Diary and Commentary
of plans---I am in La Ceiba, Honduras. Surprisingly, there is excellent Internet
acess here. Now I can write on my site to my heart and soul`s content. I went to
Santa Rosa de Copan so that I could climb Mount Celaque. But the rain there was incessant, drizzling
and depressing. Had I gone ahead I would have been dealing
with---yet again---oceans of mud. No thanks. So I decided to bus over to the
Caribbean and stay here. Anyway, there is the National Park of Pico
Bonito, in which I was going to backpack anyway. So I am content---as long as it
does not rain. But rain in the tropical jungles is warm and falls mainly between
2 PM and 6 PM---and thus is acceptable. But right now the sun shines. Thank you,
Hondurans are not as outgoing or as friendly as most Guatemalans. They seem a bit
indifferent as well. I cannot really blame them, as this nation is quite
impoverished. Some of the things one sees on the street would be right at home
in Calcutta. Hurricane Mitch destroyed much of the infrastructure---billions of
dollars worth---and the rebuilding is still in process. Here in La Ceiba there
is more of a Caribbean-type atmosphere and plenty of black influence, so the
attitude is more laid-back and relaxed. It looks cool so far.
here I will bus the long route to the capital of Tegucigalpa. This "road" goes
through Trujillo to San Esteban and on to Juticalpa. I took it 17 years ago and
it was a hair-raising ride. Stay tuned.
A Warrior Returns
Grant Jensen was a Lincoln student some years ago. He arrived
as an Eagle Scout, completed an IB Diploma and became a member of
champion Knowledge Bowl team. He and I became friends. Always he expressed his
desire to join the US Marine Corps when he graduated and after he had completed
his mission for the Mormon Church. He did just that. After becoming a Marine he
wrote to tell me he was on his way to Iraq. He returned, an answer to prayers.
He also found time to get married, and now plans to go to law school after
finishing at Brigham Young. Here are some photos he sent:
In the background is Iran.
A well-used tank.
home, Marine. You bring honor to your country, to your family and to God. And I am honored
to call you my friend.
Passion for The Passion
movie of the
last ten hours of the life of Christ is almost ready for release. It is
scheduled for February 25---Ash Wednesday. The response from Americans who
desire to see the film has been extraordinary. People are already ordering
batches of 10,000 tickets. A 20 screen multiplex in Plano, Texas will show it on
all its screens. Some showings will begin at 6:30 AM and run all day. Mr.
Gibson has already screened the film for theVatican. The film is in Latin and
Aramaic with subtitles. Aramaic was the spoken language of the Jews in the
Middle East of the time. It resembles Hebrew the same way that modern English
resembles that of Shakespeare.
This is yet more evidence that there is a Second Great
Awakening coming to the US---and to a theater near you.
Oh, Those Peace-Loving Palestinians!
A female suicide bomber, 22 year-old
killed four Israelis yesterday. She was a mother of two children, both under
four years of age. Mourners carried her coffin through the crowd. I cannot see
that the coffin weighed much, as most of Ms. al-Reyashi would have been
We tell you Reem: 'May your soul rest in peace and
we will follow in your footsteps and continue to blow up our bodies in
the depths of the Zionists' entity until they are
removed!'," a militant leader said through loudspeakers to the crowd.
"She is not going to be the
last (attacker) because the march of resistance will continue until the Islamic
flag is raised,
not only over the minarets of Jerusalem, but over
the whole universe,"
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said.
Please read that last sentence with care. Moslems will stop
killing Jews when the Islamic flag hangs "over the whole universe"?
(Hmm...sounds like quite a job.) And this is
from a leader of Hamas. Like Hezbullah, Hamas has ties with al-Qaeda---and had
them with Saddam until the Marines did their drive-by in Baghdad.
Here is the new heroine and role-model before her
did she do it? While going through the security check-point
had set off the metal detector, claimed she had a metal implant in her leg, wept
she really needed to pass through the
checkpoint, showed her ID proving she was mother of two youngsters,
and the compassionate guards let her pass
through. She then set off the detonator.
Murdering the guards that had showed her
Quite the girl!
Could somebody please explain how you deal with people who
send their women to be blasted to bits and who make orphans of their own
children? Like the ancient Canaanites to whom they are related by blood and
geography, the Palestinians sacrifice their own children to a false god---that
of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem.
And like the Iranian mullahs these
peoples are diseased by hatred: hatred of Jews, hatred of themselves.
Plutarch (c. 45 - c.120 AD) was a Greek writer who wrote
biographies of what he termed "noble Greeks and Romans." He would always match
the life of a Greek with that of a Roman whom he considered was the Greek`s
moral---or immoral---equal. Thus, Plutarch`s book has come down to us as
I just finished one of Penguin`s collections of a group of
Plutarch`s biographies. This one covered only Greek lives during
The RIse and Fall of Athens. Penguin`s idea was to compile a history of
Athens by using biographies of Greeks from Athens` foundation under Theseus
(c.1400 BC) to her defeat in the Peloponnesian War by the Spartan general
Lysander (404 BC). The result is an intriguing short history of that city-state
that shows as well as anything can the meaning of both hubris and nemesis.
Theseus` biography is mainly mythology, as Plutarch readily
admits. We all know the tale of the Minotaur, the labyrinth and Ariadne, but
here Plutarch points out that Theseus` great weakness was women---he wanted to
seduce as many as he could by whatever means necessary. Apparently one story
well accepted at the time was that Helen---she of Trojan War fame---was really
kidnapped by Theseus who hid her until she was old enough to marry. Alas, his
plans came to naught, and he was murdered in his old age by being pushed off a
cliff---not the heroic death Theseus would have wanted.
The next biography is of Solon, who brought a new law code to
Athens to replace that of Draco (as in draconian) which was considered
far too harsh and used the death penalty almost indiscriminately. After writing
his more lenient code, Solon wisely took off while the Athenians could get some
time to sort the whole mess out. He went to Egypt, where he learned of the tale
of Atlantis, later well-amplified by Plato in his Critias. Themistocles
(525 - 460 BC) is next, surely a man of astonishing forsight and strategic
brilliance. He it was who pushed for Athens to build a fleet after her victory
over Persia at Marathon (490 BC). She did, and it was this fleet that saved
Athens from the invasion of the Persian king Xerxes (480 BC). He came to a bad
end---almost all Athenian statesmen did---and ended up a rather pitiful
character living in Persia, where he finally committed suicide.
The `Golden Age of Athens`---poetry, playwriting, history,
sculpture, art---is credited to Pericles (495 - 429 BC). He is surely one of
history`s most over-rated figures. Sure, he was either archon or
strategos in Athens during much of this time. But Athens` greatness was
purchased by the enslavement of her fellow Greeks and by her extortion of money
from them. It was Pericles who drew Athens into the Pelponnesian War that was to
ruin both her and Greece, and it was he who designed the losing strategy that
cost the city-state one-fourth of her population from a plague---Pericles
The most fascinating character of all, and the one who
demonstrates perfectly the brilliance and immorality of Athens, was Alcibiades
(450 - 404 BC). A demogogue of no mean talent, a strategist of extraordinary
gifts, the lover of Socrates and of hundreds of women, the arbiter of elegance
and fashion and rhetoric, a man of wealth and learning, and by all accounts the
best looking man of his day, Alcibiades was absolutely without any moral
guideposts save for what he termed those of `the goddess Necessity`---what
we would term `situational ethics`. In favor of continuing the war with
Sparta after a peace of sorts, the planner of the Sicilian Expedition (415 - 413
BC) that eventually cost Athens the war, Alcibiades betrayed in turn Athens,
Sparta, Persia, and then Athens again, finally coming to a sordid end while
seducing the sister of the Persian satrap---all of this while also finding time
to impregnate the wife of the king of Sparta.
It was the Spartan Lysander who ended Athens` ambitions in
one hour at the battle of Aegospotami (404 BC). He then sailed around the Aegean
overthrowing all of Athens` allies and installing pro-Spartan governments.
Finally he starved out his enemy, but exercised an uncommon benevolence that
only demanded that Athens tear down her defensive walls, give up what remained
of her empire and burn all of her navy. Athens had no choice.
Here the book ends, and rightly so. After the Peloponnesian
War the Greek city-states embarked upon an era of constant internecine warfare
that drained her wealth and wasted her blood. The endless squabbling of these
states was ended by Macedon under Philip II and his son Alexander---the Great of
that name. But of these more in due course.
OK, enough brilliant commentary and analysis for awhile.
Here is what I looked like one month ago while in a cave in
returned from four days spent hiking around Pico Bonito National Park in
Honduras. It was a fascinating trip, full of the type of jungle I love minus any
ruins. It is the largest park in this country, and is loaded with
opportunities for adventure of all types. The summit of Pico Bonito (2454
meters) has seldom been climbed, and for good reason. True, it seems small stuff
compared to the 6000 meters plus mountains in the Andes, but consider: there is
no real trail; the climate is hot and humid---sweat city and insect heaven, in
other words; which means a minimum of ten liters of water a day---that is 22
pounds per day once you leave the river to begin the climb; the climb takes a
minimum of six days (more likely nine), and that means around 50-70 pounds
of water per person after leaving the river; everything---food, fuel, tent,
Bible---must be packed in without animals, as there is no room for them on the
"trail". And a guide is essential---and believe me, he is---and costs $25
a day, but you must take two in case of problems---and there will be
some, trust me. Everest has been climbed far more often than Pico Bonito. This
peak looked so close and tempting from where I camped, but as I did a one-day
recon of the route the difficulties became obvious. Maybe some day...
there is another entrance to the park which I will take in two days---after
pizza and beer. And for the love of Heaven I simply must arrange another type of
diet for my backpacking---one more dried and packaged soup and I will explode.
My last day in the jungle I refused to eat, so sick and tired was I of my
cuisine. Oh: it rained not at all---God takes care of worthless little me. And
maybe there is another route to that peak...stay tuned.
am and where I will be---more or less---until late February. I return in early
April to do some hard stuff around and through the Miskito Coast in Gracias A
Dios province. The legendary---or fabled or imaginary---Lost White City of the
Maya is buried (so it is said) between the headwaters of the Rios Platano and
Paulaya---a bit northwest of the `G` in Gracias A Dios. It is rough country
Pico Bonito (not my photo). I camped on the other side of it. The route to the
top follows the ridge: sweat and heat and bugs and jungle all the way. And if it
rains...well, you will have an interesting time and some great stories to tell.
read another set of biographies of Plutarch, about which more in due course. I
do not know why, but there is something stimulating about reading a classical
historian next to your tent in the jungle. I have yet to read more Augustine,
some Gibbon, Anna Comnena, Michael Psellus, Boccaccio, Dumas, Ammianus
Marcellinus---and no, you look these up.
Yesterday the sky opened up. Rain fell in sheets, in
floods---literally. The drainage system of La Ceiba is nothing to boast about.
This morning it was impossible to cross from one side of the street to another
without getting soaked. All sidewalks are flooded. It rains still. (At least I
did not see any guy with a long beard building an ark or any beasts marching two
by two.) I am glad that I am in a hotel and not my tent. Odd, when Sir Arthur
Evans excavated the ancient Cretan city of Knossus (1896) he noticed that during
a fierce storm that the modern city below the ruins flooded, but the 4000
year-old Knossus did not. The ancient drainage system worked as it had since
Minos. Not a bad advertisement for Minoan plumbers.
Anyway, I will probably head south to the capital of
Tegucigalpa in a day or so, as whatever I could do here with tent and backpack
has been rendered muddy and water-logged. I will return in April to finish my
look at Pico Bonito. Besides, I need a dentist as a large filling is starting to
crack---not a good sign. I had a root canal in Portland in November, but the
tooth next to that one is screaming for attention. It will get it. I hope any
new root canal can wait until I return to the US. I know little about Honduran
dentists but that ignorance will soon be remedied. I hope that I am pleasantly
The Man Who Would Be King
Howard Dean pulled a shabby third in the Iowa
caucuses. The pictures below show why he lost his long-standing lead in the
The politics of Bush-hating can only take one so far. Memo to
Howard: America is not the Weimar Republic. Either Kerry or Edwards can do
better against Bush in November. And did you hear Dean`s ranting speech after
the results were in? He is a sore loser. Dean went out as he came in, a bum.
Of course, one week in politics is an entire lifetime. Stay
The Coming Revolution in the Catholic Church
Finally. As an orthodox
Catholic I have long I have bemoaned the fate of my church. It seemed to be
losing its moorings and moral certitude. The Church seemed to be conforming to
the world rather than militantly confronting it. Priests since Vatican II were
more and more secular and hip, and some even refused to wear their clerical
collars. Their morality---on priestly celibacy, on birth control, on
homosexuality---was wobbly, their theology at times heterodox and heretical, and
their passion for Catholic doctrine and faith was watery. They were often at
odds with the pope, whom they saw as too conservative and out of touch. These priests took root from
the 1960s onwards and spread their doubts and weaknesses throughout the Church
and her teaching institutions. Since they came to power people have fled
Catholicism into the arms of the Evangelicals and Baptists, whose Bible-thumping
preachers were not embarrassed by the doctrines of their faith. I
never thought that the Church would collapse, as Christ has said that "the gates
of Hell would not prevail" against it.
But Christ is taking care of
His Church. Now comes
that the latest generation of young priests is significantly more conservative
than their aging colleagues. None other than
Father Andrew Greely---himself a wobbly product of the age rather than of
orthodoxy---is critical of this:
A striking trend: a generation of conservative young
priests is on the rise in
the U.S. Church. These are newly ordained men who seem in many ways
intent on restoring the pre-Vatican II Church, and who, reversing the
classic generational rules, define themselves in direct opposition to the
liberal priests who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.
Older priests today often complain that their
younger colleagues are arrogant, pompous, and rigid, and that they love to
parade around in clerical dress.
Father Greely goes on to complain that the Church is
not in touch with the laity. By this he really means not in touch with the
modern world. But Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular
is under authority to "be in the world but not of it." Christians are not to
conform to the world, but to bring the world to Christ. The thoroughly modern Father Greely---he
has a Ph.D. in Sociology, and his
lists him as "author, priest and sociologist" in that order---is concerned about the Church, but does not,
and perhaps cannot, see that he and his peers are the problem. What Greely
really wants is a church that is entirely responsive to the transient desires
and passions of the laity---in other words, he wants Catholicism to resemble
Here is Catholic theologian
Karl Keating on these liberal priests:
is passing, and they are passing. It is the rare new
ordained who is in line with their thinking. The liberal
priests are leaving
no progeny. As they become fewer and fewer, and as they become ever more
marginalized, their whining will increase, as the whine of a flywheel
increases just before the machinery freezes altogether.
Memo to Father Greely: Please consult the
Catholic Catechism on the Church and the World, on Doctrine, on Papal
Infallibility, and on Morals. Then please retire. Or become a
A pleasant surprise indeed was Honduran
dentistry. The day after arriving here in Tegucigalpa I answered the incessant
call of that tooth. The dentist was a Brazilian woman from Sao Paulo. She
diagnosed the problem, set a price and went to work. I asked for and received
double the usual dose of anesthetic. All was painless. She had no proper assistant---one
girl worked the phones, the door, the paperwork, the files, and sometimes even
handed the dentist a drill---unlike American dental clinics where a multitude of
help is always scampering about. The cost: $150 US, about
one-fourth of what it would have cost in the US. I celebrated by going after
some Kung-Pao chicken washed down with cold beers. Marvelous! For the first time
in weeks I could eat, drink and be merry without that tooth reminding me it was
there. I found out later that my dentist specialized in pediatric
dentistry---which suited me very well indeed.
So now I have until Thursday here in Tegucigalpa
("the Goose" as it is called by those in the know). I found a fine Internet
place with the right software, so I will amuse myself by writing far too often
on my web site. Besides, there are many books to read, good restaurants, lots of
hot water in my hotel and a Catholic Church close by. I am content. It has been
a while since I have been in the Goose---six years I think---and much has
changed. The Honduran capital is a far more pleasant place than Guatemala City,
with winding streets, many hills and trees scattered about.
Still, I am a bit itchy to get back to my tent.
Alas! That must wait two weeks when I will climb Mount Celaque.
The jungles I traverse are wild places. There
are animals there who will hunt you and eat you. If you are careless or ignorant
or unlucky, you are fair game. After all, the jungle is, well, savage---and that
is its charm. If it were not, why would I go? The most dangerous beast there is
the mountain lion. It is called puma and tiger and panther,
but by whatever name it goes it is a killer. I have written about this before
Backpacking in parts of the US has its share of
terrors as well. Bears come to mind, but the mountain lion is making murdrous
inroads into populated areas all over the nation. How did this happen? There
were many warnings. In Boulder, for example
Numerous homeowners saw lions in their yards, dogs were maimed or eaten and
a girl was attcked...
but people beleived that they could coexist peacefully with the
lions...Even after Scott Lancaster,
the Idaho Springs jogger, was killed, area residents
refused to endorse killing the big cats that moved into their neighborhoods.
Call it the ´Bambi Syndrome', where wilderness
and its inhabitants are romanticized and Lion Kinged.
hunting ended, bounties were removed, and cougars started to make a comeback...
As cougars, their fear of humans
having dissipated after years of not being hunted, moved into semiurban
areas bursting with deer, they
acclimated to human beings.
People were no longer scary and,
after a while, started to
look like food.
The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature
outdoorsmen began to warn of danger, but they were ignored by both the Boulder
-- which was sentimentally
attached to the idea of free-roaming wildlife -- and state wildlife-protection
who downplayed first the
presence, and then the danger, posed by the cougars. Dogs and cats started being
cougars started threatening
people, and yet meetings on the subject were dominated by
people who "came to speak
for the cougars."
In the end, of course, people
started to be eaten...
Some people, apparently, would
rather be dinner than face up to the fact that nature is red in tooth and claw,
and that -- in this fallen
world, at least -- the lion lies down with the lamb only after the lamb's neck
I had many a conversation with my students about the risks
involved with backpacking both in the US and in Latin America. I told them that
if I were to go where bears or cougars roam, that I would be suitably armed. In
Latin America, however, I cannot do so: except for a short time while in the Paraguayan Chaco, I have not
carried a firearm. Why? The difficulties involved in transporting a gun from
nation to nation are formidable and, for me, out of the question. I have to arm
myself with luck, knowledge and Christ. So far so good.
But what excuse do Americans have? I have ever been amazed as
how blithe are those backpackers who venture out into cougar and bear country
armed with little more than a Swiss army knife and half-baked animal lore. These
types will give all sorts of advice on how to deal with bears---play dead; no,
run away; make noise; no, be quiet; back away; no, confront the bear; climb a
tree; no, bears climb too; use pepper spray; no, blow a whistle;
run downhill; no, run uphill---and so on. Sometimes one of these will work. And if it does not? Read
this for those times that it did not. Well then, what works? What will save
your life every time when you encounter a bear that will not be placated? Here
is what one Alaskan---himself no stranger to living among wild animals---says:
Always take a firearm into the woods that can bring down the biggest animal that
Good advice I think. And how do deal with cougars? Recall that they will
actually track you. Same advice. A 12-guage with a deer slug will bring down any
land animal. For a lion, a good pistol will work fine---but make mine a Glock
.45. This will also work against all but the
biggest Grizzly or Kodiak. (And any critter that thinks me a meal will become a
nice rug in front of my fireplace.)
Here is an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times piece by Alaska resident Karl
Francis. It appeared January 19, 2004, under the title
Walk Softly and Carry a Big Gun.
I am puzzled now by the strange way people here are dealing with mountain
which is to say, letting them kill you.
Nature killing people is no big deal for Alaskans. That's the way things are
When you step out into it, you are at risk. If you are wise, you prepare for
does not suffer fools. It eats them.
It also eats people who are not fools, those who prepare well and try their
best to stay alive.
have lost too many close friends to her, sensible folks who came up against
something too tough to handle.
stories of untimely death are endless, and I will not burden you with them.
In case you think otherwise, polar bears hunt people down and eat them. I love
bears, and not just to eat.
used to study them. I have friends who have spent all their professional lives
can't spend time around bears and not admire them.
none of us go into bear country without the means to protect ourselves.
I don't know much about big cats. We don't have them in Alaska, and the few I
have encountered southward
pretty spooky. They are elegant creatures, and I do respect them. I do not go
are without the means to protect myself. And I keep my eyes peeled.
is in my genes not
to be eaten by bears, large cats or anything else.
Why would anyone go into mountain lion country without the means to protect
themselves from attack?
notice the police are armed. The wardens and rangers are armed.
anyone with any clue where they are would be armed.
Nature is a bitch with no pity. Her children are 'red in tooth and claw'. You
ignore this at your peril---and that of your children.
Call Me Nostradamus
Could someone please tell me how the Democrat Party plans on
winning the presidency? The
just keeps 'a coming:
a harrowing pair of facts for Democrats: In 60 years, no Democrat has ever won
carrying the youth vote. And right now President Bush's approval rating among
18- to 29-year-olds
62 percent, higher than his nationwide rating.
world hates America, right? Well, not
saved the Western world from communism. America saved Australia and, for that
from a system that would stop you from reading this newspaper.
Americans support the war in Iraq and, by extension, Bush because they see it as
part of a bigger picture.
everybody, they now know that Saddam was not the threat they thought he was (at
least, not to them)
they still think it was a good idea to deal with him, before he became one.
price of freedom is high. You might think you would not sacrifice your life for
it, but maybe you don't have to.
all, 20-year-old Americans are doing it for you, every day.
includes some stats:
...number of mass graves uncovered
in Iraq: around 260, containing as many as 20,000 bodies.
of people liberated from brutal, murderous leadership: 22
number of times Bush lied about receiving oral sex from a White House intern: 0.
is an Islamic state with nuclear weapons---the only Islamic state that possesses
them. Pakistan is also tribal, inherently unstable, and riven by factions and rivalries among
competing security agencies. Some parts of Pakistan`s government supports
al-Qaeda and Taliban, some parts want war with India, some parts want to support
North Korea. President Musharraf is more or less pro-Western, though his rule is
tenuous and he has survived (so far) every assassination attempt. The nightmare for
the West has long been that Pakistan would turn over some nuclear secrets to
terror states and organizations. Impossible? Think
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said on Friday
it appeared Pakistani scientists had
sold nuclear secrets abroad, but reiterated
Islamabad's position that there had been no official involvement.
Musharraf went further
than past statements from his government that individual scientists
transferred nuclear technology to neighboring Iran.
obligations in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in other happy places how can the US
afford any coming war with Iran or Syria?
President Bush will ask
Congress to approve $401.7 billion in defense spending
for the budget year that begins in October, a
7 percent increase over this year,
the Pentagon announced Friday.
Rumsfeld said the 2005
budget priorities include investment in quality-of-life programs for troops,
and spending to ensure the combat readiness of U.S. troops.
an election year and with the war in Iraq still popular with Americans which
Democrats in congress will want to be seen as voting against a rise in defence
speaking of any coming conflicts...
new report indicates that Syria may be the next target in the U.S. war on
In a report released Friday by the London-based Jane's Intelligence Digest,
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
was quoted as saying that the U.S. is
considering "multi-faceted attacks," which could be conducted
against Hezbollah positions in Lebanon's Bekaa
Valley, controlled by Syria.
According to the report, the U.S. move would "almost certainly involve a
between American Special Forces and Syrian