Diary and Commentary

Page 19




Change 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, God.


Most 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.


From 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 Lincoln`s  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.


Welcome 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


Mel Gibson`s 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 Reem al-Reyashi, 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 incinerated.



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 self-immolation:



How did she do it? While going through the security check-point


She had set off the metal detector, claimed she had a metal implant in her leg, wept that

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 pity.

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 Parallel Lives.


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 included.


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.





Break Time


OK, enough brilliant commentary and analysis for awhile.

Here is what I looked like one month ago while in a cave in Belize.








I just 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...


Anyway, 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.


Where I 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 there.



Here is 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.



And I 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 surprised.

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 polls.

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 tuned.

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 the news 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 website 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 Protestantism.

Here is Catholic theologian Karl Keating on these liberal priests:

Their time 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 Presbyterian.


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.

Wild Things

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 here.

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.

Government-sponsored cougar 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.

According to The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature by David Baron

Scientists and outdoorsmen began to warn of danger, but they were ignored by both the Boulder public

 -- which was sentimentally attached to the idea of free-roaming wildlife -- and state wildlife-protection bureaucrats,

who downplayed first the presence, and then the danger, posed by the cougars. Dogs and cats started being eaten,

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 is broken.


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 lives there.


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 lions

 — which is to say, letting them kill you.
Nature killing people is no big deal for Alaskans. That's the way things are in Alaska.
When you step out into it, you are at risk. If you are wise, you prepare for it.

 Alaska 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.

 I have lost too many close friends to her, sensible folks who came up against something too tough to handle.

Our 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.

I used to study them. I have friends who have spent all their professional lives studying them.

You can't spend time around bears and not admire them.

But 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

 were pretty spooky. They are elegant creatures, and I do respect them. I do not go where

 they are without the means to protect myself. And I keep my eyes peeled.

 It 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?

 I notice the police are armed. The wardens and rangers are armed.

 Indeed, anyone with any clue where they are would be armed.

Mother 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 bad news

just keeps 'a coming:


Here's a harrowing pair of facts for Democrats: In 60 years, no Democrat has ever won the presidency

 without carrying the youth vote. And right now President Bush's approval rating among 18- to 29-year-olds

 is 62 percent, higher than his nationwide rating.




The world  hates America, right? Well, not this Australian woman:


America saved the Western world from communism. America saved Australia and, for that matter,

France 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.

Like everybody, they now know that Saddam was not the threat they thought he was (at least, not to them)

 but they still think it was a good idea to deal with him, before he became one.

The price of freedom is high. You might think you would not sacrifice your life for it, but maybe you don't have to.

After all, 20-year-old Americans are doing it for you, every day.


She includes some stats:


...number of mass graves uncovered in Iraq: around 260, containing as many as 20,000 bodies.

 Number of people liberated from brutal, murderous leadership: 22 million.

And number of times Bush lied about receiving oral sex from a White House intern: 0.




Pakistan 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 again:


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

 "may" have transferred nuclear technology to neighboring Iran.


Sleep well.




With obligations in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in other happy places how can the US afford  any coming war with Iran or Syria? Well...


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,

improved intelligence and spending to ensure the combat readiness of U.S. troops.


Now, in 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 spending?



And speaking of any coming conflicts...


A new report indicates that Syria may be the next target in the U.S. war on terror.

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 confrontation"

 between American Special Forces and Syrian troops.


No! Really?


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