this man?”

    The Captain stares at Laurence as if he is insane, and says, as if it should be obvious: “He’s a Marine.”

    Laurence: “What?”

    Captain: “He’s a Marine. I’ll take care of him.”


    I am with Paddy Gough in a Cobra over 29 Palms in December 1992.

    We are at one hundred feet, flying back from a mission. It is bitter cold on the desert floor, below freezing, and a dark, ugly cloud layer sits low on the sand.

    A line of exhausted Marines below us is marching back to their camp after a week of training. They string out like ants, hundreds of them in the cold. They are bent under their equipment: heavy weapons, mortar tubes, ammunition, packs, helmets, flak jackets.

    We fly in silence, watching them, until Paddy comes up on the intercom with me, and says quietly:

    “This country does not know how lucky we are to have such men.”


    I am a seven-year-old boy, and my father is putting me to sleep.

    I am sleeping in a Marine Corps-issue jungle hammock, which of course to a boy is the coolest thing ever.

    I need something to read, so he disappears into the study and returns.

    He hands me a book I read cover to cover and which I am holding right now: the 1962 Guidebook for Marines.


    I am giving a speech in El Cajon, California in July 2003.

    I was one of the first people back from the invasion of Iraq, and I was therefore much in demand from local groups who wanted to hear about this campaign in Mesopotamia.

    I was outdoors at a Fourth of July street festival, speaking to a crowd of several hundred people and telling them how magnificent our fighting force was, and what I had seen.

    I told these people that their Marines were in the fight in the desert, winning, doing it right for the people back home, representing the best of who we are as a nation.

    Standing far to the back of the crowd was a motorcycle gang. Huge, hairy guys, dozens of them, in beards and bandannas and wraparound sunglasses and leather and boots, leaning on their Harleys.

    As I came off the stage, they came to me as a group. The first of them grabbed me and I now saw the EGA sewn onto his vest, right next to his Vietnam campaign patch.

    He embraced me, tight, and said:

    “Right on, brother. Right on.”


    Karl Marlantes was in the best position imaginable in 1967.

    He was on a Rhodes Scholarship, comfortable in Oxford, immune from the Vietnam War and the vagaries of the draft. He was immersed in the world’s premier academic institution on a full ride, the goal of every serious college student.

    But Marlantes had been to Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in 1964. He had been inducted into the tribe. And his brothers were at war. He says:

    “I couldn’t go to a party without thinking of my Marine friends, terrified in the jungle while I was hanging onto my girlfriend’s warm body with one arm and holding a pint of bitter in the other. The one choice my conscience would not allow was to sit it out in college.

    I pulled all my scholarship money from the bank…and Second Lieutenant Karl Marlantes USMCR reported for active duty. “


    Or from Phillip Caputo in 1961:

    “I wanted to find in a commonplace world a chance to live heroically.

    Having known nothing but security, comfort and peace, I hungered for danger, challenges and violence.

    The Marine Corps was more than a branch of the armed services. It was a society unto itself, demanding total commitment to its doctrines and values. We were novitiates, and the rigorous training , administered by the high priests called drill instructors, was to be our ordeal of initiation.

    At the end of the course, the DIs honored our survival by informing us that we had earned the right to be called Marines.”


    I earned that right, as did many of you. As did millions before us, and the millions to follow.

    I feel no sadness about taking off the uniform for the last time. The Marine Corps does not care about me….nor should it. The organization will always be there, and it will always hone and harden the finest our country has to offer.

    I was only one of many…but at the same time, I was one of the few.

    The Marine Corps serves the nation, and those of us who are called serve the Marine Corps.

    We serve the unit.

    We serve the tribe.

    Most of all, we serve our brothers.

    Semper Fidelis.

    Of actionable and inactionable intelligence

    Saturday, December 13th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron — nutshell version: strategy should precede tactics as contemplation precedes action ]

    action should be founded on contemplation robert mcnamara


    Let me grab a quick quote from page 4 of Dr. Rob Johnston‘s Analytic Culture in the US Intelligence Community: An Ethnographic Study, and launch from there:

    Warner reviews and synthesizes a number of previous attempts to define the discipline of intelligence and comes to the conclusion that “Intelligence is secret state activity to understand or influence foreign entities.”

    Warner’s synthesis seems to focus on strategic intelligence, but it is also logically similar to actionable intelligence (both tactical and operational) designed to influence the cognition or behavior of an adversary.


    Look, I’m an amateur reading professional materials, but what I sense here is a distinction between “actionable” and “strategic intelligence” — which for my purposes as a confirmed Taoist might semi-tongue-in-cheek be called “inactionable intelligence” and be done with it.

    But of course while “inactionable intelligence” is certainly intelligence, it is by no means inactionable in any real sense. It is simply actionable at a different level or altitude, one more rareified if you will, closer to the needs of policy makers than those in the field, background hum to the vivid and pressing urgencies and exigencies of battle.

    Let me take, from my reading when I began this post a week ago, and without giving them undue priority over a thousand such pieces that you or I might find, three headlines to illustrate my point:

  • American Conservative: COIN Is a Proven Failure; America risks shoveling more troops into Iraq to replicate a strategy that never worked in the first place
  • EmptyWheel: Over $80 Billion Wasted in “Training” Iraqi, Afghan Forces: No Lessons Learned
  • Informed Comment: Iraq Fail: Shiite Gov’t asks Sunni tribe to fight ISIL, but Sentences Politician from Tribe to Death
  • Agree or disagree with those three individual pieces as you may, each in turn depicts a situation where it is not the single raid or drone strike, firefight or rescue attempt, but the wider grasp of a war and its nth-order ramifications that is at stake. And while having a clear grasp of such things (seeing them in a coup d’oeuil, perhaps?) may not save or kill at the individual, small group, immediate tactical level, it can save tens or hundreds of thousands of lives, and perhaps even avert entire wars and their deranged after-effects, acting as what I’ll call “actionable wisdom” at higher altitude.


    So we have the proposition: true inactionable intelligence is insightful actionable wisdom.

    Now here’s the thing: everyone knows that actionable intelligence is useful — it is almost something you can touch or see — it gives meaning to the view in a sniper’s scope, it is visceral, present, immediate, concrete, practical.

    By comparison, the high contextual intelligence I am calling “actionable wisdom” is more remote, theoretical, abstract — less tangible, less, let’s face it, sexy than “actionable intelligence”.

    Yet it has a wider and deeper reach, and the potential to offer far more positive outcomes and save far more lives.


    I often refer to Castoriadis‘ quote about how different philosophy would be if our paradigm for a “real object” in consiering what reality is was Mozart‘s Requiem rather than a kitchen table — a table seems more real than music, munitions more real than morale — but are they?

    Or to put that another way — and I’m serious, if mildly metaphorical, in repurposing Stalin‘s quote — How many divisions has the Battle Hymn of the Republic?

    As many as it brings courage to, would be my answer.


    Footnoting that McNamara quote: It’s from Robert S. McNamara in Conversations with History, starting from the question at the 11.21 mark onwards. Here’s a more detailed transcript:

    At times I think there is a tension between what you call contemplation and action. But I think there’s less tension than most people believe, and I myself believe a person of action, or let’s say an administrator if you will, should put more weight on contemplation, what you call contemplation, should put more weight on establishing values in his mind, establishing goals and objectives, for himself, for his organization, and those he’s associated with. Let me phrase it very simplistically: I don’t believe there’s a contradiction between a soft heart and hard head. In a sense, I don’t believe there’s a contradiction between contemplation and action. Action should be founded on contemplation, and those of us who act don’t put enough time, don’t give enough emphasis, to contemplation.

    After a discussion of his role introducing safety features in the 1950s auto industry, he continues:

    There’s no contradiction between what I call a soft heart and a hard head, or there’s no contradiction between what I’ll call social values on the one hand and a firm’s financial strength and sustainability on the other – that’s really what I was first trying to prove to myself and then trying to prove to others.

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