Thursday, December 30, 2004

Where to Begin?

Why, at the beginning of course.

The trip with Papa Virg was a trip for the ages for many reasons.

I'll be journaling on many of the family-based topics here, and if I feel like ranting on the truly more mundane topics such as Amtrak and its future existence, that will take place over at Sierra Sanity.

The beginning -- depending on your perspective, it started either in Cincinnati or Burlington, Vermont.

I've noted a bit of both here and here, so I won't replay the adventures of late trains and planes (although shopping in the Water Tower Place was fun -- especially the two-block walk on a brisk Chicago December morning -- even though United finally found my luggage after the Marshall Fields spree).

The Drake.

A treat. A Christmas Wonderland. A joy with my Dad.

The snow had just begun while we were eating dinner at The Drake Bros., and our waitress was excited as well by the snow one full week before Christmas Day. She was a wonderful Canadian lady who took to Dad right away -- she was in her fifties, and enjoyed the fact that we were not a "pretentious table" (she also served an adjacent table with a young couple who did not take her sage advice when she lightheartedly rejoined a somewhat prejorative response to her beef recommendation with "Well, I'm just a meat and potatoes gal from Canada"). Having met the restaurant manager the night before, we were given a fantastic window seat overlooking North Michigan Avenue in all its Christmas splendor -- and the snow was simply over the top.

The joys of a fine dining destination are defined by one prerequisite: Do you leave having learned something you didn't know previously (and, of course, was the food and ambience top notch)?

The Drake Bros. hit a home run. I was ignorant of the fact that Porterhouse has both filet and sirloin cuts on either side of the bone, and she recommended (as she always does for two -- especially father and son?) this main course. The chef cuts the 32 ounces in visually as well as gastronomically appetizing servings. Exquisite. Forgot to ask if the cut was dry- or wet-aged (they do serve dry-aged beef which puts them in the "We Know Beef!" class), but that could only have been because I was in bovine bliss (pardon the crass alliteration, but how could I let that pass?).

We shared broccoli (the sides are for two), and Papa had a Heart of Iceberg salad (this is not your "Peel the leaves" home salad, but a quarter-wedge of an Iceberg head) and baked potato while I returned to my Heirloom Tomato Salad (again highly recommend) and Shiitake mushrooms sauteed in garlic, ginger and soy (again ambrosia). I also had to revisit the Pine Ridge Cabernet -- magnificant with the filet and sirloin Porterhouse duet.

As you may have gathered, dinner was a delight, and the service was professionally relaxed. After indulging in (and sharing) a truly decadent chocolate dessert, I made a point to stop and thank the restaurant manager for making a table available for Papa and me.

(And no, not a morsel of beef was left for the mice of the Windy City.)

The Drake

After our delightfully adventurous dinner, we took a walk outside on a blustery Saturday evening on the northern end of Chicago's Magnificent Mile. I wanted to capture a photo of The Drake with the John Hancock Tower behind as you can see. The Drake Bros. restaurant is in the lower right of the photograph -- the illuminated circle-head windows with lighted wreaths beneath -- and our room is on the fourth floor above the restaurant windows -- the northeast corner "Junior Executive Suite" (The Drake faces North).

Back inside, Papa prepared his rail maps for our Westward Trek -- obviously in his element (and you can see Lake Shore Drive out the window on the right looking North and beyond is the darkened Lake Michigan).

Papa in The Drake

It doesn't get any better than overlooking Lake Michigan just before Christmas when snow hits, and the snowplows are out. We stayed up late like two little boys having a slumber party watching the plows at work.

With the morning, the first views of the rowdy Lake again looking North and Chicago's Gold Coast on the left, or West Shore.

Chicago's Gold Coast

And we hadn't yet been together twenty-four hours. . . .

Land of the Free?

Chuck Colsen provides this disturbing information.


A St. Louis public school student was “caught” praying over his lunch. As punishment, he was lifted from his seat, reprimanded in front of classmates, and ordered never to pray in school again.

At a New Jersey Veterans’ cemetery, an honor guard member was fired for telling a deceased veteran’s family, “God bless you and this family.” . . .

McKinney, Texas, “has no problem with people meeting in their homes for football watch parties, birthday parties, or even commercial gatherings to sell Tupperware.” But when a few couples gathered in a pastor’s home, they were told, “The City prohibits a church meeting in a home unless the home sits on at least two acres.”

Our soldiers are not dying abroad for such bureaucratic stupidity.

Freedom is not free. Unfortunately there are costs we must continue to pay to maintain our freedoms, and we must work to calibrate those who wish to steal our freedoms by defining freedom -- specifically reminding people the meaning of the First Amendement:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Please note the absence of a timeworn phrase: "Separation of church and state."

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Go West Young Man!

Papa and I are about to check out of The Drake Hotel and head to Chicago's Union Station to board the California Zephyr.

It has been a wonderful time here in Chicago (especially The Drake). Hotel and restaurant staff have been very gracious and helpful.

Looking forward to the adventure on the Zephyr.

We are scheduled to arrive in the Bay Area Tuesday afternoon.

Will try to update the adventures on Wednesday (and with pictures!).

Saturday, December 18, 2004


The cat is out of the bag!

Talked with Papa Virg tonight, and he has discovered the surprise.

The Amtrak ticket agent at Cincinnati Union Terminal (CUT for those In The Know) asked, "Is someone else is traveling with you from Chicago?"

Papa was waiting for the Westbound Cardinal. He should be boarding about now (and I should be in bed). Sunday we take the California Zephyr together from Chicago to San Francisco.

He still doesn't know that he will be staying at The Drake Hotel which will provide some element of surprise. Much to my delight, I was upgraded to a "Junior Execute Suite." Nothing "Junior" about it. It is about three times the size of our condo in San Bruno, and is a corner suite overlooking Lake Michigan -- stunning (more than makes up for the fact that United has lost my luggage -- just clothes, nothing valuable).

Ate a sumptuous dinner at The Drake Bros. Premier steak and the service was impeccable. Dinner consisted of Pine Ridge Cabernet, Heirloom Tomato Salad (highly recommend), Petit Filet, Shiitake mushrooms sauteed in garlic, ginger and soy (ambrosia), a wonderful corn special side made by grilling corn on the cob and shaving the corn with fun spices. No room for dessert.

Met the restaurant manager (he was hooked when I started talking about Napa and Sonoma wine country which he is planning to visit for the first time this January) and he made a reservation for Papa and me overlooking Lake Michigan for tomorrow night (I enjoyed looking over Michigan Avenue during dinner tonight). The music was pure Greg -- Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and I was transported back to the 40's.

The Drake is very festive with Christmas decorations, moving nutcrackers and -- Trains!

Looking forward to exploring tomorrow after picking up Papa.

After all, I may just have to shop for new clothes in the Water Tower!

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Crusades

The first sentences from Thomas Madden's A Concise History of the Crusades sets the tone for the adventurous historical exploration and learning to follow.

"Crusade" is a modern, not a medieval, word. It derives from crucesignati ("those signed by the cross"), a descriptive used occasionally after the twelfth century to refer to crusaders.

This book (I'm through the Third Crusade) reads like a novel -- a testament to Madden's skill in taking a complicated subject (especially in our time) and bringing it to life.

I remember when I moved back to California in 1997, I had been attending the Peninsula Vineyard Church. One Sunday afternoon I attended a small group planning to participate in the Reconciliation Walk.

The idea was (and remains) ecumenically intriguing and, ultimately, appealing.

On the subject of the Crusades, Madden's book thus far is unapologetically objective. In an age of rampant political correctness, this is refreshing.

It also allows the reader to learn and reflect before judging (inevitably with 21st Century hindsight).

Am I an apologist for the Crusades? No, but let me read the entire book. I've already learned what is generally true of history -- all is not necessarily black and white. Madden notes recent scholarship which suggests many, and not just the poor, were supportive of the Crusades for the Cross, not money. Can this be reconciled with the Gospel? What does history teach would have been the result of a Christian Europe leaving the Levant to Islam (and what of Byzantium)?

Perhaps more importantly, what can we distill from a millennium of Christianity at least as savage and bloody as the Old Testament?

Confirmation of Sin?

Lastly, what to do about jihad? Are we to negotiate and accommodate?

Do we accept and tolerate the murder of artists who criticize Islam? Do we accept and tolerate the destruction of thousands of our fellow citizens and symbols of American strength?

If not, what do we do?

How different is dropping bombs on women and children, albeit unintentionally, from taking life with a sword?

Do the implements of death enable a diminished respect for life when the blood is literally not on our hands?

I apologize for the rhetorical fatigue, but these questions I have thought about for some time, and our time requires clear and reasoned thinking in accordance with Jesus' teachings. As many Christian writers have observed, the concept of self-defense, let alone Just War Doctrine (more so yet pre-emptive attacks), is not a trivial line of thought.

As you can see from my questions, I cannot yet answer:

What Would Jesus Do, and can we do it?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

There are Times. . . .

When work consumes me.

When my family seems far away.

When my life seems a harried blur.

And then I read the words of St. Augustine from his Confessions:

And in all these things over which I range as I am consulting you I find no secure place for my soul except in you, and in you I pray that what is scattered in me may be brought together so that nothing of me may depart from you.

Some of us choose "scattered" lives -- or at least have yet to master our choices for His Glory.

Others' lives are not lives many would choose. Be they broken bodies the gift of medicine mends to the extent God allows, or broken souls, what a prayer St. Augustine leaves for those of us "scattered" in the many ways possible.

"That what is scattered in me may be brought together so that nothing of me may depart from you."

"That nothing of me may depart from you."

A timeless and boundless Love.

"No secure place for my soul except in you."

And Peace.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Everlasting Splendors

Dutch baby killing.

Hugh Hewitt argues that Man cannot make decisions to end the lives of the innocent and helpless (what didn't we learn from World War II?).

All lives the same value, period. From C.S. Lewis' "The Weight of Glory":

"There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."

Each of these babies is an "everlasting splendour". . . .

As I ask over at Sierra Sanity (and replay here now), when will Oregon allow baby killing?

It's just the natural progression of euthanasia, right?

As many of you may know, yesterday Matt Drudge shone a bright light on Dutch baby killing, and by extension, the Big Media darkness in failing to cover the story.

Hugh Hewitt is also asking why Big Media aren't discussing the story.

More importantly, Hugh is asking how can civilization tolerate this Hitlerite nonsense:

Under the Groningen protocol, if doctors at the hospital think a child is suffering unbearably from a terminal condition, they have the authority to end the child's life. The protocol is likely to be used primarily for newborns, but it covers any child up to age 12.

Hugh also highlights the fact that parents' requests are not really, well, that important.

A parent's role is limited under the protocol. While experts and critics familiar with the policy said a parent's wishes to let a child live or die naturally most likely would be considered, they note that the decision must be professional, so rests with doctors.


Opponents of expanding euthanasia to the young cite a recent Dutch court ruling against punishment for a doctor who injected fatal drugs into an elderly woman after she told him she didn't want to die.

The court determined that he'd made "an error of judgment," but had acted "honorably and according to conscience."

News reports say that since that decision some elderly hospital patients are carrying written appeals not to be euthanized. . . .

Error of Judgement? Honorably?

And, this final bit of irony suggests Adolf is laughing from his ashes.

A German company has proposed a nursing home just across the border from the Netherlands that would be promoted to aging Dutch residents as a safe haven in a country where euthanasia is illegal and likely to remain so.

Will such homes spring up in Idaho?