Leaving Napa

This year’s Napa Institute went by very quickly, compared to the past two years. I’m sure part of that is my comfort/familiarity with its structure at this point, but it has also grown significantly in size just since I started coming and that has made it somewhat more difficult to break out of the initial social cliques that naturally form starting from day one. Napa Institute continues to be one of my favorite social/professional experiences, although I’m not sure that I’ll be able to attend next year.


I’ll leave Napa this afternoon, heading either to San Francisco or potentially east toward Yosemite. I’m planning to be in San Francisco on Tuesday for David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress when they appear at the federal courthouse. Both face lawsuits from Planned Parenthood, and Daleiden faces an additional suit from the National Abortion Federation, as these groups attempt to suppress footage of their executives speaking in callous and inhumane ways about aborted children’s bodies and the market-rates that their vivisected remains are worth to medical researchers.

Sun, soil, and humanity

While the Napa Institute is taking place at the Meritage Resort hotel and conference spaces, nature in its grandeur is available just a few short steps up into the vineyards adjacent. A walk through these vineyards provides some incredible views of the surrounding hills, of the Meritage itself, and of the sun-lit vines that bear fruit and soil that preserves and nourishes.

At our best, I think we can never fundamentally improve upon, but rather only supplement, nature.

At Trinitas Cellars

This morning at Napa Institute, Cardinal Müller spoke on “Moral Principles Based on Veritatis Splendor,” followed by Dr. Catherine Pakaluk on “Pilgrim Pope, Bright Mountain” on John Paul the Great and a vision of pilgrimage and societies capable of serving the human good. These were helpful and provocative talks, and I was looking forward to them probably the most of any of this year’s prime talks. After lunchtime I walked down the road a short way to Trinitas Cellars for their wine tasting:


Trinitas Cellars’s motto is “Sun, Soil, Humanity,” and we tasted their 2013 Castellucci Vineyard chardonnay, 2013 Fr. Mathew Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Martin Vineyard Cabernet, 2013 Pelkan Ranch Cabernet, 2014 Pelkan Ranch Cab FRANCis, and 2014 Fidelis Red.

Sonoma scenes

We have our third quarter board meeting for the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network this morning, which I’ll be leading from the Napa Institute’s breakfast with Bobby Schindler. After that, the first full day of Napa Institute gets underway. Due to our board meeting, I’ll be sorry to miss Thomas Aquinas College’s morning seminar examining John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio—but the rest of today should make up for what I miss.

Archbishop Charles Chaput celebrated mass last night in the Estate Cave, which was a fitting place to contemplate Saint Benedict.

Fortunate earlier this week to be able to meet up with a good friend in Sonoma, which is about 25 minutes from where I’m staying in Napa. Here are a few scenes from Sonoma.

We has dinner at Hopmunk Tavern, then checked out Murphy’s Irish Pub and Sonoma Speakeasy. There was a festival happening when I pulled into town, and which was wrapping up as we walked through it after dinner. A beautiful little town that’s apparently retained its character.

Napa Institute, year three

I woke up in Napa this morning, ready for the start of the 2018 Napa Institute conference. This is my third consecutive Napa Institute; this has been an incredible experience the past two years, and I expect this year to be similarly great. Temperatures expected to be the the low-to-mid 80s this week, which makes for near perfect weather. Not sure that I’ll be back next year, so will make the most of time with old and new friends.

8th Annual Napa Institute Summer Conference

At this year’s conference, we will explore the magisterium of Pope St. John Paul II in celebration of the 40th anniversary of his election to the papacy and examine the themes of faith, family, and love, 50 years after the publication of Humanae Vitae.

Napa Institute events are built on the three pillars of Community, Formation, and Liturgy. At the annual summer conference, we encourage attendees to build connections through meals with open seating, evening activities, and viewings of current Catholic movies and theatrical performances. Each day there are keynote sessions from renowned speakers that develop the theme of that day, as well as breakout sessions that examine current topics. At the heart of the conference is daily Mass, Adoration, spiritual direction, and time for prayer and reflection.

That azure blue sky captures the eye…

New mediums discredit old content

Seattle to San Francisco this morning, then Napa. We passed Stanford’s campus as we approached San Francisco:

I finished Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, and wanted to share a final excerpt.

First, technologies (as mediums for information) are never neutral, in the same way no two landscapes neutrally convey the same visual information, even though they share in the nature or “technology” of being “horizontal earth scenes,” so to speak:

The technology of television has a bias… It is conceivable to use television as a lamp, a surface for texts, a bookcase, even as radio. But it has not been so used and will not be so used, at least in America. Thus, in answering the question, What is television?, we must understand as a first point that we are not talking about television as a technology but television as a medium. There are many places in the world where television, though the same technology as it is in America, is an entirely different medium from that which we know. I refer to places where the majority of people do not have television sets, and those who do have only one; where only one station is available; where television does not operate around the clock; where most programs have as their purpose the direct furtherance of government ideology and policy; where commercials are unknown, and “talking heads” are the principal image; where television is mostly used as if it were radio. For these reasons and more television will not have the same meaning or power as it does in America, which is to say, it is possible for a technology to be so used that its potentialities are prevented from developing and its social consequences kept to a minimum.

But in America, this has not been the case. Television has found in liberal democracy and a relatively free market economy a nurturing climate in which its full potentialities as a technology of images could be exploited. One result of this has been that American television programs are in demand all over the world. … American television programs are in demand not because America is loved but because American television is loved.

We need not be detained too long in figuring out why. In watching American television, one is reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s remark on his first seeing the glittering neon signs of Broadway and 42nd Street at night. It must be beautiful, he said, if you cannot read. American television is, indeed, a beautiful spectacle, a visual delight, pouring forth thousands of images on any given day. The average length of a shot on network television is only 3.5 seconds, so that the eye never rests, always has something new to see. Moreover, television offers viewers a variety of subject matter, requires minimal skills to comprehend it, and is largely aimed at emotional gratification. Even commercials, which some regard as an annoyance, are exquisitely crafted, always pleasing to the eye and accompanied by exciting music. There is no question but that the best photography in the world is presently seen on television commercials. American television in other words, is devoted entirely to supplying its audience with entertainment.

…what I am claiming here is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. Our television set keeps us in constant communion with the world, but it does so with a face whose smiling countenance is unalterable. The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining, which is another issue altogether.

To say it still another way: Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure. That is why even on news shows which provide us daily with fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to “join them tomorrow.” What for? One would think that several minutes of murder and mayhem would suffice as material for a month of sleepless nights. We accept the newscasters’ invitation because we know that the “news” is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to say. Everything about a news show tells us this—the good looks and amiability of the cast, their pleasant banter, the exciting music that opens and closes the show, the vivid film footage, the attractive commercials—all these and more suggest that what we have just seen is no cause for weeping. A news show, to put it plainly, is a format for entertainment, not for education, reflection or catharsis. And we must not judge too harshly those who have framed it in this way. They are not assembling the news to be read, or broadcasting it to be heard. They are televising the news to be seen. They must follow where their medium leads. There is no conspiracy here, no lack of intelligence, only a straightforward recognition that “good television” has little to do with what is “good” about exposition or other forms of verbal communication but everything to do with what the pictorial images look like.

It is in the nature of the medium that it must suppress the content of ideas in order to accommodate the requirements of visual interest; that is to say, to accommodate the values of show business.

Film, records and radio (now that it is an adjunct of the music industry) are, of course, equally devoted to entertaining the culture, and their effects in altering the style of American discourse are not insignificant. But television is different because it encompasses all forms of discourse. No one goes to a movie to find out about government policy or the latest scientific advances. No one buys a record to find out the baseball scores or the weather or the latest murder. No one turns on radio anymore for soap operas or a presidential address (if a television set is at hand). But everyone goes to television for all these things and more, which is why television resonates so powerfully throughout the culture. Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself.

Therefore—and this is the critical point—how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails. As typography once dictated the style of conducting politics, religion, business, education, law and other important social matters, television now takes command. In courtrooms, classrooms, operating rooms, board rooms, churches and even airplanes, Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other.

His point is that television as a medium (rather than as a piece of technology) is the key way to judge its purpose/impact. How it orders our thinking, our expectations about the way (and use) of news and knowing and information, and how we reconcile our ultimate concerns in life with these things.

A lesson I take from this? New mediums tend to discredit older content by their nature and their prioritization of conveying information. An ancient poem recited in its native tongue, when carried across time, translations, and most importantly from the medium of oral recitation to printed word, is not the same poem. The majority of its fundamental bits might be there, but the fullness of that poem is lost when it is removed from its original cultural context and the language it was designed for, and the method of conveyance it was designed for.

If we read the Iliad today and think to ourselves, “Well, that wasn’t so great,” it’s likelier that we think that not only because new mediums (new methods of knowing, with their own priorities and biases) have discredited older mediums like the printed word and epic poetry, but also because the Iliad came out of an oral tradition and not a print tradition. These are entirely different way of conveying and experiencing knowledge.

In conserving older content through new mediums, we lose some of their essence in the process, while at the same time building up a sort of bias against them compared to whatever the present mediums for knowing might be.

Fremont Brewing

After a morning run along the waterfront in Seattle and lunchtime and afternoon meetings, Bobby Schindler and I walked from our hotel to Pioneer Square to ship some things from the post office. It’s a beautiful old neighborhood that’s very much in transition, strangled on its waterfront side by a hideous elevated highway that can be seen below. As the neighborhood changes, I wonder what will happen to so many of the people there who already have nowhere else to go. And I wonder how soon the neighborhood will really change.

Afterwards, we caught a Lyft north to Fremont, and had two beers at Fremont Brewing which I rode past yesterday when out with my Limebike. A good place with good beer, even on a Monday evening. Met two young people who had just graduated from Seattle Pacific University and who were setting out on their lives, with interest in art and history respectively.

Contain, deter, and undermine

Graham Allison writes on how American and China can avoid the “Thucydides Trap” wherein, as one great power rises to displace another, war tends to result:

…as China challenges America’s predominance, misunderstandings about each other’s actions and intentions could lead them into a deadly trap first identified by the ancient Greek historian Thucydides. As he explained, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this instilled in Sparta that made war inevitable.” The past 500 years have seen 16 cases in which a rising power threatened to displace a ruling one. Twelve of these ended in war.

Of the cases in which war was averted — Spain outstripping Portugal in the late 15th century, the United States overtaking the United Kingdom at the turn of the 20th century, and Germany’s rise in Europe since 1990 — the ascent of the Soviet Union is uniquely instructive today. Despite moments when a violent clash seemed certain, a surge of strategic imagination helped both sides develop ways to compete without a catastrophic conflict. In the end, the Soviet Union imploded and the Cold War ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

Although China’s rise presents particular challenges, Washington policymakers should heed five Cold War lessons. …

Lesson 5: Hope is not a strategy.

Over a four-year period from George Kennan’s famous “Long Telegram,” which identified the Soviet threat, to Paul Nitze’s NSC-68, which provided the road map for countering this threat, U.S. officials developed a winning Cold War strategy: contain Soviet expansion, deter the Soviets from acting against vital American interests, and undermine both the idea and the practice of communism. In contrast, America’s China policy today consists of grand, politically appealing aspirations that serious strategists know are unachievable. In attempting to maintain the post-World War II Pax Americana during a fundamental shift in the economic balance of power toward China, the United States’ real strategy, truth be told, is hope.

In today’s Washington, strategic thinking is often marginalized…

As loud and frenzied as so much of America’s public discourse is at the moment, almost none of it seems to concern matters of long-term importance. Developing a grand strategy for countering China’s authoritarian communist regime should be the fundamental foreign policy task of American and European leaders.