Tag: culture

It’s All Greek To Me. Part I.

Greece - Swalm 1

On As A Passenger.  Off As Cargo.

I just returned from my trip to Greece.  As you may remember from a previous post, I went with Dean, an old friend.  A few, quick reflections.

Go If You Can.  And, For My Money, A Good Touring Company Is Worth It.

We went with Road Scholar, a pun that says a good deal about the sort of people who sign up for the trips this company leads around the world: retired college professors, libriarians, and such like.  But there wasn’t a final exam on the vast amount of information that our extremely knowledgeable and friendly Greek guide, Eleni Petroutsou, imparted to us during the course of the week we spent with her bussing around the mainland. And then continued aboard the smallish ship, Aegean Odyssey,  cruising from island to lovely island for the following week.

Greece sunset view

No, the real exam came months earlier:  our bank accounts.  And it was a tough one.  On more than one occasion I heard the old gag, “We’re spending our children’s inheritance.” But, since I estimate that at least 60% of our 30 some Road Scholar participants were retired government workers (Dean estimated more like 90%), they might just as well have said, “We’re spending the inheritance of the children of the taxpayers who are so generously supporting us.”  But who would snicker at that?

Your Required Reading.

Well in advance of the trip, the company sent us a hefty list of suggested books on Greece.  I ordered most of them.  And read most of those. Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi left me cold.  So did Mary Renault’s The King Must Die, which surprised me given its exalted reputation.  Of these two books, I followed the sage advice that I heard somewhere not long ago, “There are too many good books to spend time on ones you don’t like.”

By now, you know I’m a sucker for history.  A couple of the books I’d recommend would be Modern Greece, What Everyone Needs to Know and Introducing the Ancient Greeks, From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind.  

Modern Greece was particularly interesting.  Like many others, I suppose, I’d imagined that Greek history ended pretty much ended 2400 years ago with the close of the classical Golden Age and didn’t start again until the financial crisis of 2008.  Wrong.  Before winning its War of Independence from the Ottomans in 1821, Greece endured 400 years of Ottoman/Turk occupation.  While our guide Elani did her best to play things down the middle, there was little question as to where she stood in regards to Greece’s long and glorious, but at times, tormented history.

For those really interested in cramming, here are some of the others:  The Parthenon, Athens, The Greeks, An Illustrated History, Greek Mythology, A Traveler’s Guide.  (I gave this one a pass also; seemed like a bunch of implausible fairy tales.  Although our expert guide made a good case that these apparently anarchic stories often go a long way toward explaining the more obscure aspects of the prehistoric Greek world.)

On my own, I also took the new Kindle my wife gave me for Christmas for a spin, rereading Zorba the Greek (the first time was decades ago).  I should have listened to my own better angels and quit long before I reached the bitter end; talk about unbridled nihilism.   Why this book is so widely praised is a mystery to me.  Well, not really.  It must be for many of the same reasons that Hollywood cranks out so many profitable stinkers.

And the worst of it?  It didn’t even have the courtesy to lull me to sleep on the excruciatingly painful and interminable flights to and from Zorba land.  Airlines!  Where they keep making the seats smaller.  And the people bigger.

Cruisin’

On the last day of the trip, I was savoring breakfast on the sun drenched fantail of the Odyssey in the port of Piraeus.  You know, my usual morning fare: an unlimited selection of eggs, meats, fruits, cereals, cheeses, grilled vegetables, juices, desserts, etc., etc.

Now, does that goofy headline make sense?  “The kind of cruise where you get on as a passenger.  And get off as cargo.”  Remarkably, however, when I fearfully stepped on the scale on my return home, I actually seemed to have lost a bit of weight.  Guess that airline food is good for something.

That morning was also a last chance to visit with some of my fellow Scholars. Among them was a woman, Kristen, from Telluride, Colorado.  She and I had a tenuous connection through my cousin’s daughter, Denver chef Carrie Baird.  Carrie was a near finalist in this year’s Top Chef Colorado show.  At least one episode had been filmed in Telluride.  Kristen had seen some of the shoot.  You heard it here: six degrees must be a reality.

As we lingered over breakfast, a cruise ship about the size of a small-correction, medium-sized city shoe horned it’s way into port and pulled into a slip to our right.  The monster towered above our heads and took at least five minutes to lumber past us.  Lilliputian by comparison, I don’t doubt that our vessel would have been able to cut neat figure eights in the leviathon’s swimming pool.

And that was the beauty of the Aegean Odyssey.  Plenty big enough for all the creature comforts.  But small enough that our relatively modest passenger manifest didn’t completely overwhelm the equally smallish, quaint island villages where we made landfall.

And Eleni wasn’t just a smart cookie.  She also had sharp enough elbows to make sure that we got into town, saw the antiquities, and did our scholarly thing ahead of the leviathons’ mobs that usually followed so closely on our heels.

 

 

 

 

On My Honor

 

Philmont_Scout_Ranch_entrance_signI had breakfast with Jeff Brandel a while back.  An attorney, he serves as the chair of the Arapahoe District of the Denver Area Boy Scouts.  He also volunteers as a leader in his son’s troop.  Busy guy.

I wanted to talk with him about how the Scouts are responding to the seemingly infinite number of bizarre sexual controversies that society has thrust on an organization which, as the founder, Robert Baden-Powell, said, was intended to be “a game for boys under the leadership of boys under the direction of men.”

Like Jeff, I’ve been involved in the Scouts for years.  First, when I was a kid.  They gave me my first taste of backpacking on the eastern flank of Mount Evans, where playing delightfully chaotic games of Capture the Flag in willow choked meadows are fond memories. And which I now look back on with an almost unbearable wistfulness since my NPH has put any hope of repeating such experiences forever beyond reach.  At least on this side of that particular manifestation of Paradise.

When my son, Byron, joined when he came of age I was enthusiastic.  Although he never made it to Eagle (neither did I), he went on some great high adventure trips, including one to the Florida Sea Base.  Although he disputes the point, I still contend that this trip played a part in one of the best decisions he ever made: enlisting in the Navy.  Together, in my pre-NPH days, we did a 10 day backpack through Philmont Scout Ranch.

Perhaps the best way of summarizing the impact Scouting had on our family?  Something that Byron’s sisters said over dinner one evening after he had finished regaling us with tales of his latest weekend outing: “We sure wish the Girl Scouts did the kind of things the Boy Scouts do.”

After a several year hiatus when Byron left home, I re-engaged with the Scouts for what, I admit, were initially mercenary motives. The upper echelon leadership of the Denver Area Council is widely considered to be one of the most influential group of business movers and shakers in town.  An insurance agent, I was hoping for some scraps that fell from the masters’ table.  But, not being a particularly good salesman, the crumbs were few and far between.

Nonetheless, while I came for the money, I stayed for the values.  The Scout Oath and Law, which the boys memorize and recite at every meeting, embody the enduring principals that are the bedrock of a successful civilization.  And if culture is the dog that wags the tail of politics (and my eight years in the Colorado House persuades me that this is a truism), we must have some organizations, like the Scouts, that stand in opposition to the relentless and nihilistic promotion of sex and violence that Hollywood and MTV have on offer.  So, feeling an obligation to do my part, I enlisted as a volunteer for the Arapahoe District for several years.

And, although they never asked for it, the Scouts now find themselves at the sharp tip of the spear in the culture war.  An initial salvo was fired at the Democratic National Convention in L.A. in 2000, when a group of Eagle Scouts were invited to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening ceremony.  For their trouble, they were booed by some delegates because the Scouts didn’t, at the time, allow homosexuals to serve as adult leaders.  Despite efforts by the main stream media to push this event into George Orwell’s 1984 memory hole, there is plenty of evidence that it did,  indeed, happen.

A full accounting of the Left’s war on the Scouts is beyond the scope of this post, but you can get the flavor of it here.

So, now retired and wanting to re-re-engage with the Scouts, I asked Jeff over our recent breakfast, “How goes the war?”  And, specifically, what was the impact on Scouting of the admission of homosexual and transgendered (whatever in the world that signifies!) Scouts and leaders?

“You know,” he answered, “I’m surprised by how little difference it has made.  I haven’t heard anything more about it.  Nothing from the Troops or parents.”

The answer was not entirely satisfactory-I guess I was expecting something more confrontational.  But I was upset about what was happening to an organization that was supposed to be a game for boys.  And restless enough to begin writing a post that, however, wound up in a terminal cul-de-sac.  Was the post too angry?  Or badly out of step with the relentless niceness of the Scout oath and law? Or just a mean spirited manifestation of my own personal pique?  I wasn’t sure.  After all, I was not an expert on the issue and I had only followed it from afar in the media-a less than reliable source on such a vexed topic.

And there the post remained for several weeks until I, along with other leaders in the Arapahoe District, received an email from Jeff.  The body of the email praised the work of a group of adult Scouts that had produced an understanding with the Denver Archdiocese that would allow the organization to continue using Catholic facilities despite the decision to admit individuals professing virtually any sexual preference.  The email contained such phrases as “great work,” “gratified,” “positive program,'” “supporting . . . the Boy Scouts.”

Unfortunately, however, the self congratulatory, happy talk of the email was a jarring contrast with the stern missive from Archbishop Aquila that came as an attachment to the email and appeared under the heading “Scouting in the balance.”

These are the Archbishop’s opening sentences:  “I was dismayed to learn this past January that the Boy Scouts of America decided to end their practice of more than 100 years that allowed only boys to be members.  They did this by permitting transgender boys to join troops, that is, girls who struggle with gender dysphoria and are living as though they are boys.”

He goes on to describe the Scouts’ decision to be part of a “slow retreat in the face of the secular culture’s advancement of an LGBTQ agenda.”

Bishop Aquila concludes with what is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the organization: he names several other “acceptable alternatives” to the Scouts that “currently are not problematic.”

The Archbishop’s words are thoughtful and concerning.  If you are like me, and Scouting and what it stands for are important to you, I urge you to read them for yourself.

A couple of closing thoughts:

  • I predict that the LGBTQ crowd that is baying at the heels of the Scouts won’t rest until it has driven them out of a Church that holds that homosexuality, as Aquila put it, is “contrary to the natural law and the Church’s teaching on sexuality.”  Unfortunately, with the political and economic pressure the LGBTQ lobby can bring to bear, I place little confidence in the Scout’s promise to defend the Church in a lawsuit-at least vigorously-when push comes to shove.
  • And even if it did, it’s probably a losing battle.  Again, culture is the dog that wags the tail of politics.  And in this fraught age, everything is political.  Even the games of young boys.  So, at least for the time being, the culture has decided:  when it comes to sex, pretty much anything goes.
  • What remains undecided is whether we, as a culture, want to continue riding along with a dog that promises to drag us into waters where “here be dragons.”