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November 2009

Thanksgiving Scene

Comrade, Ellen and Gabe’s humongous rather large dog, just wants a place at the table. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it is. So, being tall enough to put his head on the table, he resorts to direct action.

Some thought I should have been stopping him rather than taking this picture. But ars longa, vita brevis, say I. Anyway, he only got a few Wheat Thins.

The Moon Over the Bay

I finally figured out how to use the night settings on my camera to get a decent picture of the moon over the bay. This is not bad, though the color isn’t right. For some reason the camera warms colors significantly, so as they came from the camera the pictures (this is one of several dozen) have a brownish-yellowish tinge rather than the black-silver-blue of real life. So I messed around with this one in Picasa trying to get it closer. And it is closer, but still not quite right.

This was taken on either Tuesday or Wednesday night. Although it looks like the moon is more or less full, it was barely more than a half-moon.

Happy 50th Birthday, Rocky and Bullwinkle

I used to love this show. Perhaps it ought to make me feel old to learn that it’s 50 years old (see this CNN story), but if anything it makes me feel young, because there are moments, watching a clip like the one below, when I feel the same delight as when I watched it at age 12 or so.

I was old enough to get at least some of the things that were meant to amuse adults. But there were a good many that I missed, of course. I was probably in my 40s, for instance, before it hit me that Boris Badenough was a play on Boris Godunov (which, at least as typically pronounced by Americans, is more or less “Boris Goodenough”). There are a lot of references that won’t make sense to anyone who didn’t grow up with ‘50s television, e.g. the magic hat known as “the legendary Kerwood Derby,” a play on the name of a TV personality, Derwood Kirby (actually “Dirward,” but it sounded like “Derwood”).

The CNN story compares Rocky and Bullwinkle to contemporary cartoons such as Family Guy, and I suppose they’re similar in a way, but the comparison reveals something about the direction of our culture over the past fifty years. I think Rocky and Bullwinkle was more literate; it was certainly less mean and crude. And while Rocky was meant to amuse everyone, Family Guy is obviously intended for adolescents and younger adults. And, I suppose, a somewhat cynical and sophisticated subset of those.

The Advent Invasion

I noticed a week or so ago that there was a sudden spike in traffic to this blog, and it’s continuing and increasing. Upon looking further into the SiteMeter data, I found that the main source of the increase is from people doing Google image searchs for the word “Advent,” or for a particular Sunday in Advent, and finding the Advent pictures here, which were taken by my wife, who is a better photographer than I am (and also has a better camera). Also, and interestingly to me, a lot of the searches originate in Scandinavia, particularly Sweden.

If you do a Google image search for “fourth sunday of advent,” one of my Advent pictures is the second item. The other weeks are not as popular, and I just realized it’s probably because they’re titled “Nth week,” not “Nth Sunday. Perhaps I’ll change that.

Anyway, this is cool. I hope that if people are lifting them they’re crediting the source, but they probably aren’t. You can see the whole set here.

The Tom Baker Quartet: SAVE

I reviewed (favorably) the Tom Baker Quartet’s first album, Look What I Found, last year here. I’ve been listening to their second album, SAVE, off and on for a couple of months now, and on the whole I like it even better. My taste for unstructured music is limited, and most of SAVE is more conventional than Look What I Found; it’s somewhat more tuneful and less abstract.

Even in its more accessible manifestations, though, TBQ’s music is not easily categorized. As Jesse Canterbury, the clarinetist in the group, pointed out to me, they resemble a jazz group in many ways, and yet they really don’t play jazz. Even when a jazz-like structure is used, there are few bluesy moments, and the rhythms are not especially jazzy for the most part (though you feel like the rhythm section is very capable of playing jazz). The clarinet solo in “Bit by Bitt,” for instance, sounds to me like it owes more to early 20th century Vienna than to Kansas City or Chicago. (There is one bona fide jazz tune here, by Bill Evans no less: the beautiful “Time Remembered.”)

However one decides to categorize this music, I really like it. One comparison that occurs to me is the instrumental music of Frank Zappa, which is very 20th Century Modern without being squarely in that tradition, and which likewise borrows from jazz and rock without fitting those categories, either. There’s also a whimsical, possibly absurdist, quality that reminds me of Zappa.

My favorite tracks here are the ones composed by Tom Baker. Besides being engagingly tuneful, they have some really terrific clarinet and guitar solos. The tracks which are credited to the entire group seem to be group improvisations, and are generally quiet and without distinctive rhythm, so they come across more as sort of textural interludes between the more distinctive pieces, not unpleasant but not especially memorable (though I think there are some technically difficult things going on).

Here is a sort of commercial for the band which will give you an idea of what they’re all about.

And here is a live performance of perhaps my favorite tune from SAVE, “Under the Jaguar Sun”:

Here is the group’s official web site, where you can hear and download a complete track from SAVE and one from Look What I Found. (And you womenfolk who may not be all that interested in the music but like babies should also take a look.)

Satsuma Time

You may think this is an ordinary orange, or perhaps a tangerine. But it is in fact something greater than either of those. It is a satsuma.

I love oranges and grapefruit and citrus fruits in general, but since I moved to the Gulf Coast the satsuma has become the queen of my heart, or at least that portion of it devoted to fruit. It is sweet, piquant, easy to peel, modest in its production of seeds. Capping this greatness is the fact that it flourishes here and can be bought at roadside stands, not long off the tree. They’re in season now and I will eat a great many of them between now and the end of December or so. We planted a couple of satsuma trees last year but they don’t seem to be doing very well so far. Maybe next spring they’ll get established.

Those Catholics inclined to be suspicious of the Jesuits should remember that they brought the satsuma to this country from Japan.

A Couple of Brief Musical Items

Deal Hudson, shopping for headphones, introduces the clerk to classical music. It’s touching, and a good indicator of why this music will never die as long as there are people capable of playing it and listening to it.

From Terry Teachout, here’s a nice short appreciation of Johnny Mercer (actually from a longer piece which is not online). It was only ten or fifteen years ago (fairly recently for someone my age), and thanks to my old friend Robert, that I came to appreciate the classic American songwriters—Cole Porter Many of my favorite songs in that genre are those for which Mercer wrote the lyrics. Look at that list in Teachout’s piece; there are a lot of masterpieces there. Here’s one that knocks me out.

I admit that I’ve always had a soft spot for Andy Williams.

Here are the lyrics; a kind of poetry, indeed:

The days of wine and roses
laugh and run away
like a child at play
through a meadow land toward a closing door
a door marked “nevermore”
that wasn’t there before

The lonely night discloses
just a passing breeze
filled with memories
Of the golden smile that introduced me to
the days of wine and roses and you

The title phrase, as you may know, is from Ernest Dowson. Its dreamy fatalism was not Dowson’s last word on life and death; he died young, but not before entering the Catholic Church.

A Striking Observation from Belloc

Louise asked me, in the comment thread on the previous post, what I thought about Belloc’s The Great Heresies, especially the last chapter. So I re-read that chapter (I had read the book twenty or so years ago, in the 1980s sometime), and I’m impressed by its prophetic insight and accuracy. As I said in those comments, I would argue with certain details, but in general it’s a very insightful summary of the great struggle going on in the modern Western world. Considering that it was published 70 years ago, you might expect it to be more dated, but I think it remains substantially correct in its analysis of the situation.

There’s a lot I could say about it, but I’m not sure if or when I’ll get to it, and right now I want to mention this very striking passage:

...there you have the Modern Attack in its main character, materialist, and atheist; and, being atheist, it is necessarily indifferent to truth. For God is Truth.

But there is (as the greatest of the ancient Greeks discovered) a certain indissoluble Trinity of Truth, Beauty and Goodness. You cannot deny or attack one of these three without at the same time denying or attacking both the others. Therefore with the advance of this new and terrible enemy against the Faith and all that civilization which the Faith produces, there is coming not only a contempt for beauty but a hatred of it; and immediately upon the heels of this there appears a contempt and hatred for virtue.

Atheists would certainly object to the charge that they are indifferent to truth; yet the pursuit of truth as they see it is often a truncated, shrunken thing, limited mainly to the application of observation and logic to physical facts, which they call reason. Cut off from its ground in the intuitive knowledge of general truths on the one hand and the “pre-philosophy of common sense” on the other hand, reason, as it is often understood in atheism and especially in materialism, cedes most of what is truly human to the realm of emotion and subjective preference. Materialists take an obvious pride and pleasure in carrying to its logical conclusion the idea that thought is an illusion created by physical phenomena. But how anyone can assert such a thing and still expect reason to have an influence on people is beyond me; this is reason devouring itself, and a confirmation of Belloc’s view.

Of course it is possible for someone to disbelieve in God, in the sense that Christians use the word, and still honor reason in its fullest sense. But I am not at all sure that such a regard for reason is generally possible in a culture which is not pre-or non-, but post- and anti-, Christian. This is another of Belloc’s important insights; he sees, quite rightly, that what he refers to as the Modern Attack is consistent only in its aversion to the Faith. And a culture once having accepted the connection between God and Truth cannot readily discard the former and keep the latter.

And as for Belloc’s last two claims, well, look around at some of the products of the entertainment industry and for that matter the arts in general, and I think you’ll have a hard time denying that contempt for beauty and virtue are often in evidence. Certainly not all art and artists are affected by this impulse, but, just as certainly, many are. Is it not often the source of the delight in being “transgressive”?

And you see it in other areas of life, too: think of the hard-nosed capitalist types who sneer at the idea that the sheer ugliness of our commercial culture is an indicator of something deeply wrong with it. Or that morality should have any part in the decision as to what shall be bought and sold.

(The text of The Great Heresies is available online here.)