Saturday, June 24, 2017

Poem a Day 24

Night

The heat has overflowed from day to night;
memory of your eyes haunts me tonight.

The world no longer brings joy to my sight;
to my eye night is piled onto night.

Once I would have looked up at starry light,
your sigh in my ear; it is dark tonight.

The moon no longer beams with face of white;
our love did not endure from night to night.

Return, my love, and set my heart to right!
I am alone when day turns into night.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Loving Nature for Its Own Sake

The end of labor, so far as material nature is concerned, is not to make it an instrument for obtaining things and money, but to perfect it--to revive the lifeless, to spiritualize the material in it. The methods whereby this can be achieved cannot be indicated here; they fall within the province of art (in the broad sense of the Greek τεχνη). But what is essential is the point of view, the inner attitude and the direction of activity that results from it. Without loving nature for its own sake it is impossible to organize material life in a moral way.

[Vladimir Soloviev, The Justification of the Good, von Peters, ed. Catholic Resources (Chattanooga, TN: 2015), p. 370.]

Poem a Day 23

Footsteps on the Moon VI

Challenges shape the course of destiny,
Exalting the minds that rise to them.
Reason finds hope in overcoming.
Never does the road to heaven perish;
Always it is there, a shining path.
Night skies sing of those who walked in them.

Spaces grand enough for spirit to grow
Call to the human mind at night,
Herald a morning on new spheres,
Mix our mortal thoughts with dreams of more,
Inspire us to travel beyond horizon's bound.
Truth is a treasure within our mental reach;
Transcended, Earth gives way to the stars.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Poem a Day 22

Loves of Dandelions

The dandelions flourish,
suns below for sun above,
by winds and waters nourished
with a wanton kind of love
promiscuous in passion
and libertine in touch,
vulgar in its fashion
and gaudy overmuch,
but cheerful in its crassness,
like men with taste for beer,
and valiant in its rashness,
untouched by dread or fear.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Islands of Miranda, Part II

This is the second part of a short story draft. Part I

Early the next morning, Diego ferried over to the floating airstrip for his flight to Costa Rica. It was uneventful, and customs went smoothly; under the dual-nationality agreement between Costa Rica and Miranda, he was required to use his Costa Rican passport to enter, and therefore did. As he was getting his baggage, he called the Mirandan embassy and they sent out a car to fetch him. They were just pulling through the embassy gate when he received a call from his sister saying that she and her husband's stay in the Bahamas had been extended, so they would not be back until later in the week. He sighed and wondered what he would do for the rest of the week.

When he checked in at the embassy desk to let them know that he would be expecting a message from the Council the next day, he found that there was already a message for him, asking him to meet Graciela Tovar in the top floor meeting lounge.

Diego had seen pictures of Tovar before, but on entering the little meeting room with its collection of arm chairs and side tables, he discovered that she was one of those beautiful people to whom photographs do no justice. She sat in the armchair as if it were a throne, and rose graciously to shake his hand as if she were a princess.

"It is good to meet you in person," she said, sitting down again. "I assume that you know that everything is cleared away for your appointment except the formalities."

"Yes, Teddy Chavez told me."

"Ah, yes. Would you like some wine to celebrate?" When he assented, she nodded her head at the waiter, who opened a new bottle -- a Château Angélus Cabernet Souvignon 2112, a very good vintage that no one simply has on hand for casual celebration -- and poured the glasses.

"May the Islands return," Diego said.

"May the Islands return," Tovar replied. "I've always found that toast so interesting. It is not we how return to the Islands; it is the Islands that will return to us. There is a great deal to that." She looked at him over her glass. "I seem to recall that you have spent the last few years in the Mirandan Navy."

Diego nodded. "Captain of the Dominic Seabourne."

"Seabourne? Who was that? The name sounds familiar."

"He was one of the volunteers in the Mirandan Marines who died holding off the Venezuelan invasion long enough for the Evacuation. I confess that I never understood why we name ships for historical figures until I was assigned to the Seabourne and learned more about him. He is one of those who made possible the very fact that I exist; it was an honor to contribute to the continuation of his memory."

The corner of Tovar's eyes crinkled slightly in what may have been either appreciation or cynicism; Diego could not tell. "And before that, a degree at Our Lady of Coromoto."

"Yes, naval engineering."

"Did you like Nuevos Aves?"

Diego laughed. "A little too cold for me. I don't know why they put it so far north."

"My understanding is that at the time it was so that the Venezuelan navy wouldn't be tempted to think they could get away with raiding it. Thus all the seasteads are in the Pacific or the North Atlantic. A great deal of what we have ever done has been shaped by the Left-Populist government of Venezuela; they don't like us at all, because we represent -- well, a failure for them, I suppose. And they are hot-tempered and reckless. You have heard, I suppose, of their accusations that we are to blame for their recent computer problems?"

"Yes, I saw something of the kind. They do seem to rant a lot."

"Very true. They would be much better served to have the proof in hand before making these kinds of accusations. Especially," she said, looking reflectively at her glass, "in a case like this, when what they say is true."

Diego, who had been on the verge of taking a sip, lowered his glass slowly. "You mean that we really are hacking Venezuela's essential systems? That could be seen as an act of war."

"Oh, but Señor Páez, it is an act of war. A very deliberate act of war. I do not know why they have picked now -- my suspicion is that something that was being prepared for later was accidentally set off before its time -- but there is no question that it is now the first step in what is the increasingly inevitable war between the Left-Populist Republic of Venezuela and the Miranda Organization."

Diego absorbed this a moment, then said, "I notice that you did not say the Insular State of Miranda."

"Do you think the Council of Self-Governance would approve this sort of thing? Can you imagine the Marshal of Los Roques or the Ranger of Los Aves signing off on a war? No, it is very much the Miranda Organization itself. There have always been two groups inside the Organization, those who held that war was the path to the return of the Islands and those like myself who have argued that patient diplomacy is more promising."

She swirled the wine around in her glass. "Not that I cannot see sometimes the point of the other side. If you have never looked at it closely before, look at the angel statue on the northern side of the embassy before you leave. It is one of the original Angels of La Orchila, commissioned by Leo Theodore himself. One was destroyed in the invasion, and the other three were sold off by the Venezuelans to help them recover some of the cost of turning our grandparents into exiles. One of them vanished into some private collection somewhere, and the last two, the one here and then one in the Washington embassy, were bought back at very great expense. They used to stand in front of the Church of Los Ángeles Santos, which is now an office building for the Venezuelan Navy. It is enough of an insult to make any Mirandan angry."

"But," she said with emphasis, leaning forward, "we must not let ourselves be distracted from such things. Those are old ways. The times are changing." She leaned back again. "I do not fully know how Leo Theodore conned the Venezuelan government into giving him the Territorio Insular Francisco de Miranda; it was an astounding feat of diplomacy. But he took a haphazard collection of a few thousand people, used to fishing and tourism, and made them a nation, and that was an even greater feat, for whether he knew it or not, he was making something completely new. Because there was so little land, everything he did had to be done in a decentralized way, so he invented a way to do that --"

"The Miranda Organization."

"Exactly. And not bound by the limits of territory, or the limits of thought created by it, Miranda became the wealthiest country in the Caribbean in a generation. That's what the Left-Populists thought they were going to get; having bankrupted their own government, they saw a treasury for the taking. But all they got were some offices, some petty cash reserves, a few chartered corporations whose operations were entirely in Miranda and Venezuela. And the Islands. But Miranda itself was not bound to the isles and cays, and it survived their loss. The Miranda Organization was still recognized by treaty law as the legal entity representing Mirandan citizens in the greater world.

"The era of the nation-states is over. They are property managers, and very poor ones. When Leo Theodore founded Miranda in 2073, a new age began. It is foolish to pine for the days when we were bound to the earth. And the direction we are heading will do nothing for us."

"Because we are heading for a war we cannot win."

"No, because it is a war that will harm us even though we will win. Of course we will win; they are Left-Populists squeezing a country they have bankrupted several times over, and these are not the old days when the Mirandan Marines were mostly concerned with customs and park-rangering. We can shut down half their country by twiddling our fingers on a keyboard. None of this is the point. The danger is precisely that when we win we will have the archipelagos around our necks like millstones, and perhaps Venezuela, too."

Tovar snapped her fingers and the waiter -- who, Diego suddenly realized, was not merely a waiter -- handed her a folder, which she handed to Diego.

"What is this?" he asked, opening it. It was filled with technical diagrams.

"A new satellite that the Space Agency will be putting into orbit next month. Under your supervision, of course, assuming you don't stop it." She waved her glass at her assistant, who refilled it, and sipped it appreciatively while Diego looked through the papers.

"Satellite design is not my specialty," he said slowly. "But this looks like a rather strange satellite."

"Not if your satellite is a weapon."

"You mean, like a tactical laser?"

"I am told that it is not technically a laser, but yes, a beam weapon along those lines."

Diego shook his head. "That makes no sense; you could have a cheaper and more effective weapon by dropping iron rods."

"More effective, perhaps, but not with the same precision. It would be child's play to put a bombardment system in orbit that would drop things on Venezuela until there was no more Venezuela, but that would run afoul of a long list of treaties and get half the countries of the world on their side. But surgical strikes? It is the sort of thing we can do and then ask for forgiveness. And anywhere in Venezuela, from a position that the Venezuelans can never dislodge. Absolute strategic high ground."

"Surely our allies will not stand for it."

"You'll find, Diego, that our allies will stand for anything, or at least not oppose anything, that fattens their pocketbooks. It is how we have survived for so long. Everyone makes money if Venezuela loses -- including probably Venezuela, given how the Left-Populists have handled things. Either they'll be quiet, or they'll sternly lecture us not to do it again, and that's it. And, while I don't know, I suspect the Americans are actually in on it. They are still smarting from their loss in the Polynesian War. Let us do the testing, and risk the international outcry, and, if it proves effective, they can have an even better system up within the year. Probably already have it ready.

"One of the first things you'll have to decide, Diego, is whether we should go to war. Can I count on your support to oppose this?"

Diego handed back the folder, wondering what the catch was. "This is quite a serious matter," he said warily. "I would prefer to avoid a war, but I would have to look more closely at all of the relevant information."

On Tovar's face, there was a brief flash of what Diego could only interpret as extreme skepticism, almost immediately replaced by a pleasant smile. "Of course," she said. "I could not ask for anything more. It just seemed a good idea to give you fair warning about what you are about to step into."

"Thank you very much for that."

"Are you intending on flying to Italy as soon as get the official notice? The usual expectation is that you would meet the Pontifical Commission within a week or two."

"I'm not sure. I had originally intended to stay in Costa Rica for the rest of the week, but that was when I thought my sister would be back from her trip already; now she won't be back until I was expecting to leave. Now I'm thinking I might move it up."

"Hm. Well, prepare to be lectured."

"Teddy Chavez said the same thing to me; he said that I would be lectured on ancient history."

"I think it differs according to the person. With me it was forty-five minutes, nonstop, on papal sovereignty. Binaisa is harmless, but he likes to pontificate. Just smile and nod."

She rose and extended her hand with a directness that made it clear that the interview was over, so he shook her hand and left. As he left, he looked back, and saw her looking at him with that same very skeptical look that he had seen earlier.

to be continued

Poem a Day 21

Footsteps on the Moon V

Yesterday's mountains, hard as stone,
Over long eons to dust erode.
Unknown and mysterious, time is a riddle;
Nothing but the mind can resolve it,
Great with courage, great with thought.

Destiny begins with one foot;
Under the high Earth it begins with a step.
Kick off the chains that bind the feet;
Earth is more fair when bright in the sky.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Resistance to Crimes

The moral principle demands real resistance to crimes, and determines this resistance (or punishment in the wide sense of the term, as distinct from the idea of retribution) as a rightful means of active pity, legally and forcibly limiting the external expressions of evil will, not merely for the sake of the safety of the peaceful members of society, but also in the interests of the criminal himself. Thus the true conception of punishment is many-sided, but each aspect is equally conditioned by the universal moral principle of pity, which includes both the injured and the injurer.

The victim of a crime has a right to protection and, as far as possible, to compensation; society has a right to safety; the criminal has a right to correction and reformation. Resistance to crimes that is to be consistent with the moral principle must realize or, at any rate, aim at an equal realization of those three rights.

[Vladimir Soloviev, The Justification of the Good, von Peters, ed. Catholic Resources (Chattanooga, TN: 2015), p. 345.]

Soloviev is very down on retributive theories of punishment, but a version of this point, at least, is a standard part of classical retributive theory, in large part due to the influence of Platonism, with which Soloviev's account of punishment has much in common.

Poem a Day 20

No, I Will Not Love You

No, I will not love you;
your eyes are far too bright,
lively in their laughter,
sparkling in the light.

My love, I will not love you
if love will have an end;
the link between our hearts must last
until the stars descend.

My love, I can only hate you
unless this love is pure;
no love at all I give you
unless its joy endure.

No, I will not love you,
whose smiles too perfect shine,
unless my heart is wholly yours
and yours is wholly mine.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Islands of Miranda, Part I

This is the first part of a short story draft.

Diego Páez was that most remarkable of things, a citizen of the Insular State of Miranda, which did not exist, and being so gave him access to untold power and wealth. He was even a candidate for the Board. But such things do not constitute invulnerability, and he had already narrowly avoided assassination.

His troubles had begun, as troubles often do, with a meeting. The meeting occurred aboard a boat, docked at the Mirandan seastead of Nuevo Roque in the Pacific, belonging to the Fifth Speaker of the Board of the Miranda Organization, Teddy Chavez. To call it a 'boat' is a bit of an understatement; it was a yacht, so fine as to be perhaps even a little better than the finest that money can buy.

"Tuanís," Diego said under his breath as he came on board. He had spent his last few years as captain of a light corvette with complement of fifty, which, like all ships built for military purposes, had a design inspired by a sardine can. The open space, the wood paneling, the gilt and artwork and grand piano, all took his breath away.

He clinked a glass of bourbon -- also of a kind a little better than mere money could buy -- with Chavez before settling into a comfortable overstuffed chair.

"May the Islands return," said Chavez, taking his own seat across the desk.

"May the Islands return," replied Diego.

They took time to appreciate the bourbon, smooth with a silky finish, then Chavez said, "It's a big day. It has basically been decided. You will be the new Fourth Speaker."

"I had thought that the Council wasn't making a decision until the day after tomorrow."

"Officially, but it's all squared away. The always have to make a decision before the actual deadline so they can draw up the official documentation and deliver it by Courier with minimal delay. The Council of Self-Governance likes their documents, lots and lots of documents. It's their only form of entertainment."

"And the Pontifical Commission?"

"That's a rubber stamp. They want to interview you, but they always do. They have to, to feel like they are doing something. Binaisa will give you a lecture on ancient history and send you on your way; just smile and nod politely and it will all be fine. Will you be here when the Council makes its announcement?"

Diego shook his head. "I fly out to San José tomorrow to visit with friends and family. I told the Courier Office that that's where I'd be when they announced the result."

Chavez nodded. "I'm very excited about this, Diego. I pushed very hard for you with the rest of the Board." He glanced at the clock on the wall, a marble affair shaped like a bear, and stood, "I'm sorry to have to cut this short, but I have to head out. I just wanted to see you before I left, to share the news."

They shook hands. Before Diego left, Chavez said, "By the way, Diego, a word of advice. These aren't the days of the Lion and the Lamb; Board politics is very rough. You'll need to keep a sharp eye out and clear head on your shoulders."

Diego disembarked and walked along the ponte to the South Towers. It was a beautiful day. The sun was just touching the horizon to set, creating a long golden road of waves across the sea. This, combined with the news he had received, put him in a very good mood. This was perhaps a good thing, because he got lost trying to find his hotel, and only finally reached the hotel desk well after it had begun to get dark.

"And how are you paying, sir?" the man at the front desk asked.

"I would like it charged to my account at the Bank of Miranda," Diego replied, handing over his Mirandan passport and banking card.

The man, startled, took the documents and then became very intensely focused on the computer.

"I'm sorry, sir," he said, after it beeped at him twice. "When the reservation was made, they did not note that you were a Mirandan citizen. If you have no objection, I will upgrade your room to one of our luxury suites for no additional charge."

Diego had no objection to this, and briefly wondered whether anyone ever had an objection to such a thing, and so it was done. He took a long ride up an elevator, long enough to watch a news report on claims by Venezuela that several key government systems, including its electrical grid, had been hacked, to a suite large enough to take up almost an entire floor. Even at night, the view was breathtaking -- the stars were shining brightly in the west, while off to the east in the far distance one could see the lightning flashes of a storm. But when he made himself a cup of herbal tea and settled down on the comfortable sofa, it was to the shadows to the north that he looked. Somewhere in that direction, too far away to be in sight even if it were day, was Nuevo Francisqui, the location of the Miranda Space Agency, which was one of the agencies traditionally under the supervision of the Fourth Speaker of the Board.

He raised his cup in a toast to his reflection. "May the Islands return," he said.

to be continued

Flesh and Bone

Philosophy is a product of the humanity of each philosopher, and each philosopher is a man of flesh and bone who addresses himself to other men of flesh and bone like himself. And, let him do what he will, he philosophizes not with the reason only, but with the will, with the feelings, with the flesh and with the bones, with the whole soul and the whole body. It is the man that philosophizes.

Miguel de Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life, Flitch, tr. Dover (New York: 1954) p. 28.

Poem a Day 19

Footsteps on the Moon IV

Sweetly the rains of sunlight fall,
Combusting the kindling of the mind,
Ordering its thoughts in curious design.
Thought is an active thing, a force,
Taking the spheres of the world in hand.

In the quiets of space the power of God
Reaches into the mind with thundering force,
Waking the heart to sublime adventure,
Instilling a sense of the Presence within;
Nigh to eternity is the human soul.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fortnightly Book, June 18

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:19)

The next fortnightly book is Miguel de Unamuno's San Manuel Bueno, mártir. It is quite short, but I will be reading it in Spanish. Although I will not be doing it officially for the fortnightly book, I will also be reading (in translation) Unamuno's major philosophical work, The Tragic Sense of Life, on the lookout for connections between the two.

Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo (1864-1936) wanted to be a philosophy professor, but couldn't get an appointment, so he went into Classics instead, and took a position at the University of Salamanca, of which he eventually became the rector. In 1924, he was removed from his position and exiled by Miguel Primo de Rivera, the general Prime Minister who essentially functioned as a dictator at the time; he spent some time in the Canary Islands, but eventually escaped to France. After the collapse of Primo de Rivera's government, he returned to Spain and to his university positions. Very pro-Spanish, he originally welcomed Franco's unapologetic insistence on maintaining Spanish culture, but soured very quickly on Francoist methods. Always the moderate, he fearlessly criticized the extremes of both the Republicans and the Francoists, and inevitably was removed from his university positions again. He died shortly afterward under house arrest.

During his career, he became one of Spain's most internationally known literary greats, and San Manuel Bueno, mártir is perhaps his most famous fictional work. It is not quite a novel, a novela; rather, it is a nivola, a neologism invented by Unamuno to describe a short work that uses novelistic techniques but is otherwise almost entirely unlike a typical novel. A nivola is more concerned with ideas than with realism, rejects any interest in psychological complexities beyond what is strictly required by the story told, insists on limited-perspective narration, and is more like a sketch than an intricate drawing of life. It tells the story of Don Miguel, a Catholic priest who is loved by the people of his parish, who consider him a saint. He spends his days doing good for people and preaching the faith -- but he is burdened by the fact that he no longer believes in immortality of the soul or resurrection of the body. Thus the epigraph for the book, which I have quoted above.

Poem a Day 18

Quarrel

The sky is thick with storm:
the wind is harsh and steady now;
the lightning strikes are near;
the drops are cold and newly large.
This kind of storm will last;
the floods will soon be loosed on all.
This gale is from your eyes;
I sail a ship on unsafe seas.