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January 2009

More Waugh Stories

From Douglas Woodruff, in Evelyn Waugh and His World:

[Waugh] said that one of the particular pleasures of being a father was when the children believed what they were told, and he would point to the golf links near Dursley and expound how it was a punishment ground or exercise yard in which poor colonels had to go round and round, hitting a ball into a distant hole, and then starting all over again before they were allowed anything to eat.

Which sounds to me like a perfectly accurate description of golf.

But then he had very strong views against exercise, taking the line that in middle life everyone’s inside is full of poisons which will lie dormant unless provoked by violent exercise and sent swirling round inside their unfortunate carrier.


Imagine, if you will...

...reading the newspaper online in 1981. Then you'll probably want to try to forget. This comes via Will, who observes: “The caption ‘Owns Home Computer’ is the funniest part. Who knew that those Internets would become so powerful? Now we just have to figure out what all these young people with their FaceTubes and GoogleyPods are talking about.”

My first home computer was a Morrow Micro-Decision 2, purchased probably in late 1982 or early 1983. I don’t remember it looking exactly like any of these three pictures. The terminal was the one shown in the middle picture. I was thinking it had the half-height drives as shown in that pic, but I don’t recall that vent-sort-of-thing. Probably the computer itself looked like the top picture. Each of those floppy-disk drives (hard drives were still rare) held a little under 200K. For comparison, the full-size versions of the images on the site above would not have fit on them. If you find this sort of thing interesting or amusing, check out the ads and documentation linked at the bottom of the page.

And don’t laugh too hard—it was way better than a typewriter. I wrote a book on it.

And by the way, CP/M ruled vs. DOS.


Evelyn Waugh and His World

This is a collection of reminiscences of Waugh by various people who knew him, edited by David Pryce-Jones. I checked it out of the college library many months ago, read about half of it, got a bit bored with it, and put it aside for a while. But since I’m a staff member and am allowed to keep books for a ridiculous length of time, I hadn’t bothered to take it back. (I doubt that I was depriving anyone of it—this appeared to be the first time it had ever been checked out.) A few days ago I decided that the time had come to do so, but then I read the next unread memoir and changed my mind. It’s by Penelope Chetwode—how’s that for an English name?—and contains this bit:

...when I let [Evelyn] know that I was under instruction with the Dominicans in Oxford, he was naturally delighted (though he would have preferred the Jesuits as he thought, or pretended to think that all Dominicans were Communists)...

I expect it would be the other way around today.

The best stories in the book provide a fascinating window into Waugh’s life and the world he lived in, a totally foreign world to us middle-class Americans. Definitely recommended for Waugh fans.


John Updike, RIP

This is a slightly dishonest post, because apart from a few graceful short stories I’ve read nothing of Updike. So I can’t say we’ve lost a giant of literature etc. Mainly I just want to quote this remark of his, which appears in a Washington Post obit (hat tip to Clairity), on the subject of his continuing although perhaps eccentric Christian faith:

“I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe,” Updike told The Associated Press during a 2006 interview.

“I am very prone to accept all that the scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and woman spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can’t quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say, ‘This is it. Carpe diem (seize the day), and tough luck.’”


This Is Cool

Via Will, an amazing ginormous pannable-zoomable picture of the inauguration. Play with it and you'll be amazed at how much detail you can see. For instance, if you knew someone sitting on the top row of the seats sort of directly across from you, in front of those trees, you'd be able to identify them—maybe even someone in the mob stretching out to the water, which you can barely see in the initial view, if you knew where to look. The Clintons, all the Bushes, and I'm sure lots of other VIPs are in the section behind and to the right of Obama.


One Cheer for Obama

For an executive order prohibiting the use of “enhanced interrogation” aka torture. See Waterboarding Is Torture...Period from a source that, to say the least, can’t be accused of being either naive or ignorant on the subject. (I’ve previously written about torture here and here.)

And one quiet sigh of relief that Wednesday has come and gone and Obama has not reversed the Mexico City Policy, as he had been expected to do, by supporters and opponents alike. I’ve been cautiously hopeful that Obama really wants to avoid alienating social conservatives. This is only one day, of course, but still, it’s slightly encouraging.

Update: Well, that didn’t last long. Disappointing, of course, but not surprising, of course. That cloud I see is a fair amount of goodwill evaporating.


An Ontological Intuition

 As I never tire of saying, I am not a philosopher or theologian. But to the extent that I understand it, I’ve always thought St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God strange, intriguing, and unconvincing. I didn’t know until this morning that Anselm’s is not the only ontological argument, and that they all arrive by different paths at the conclusion that if we can conceive of God he must exist. When I say this seems unconvincing to me I mean in the literal sense that it didn’t convince me and I found it unlikely that it would convince anyone else.

Lately, though, I’ve been meditating on something that may be a sort of intuitive counterpart to the ontological argument: Is it possible to grasp, fully, the idea of God as Christian revelation, theology, and devotion understand him, and not believe in him? I’ve begun to suspect that it is not.


A Little Rain on the Inaugural Parade

Ok, the whole country, even those of us who were not Obama supporters, is justified in feeling a warm glow about the fact that a man of mixed race has been elected to our highest office. (I find it difficult to refer to him as “black,” since he really isn’t, in either the literal or cultural senses.) And ok, his supporters have every right to rejoice and to expect great things from him. But the quasi-religious quasi-messianism surrounding this event (as it has surrounded his whole candidacy), is, to put it very mildly, not healthy; less mildly, it’s really sick. And really creepy. Witness the video below. I recognize some of these people as entertainment celebrities so I assume they all are:

“I pledge to be a servant to our president.”

If that doesn’t give you the creeps, it ought to. Liberals would be quaking with fear of fascism if people—powerful, influential people—were talking this way about a Republican president. I can only hope that Obama doesn’t take this stuff as seriously as his followers do.