Previous month:
February 2012
Next month:
April 2012

March 2012

Getting Started with Kierkegaard

This is probably not a good time to be asking this question, with some people offline for Lent, and Palm Sunday and Holy Week coming up, but while I'm thinking about it: I've never read Kierkegaard, and I think the time has come for me to give him a try. Would anyone like to suggest a good book to start with?

Earl Scruggs, RIP

Here's the first obituary I've seen; there will be many, many more.

I saw Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys somewhere around 1968. They were honored by the folkies of the early '60s, but by the late '60s there were some reservations about them because they were politically suspect. And certainly the country music crowd in general had no liking for hippies. I remember feeling a bit out of place at their concert, which was outdoors somewhere in Tuscaloosa...I wonder if maybe it was a political rally of some kind. I don't really remember much about the show, and anyway bluegrass has never been my favorite music. But I remember Earl--his flying fingers, and the contrastingly calm and slightly dreamy look on his face, as if he were in some place where nothing but the music existed. Apart from admiration of his music, he seems to have been almost universally liked and respected. Another great one gone. RIP.

I considered posting something from YouTube but there are so many--if you want to hear him, go have a look. No, wait...on second thought:


The Left-Wing Theocratic Fantasy

James Bowman, writing in The New Criterion, on the waves of hysteria provoked by Rick Santorum's social conservatism, worth quoting at length:

John Nichols, blogging for The Nation, wrote that Mr. Santorum “has no qualms about rewriting the Constitution as a social-conservative manifesto.” Whether or not he would have any qualms, he would not, even as president, have any power to re-write the Constitution as a social-conservative manifesto, assuming there could be such a thing, and so has not proposed to do so. That at various times he has expressed support for constitutional amendments very unlikely ever to pass, circumventing Roe v. Wade or in defense of traditional marriage, does not make the idea, expressed with affected horror, of a rewritten Constitution any less of a left-wing fantasy foisted upon him on the basis of the media’s neverending barrage of hypotheticals designed to expose what they claim to regard as his outlandish religious views....

...Those on the left may or may not believe in this right-wing bugbear they are at such pains to create, but they undoubtedly have a very strong sense of the convenience of having such a bugbear to attack when people might otherwise want to talk about subjects like jobs, economic growth, or government fiscal policy that the left would prefer to avoid during this election season. Left-wing utopianism is so much the default position of the media that it is easy for such writers to pretend that the most important thing about a candidate is how, if he were absolute dictator, he would fashion an ideal society. By treating Mr. Santorum (or anybody else) as if he were seeking election to the presidency in order to do only things that the president cannot do, the media and their left-wing allies hope they will be able to hold together a bare majority on behalf of President Obama—a majority not of those who approve of him, which he is most unlikely to have, but of those who are opposed to this left-wing fantasy of a right-wing theocracy. And how glad we will all be, amidst our economic doldrums and our fiscal ruin, to have dodged that bullet.

(My emphasis) 

I sometimes wonder how much of the professed fear is real. I suspect it may be both real and not real--I believe the emotion is real, more or less, but that deep down those who cultivate it know that they're just telling each other scary stories. Not that they wouldn't in fact be very unhappy with Rick Santorum (or for that matter Mitt Romney) as president, but in their hearts they know they aren't in any danger proportional to the emotion.

Sunday Night Journal — March 25, 2012

Fish and Lip

Someone in my department at work is leaving us for another job, and Thursday was her last day, so we took her out to lunch. Elimination of places that either weren’t open or were too far away or weren’t to someone’s liking sent us to Red Lobster, a restaurant I used to like before I moved to the coast, but haven’t been to for many years. On a sudden whim, I decided to order fish and chips, mainly out of curiosity to see what I would get. I’d like to try authentic English fish and chips, but the attempt to find them here is a little absurd, because I have no way of knowing how close anything served here is to the real thing. 

The waitress was somewhat on the grouchy side. When I said I wanted fish and chips, she replied “Chips or fries?” This completely flummoxed me for a moment, because, as everyone knows, What We Call Fries the English Call Chips. It was as if she had asked me whether I wanted ham or chicken in my ham sandwich. And the description in the menu said the dish consisted of fish and fries.

All I could manage to articulate in reply was “I thought fries came with it.” And her sarcastic reply was “Chips or fries. That’s why I asked the question. We make our own chips out of—”

“Fries,” I said, cutting her off and handing her the menu.

I guess she realized she was being unpleasant, because she was a lot nicer after that. But it was remarkable how the exchange continued to rankle me. I thought of it several times in the course of the afternoon, and when I did I felt a degree of anger way out of proportion to the incident. She had treated me as if I were stupid, which was bad enough, but what I really couldn’t stand was the fact that I had failed to show her, not to mention my co-workers, that she was wrong. I re-enacted the dialog in my mind, this time ending it with me saying something like You’re acting like I’m stupid, but actually you’re the stupid one.

In short, she had injured my pride, and I suppose that’s a good thing, especially in Lent.

The fish and fries weren’t especially good, either. But for all I know they were exactly what you would get in England. I’d like to think not, because the fries were the usual fast-food type, not actual slices of potato.

Color Photos from the 1930s and ‘40s

One side effect of the invention and development of photography is that it’s almost impossible for many people, maybe most, to resist entirely the idea that the world really looked as it does in old photographs. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were black and white or sepia, and people mostly stood still with grave expressions on their faces. The ‘20s through the ‘40s were less grave, but still monochrome. There were no colors in the world until the 1950s, and even then the colors were faded and everything a little blurry. A lot of movies and TV shows have reinforced this irrational but powerful impression by making any depiction of those times resemble the photographs to some degree. We know it’s a false impression, but we—or at least I—have to make a conscious effort to shake it off.

My mental image of the ‘30s and ‘40s is especially affected by this syndrome. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen enough movies made fairly recently but set somewhere between 1880 and 1930, in which the colors are depicted realistically, to get the impression out of my head. And maybe it’s partly because I watch a good many movies made in that period, and they’re almost all in black and white. Anyway, I was happy to stumble across a wonderful gallery of color images from those days made available online by the Library of Congress. Clicking on the picture below will take you to the gallery. The colors are mostly pretty subdued, sometimes to the point where you would say they're only sort of semi-color, but still, the images are useful for dispersing that monochromeness.


Lenten Music

Maybe you’ve noticed that I haven’t posted a weekend music video for a while. That’s mainly because I’ve cut way back on music for Lent. I gave up pop music entirely, and haven’t listened to very much classical. As Simcha Fisher notes, Lent does not exactly rank with Christmas as an occasion for beloved music. But she has a set of very good pieces , one of which I’m going to insert here:

 And for today, the feast of the Annunciation:


"For conservatives like you..."

"...who watch Fox News, listen to Rush Limbaugh, and read The Weekly Standard."

That's on the envelope of an ad for Commentary that I received today.  Sorry, folks, you're 0 for 3 on that list. Though actually the offer is sort of tempting: $19.95 for a year. Commentary does publish some stuff that interests me. But also a good deal that doesn't, and I don't need another magazine sitting around the house nagging me to read it. 

Sunday Night Journal — March 18, 2012

Sowing the Wind

From some Olympian height it might be amusing to see the dedication with which mankind pursues folly. No sooner do we flee one error than we fall, swooning, into the arms of another. How naive we were in the 1960s to think that the end of legal racial segregation would mean a gradual lessening of the all-too-natural human tendency to seek the advantage of our own tribe at the expense of all others. The ink was hardly dry on the civil rights legislation of the mid-'60s when we replaced one set of legal racial classifications and preferences with another, in the name of righting wrongs past, present, and future. It was mostly well-meant, but it would be hard to think of anything more toxic to a society in which people of all races must somehow get along, than to begin awarding the favors of government based on race. Instead of striving for a legally color-blind society, we refined and formalized our racial distinctions, and not just in the laws of a small number of southern states but at the federal level.

And how naive it was to suppose that the election of an officially black president would improve the climate. Perhaps it might have; there was a wave of sentimental warmth even among some who did not vote for Obama, who in spite of their opposition to him on policy grounds were happy to think that such a victory could happen, and hoped that at least it might help to reduce racial animosity. But instead the Democrats have used Obama's race as a device for increasing the tension, by their readiness to raise the charge of racism against anyone who opposed his policies. 

This discouraging subject has been in the news this week with publicity about the Obama campaign's African-Americans for Obama effort, which was complemented by stories such as this one, about the coach of the Chicago Bears appearance in a video for the campaign. Conservatives responded instantly by noting that something like White People for Romney would be considered intolerable. If such a thing existed and were officially sanctioned by the Romney campaign, his candidacy would be finished, instantly.

Yes, yes, the situation of a minority is different from that of a majority, and the history of white oppression of blacks makes the racial solidarity of the latter more understandable and less sinister. But we are supposed to be trying to get past those things. More importantly, that situation is changing. We're told regularly, usually with ill-concealed pleasure, that white people will soon be a minority in this country. As the legal oppression of blacks fades further into the past, younger white people will less and less agree to accept their stigmatized position as historical oppressor, and the idea that favorable treatment of the historically oppressed should be encoded in law. A 21-year-old white was born in 1991, twenty-six years after the end of legal segregation. We are now approaching the half-century mark. That 21-year-old is not likely to see any reason why racial consciousness should be encouraged and celebrated in every group but his own. 

It is, I repeat, toxic to have racial classifications encoded in our laws, and supported by the semi-official apparatus of "diversity." I can't prove it, but I suspect that resentment on this score is greater among younger white people than is commonly recognized, and worse, that it will grow. How could it possibly be otherwise? We have built racial partitions and resentments into our legal system. 

They have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. 

The Latter Days of a Once-Noble Movement

Also in the news this week, and also fueling the fires of racial animosity, is the shooting of a black teen-ager by a "neighborhood watch" patrolman in a gated community in Florida. The killer is being described as "white," but seems actually to be Puerto Rican, which in our official scheme makes him not exactly white, but "Hispanic." The facts are pretty murky at this point, and obviously if the watchman committed a crime he should be punished. But the story is only in the national news because it can be framed as an instance of white-against-black racial violence. Al Sharpton is getting into the act. Soon there will be calls for national inquiries, the FBI, soul-searching about white racism, and claims that this killing is representative of a widespread menace., etc. etc. etc.

Meanwhile, poor black communities are being devasted by their own internal lawlessness. Hardly a week goes by that our local paper doesn't contain at least one story about a young (usually) black man being shot by another. If the shooting isn't fatal, it isn't even a big story. And needless to say none of them make the national news, or attract the attention of out-of-town activists.

Here is the most recent. It's not unusual: the victim gunned down suddenly in public, for reasons unknown, though often presumed to relate to the drug trade. There were thirty-one murders in Mobile last year, and I feel confident in saying that young black men are disproportionately involved as both slayers and slain. I'm not sure whether that number includes the predominantly black city of Prichard, which is geographically indistinct from Mobile; if it doesn't, the real number is a good bit higher. (Here, if you care to view it, is one of Prichard's murders captured by a surveillance camera at a gas station. I don't necessarily encourage you to view it. But it does give you an idea of the callousness involved--there is no indication that it is anything but a planned cold-blooded murder, committed openly.) 

Everyone knows that the endemic fatherlessness in poor black communities is a major part of the problem, but no one knows what to do about it. In any case the solution to that is not likely to come from outside. So it's not surprising that the Sharptons of the world would focus on the rare white-on-black killing rather than the everyday black-on-black ones. The civil rights movement as it existed until sometime in the 1960s was, whatever flaws it may have had, in its essence one of the most fundamentally virtuous political phenomena in the history of this country. Now it's reduced to looking for the occasional sensational case which it can hope to use to play on the same strings of sympathy that sounded so well in the 1960s, in a very different world, and has little of use to say about the complex catastrophe which has overtaken too many of the people it claims to represent. 

About That Mandate

I haven't said much about the struggle between the Obama administration and the Church, as well as much of the larger Christian community, over the HHS mandate that Catholic institutions must provide insurance to their employees that covers contraception, sterilization, and the abortifacent "morning after" pill. Part of the reason is that I find it difficult to say anything about it without going off on a lengthy rant. I must say I am very proud of our bishops. I'll content myself with two links: first, to Janet Cupo's suggestion that we pray to St. John Fisher; second, a cool and calm appraisal of the situation by Ramesh Ponnuru. The frenzy over a so-called "Republican War Against Women" is the most repulsive demagoguery I've seen from the Democrats since George Wallace. They seem to believe it's succeeding, but Ponnuru is not so sure; I hope he's right.

It has been clear for a long time that Obama's idea of overcoming our divisions, at least on the issues that his party really cares about, is that he should tell us what we're going to do, and that we should do it. I think many of the bishops genuinely feel betrayed, because they believed his rhetoric. They don't seem to be falling for it now.

Monteverdi: Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers of 1610)

On a more pleasant subject: several months ago my friend Robert sent me, electronically, a copy of the Martin Pearlman / Boston Baroque recording of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers for the Blessed Virgin. I had a lot of trouble finding time to listen to it in its 90-minute entirety. I started it several times and never got past the first twenty minutes. Finally I gave that up and divided it into four playlists of twenty to thirty minutes each, and put those on my iPod. In that way I've listened to the whole thing more than once--not necessarily in order, and not necessarily the same number of times for each section. So perhaps I'm missing some sense of the unity of the work, but I've grown very fond of it. I've found it to be especially welcome as medicine for insomnia. Don't laugh, because I don't mean it's boring and puts me to sleep. I mean, rather, that it interests me without producing tension; it dispels the various anxious thoughts that usually crowd into my mind when I can't sleep, including anxiety about the fact that I can't sleep. The first word that comes to mind when I think of it is "fresh." It seems to open the door to a spring-like place in my mind, a place of sweet and graceful beauty. I've ordered the CD.

Here's the Boston Baroque rehearsing it:



That's what I called the list of sites in the sidebar here, because "blogroll" wasn't exactly accurate. I have been meaning for some time to revise it, to add some things and remove others. It fell victim to a common problem of mine--similar to the one noted above, actually: if I can't set aside the time to do it all at once, I don't do it at all. I wanted not only to make the changes all at once, but to write a post describing and explaining them. I've finally talked myself out of that, and into doing it as I get a moment here and there. Today I added Janet Cupo's excellent (of course) new blog The Three Prayers. And I removed a couple of sites that have been inactive for quite a long time. I'll be doing more of that. I am waiting for someone at The Incarnationalist to start posting again.