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August 2012


My front yard, as of about fifteen minutes ago; the haze in the middle is a result of the lens fogging up when brought from the air-conditioned house to the very humid outdoors:


So Isaac, having barely attained hurricane strength, has bypassed us and headed for Louisiana instead. Unless something changes drastically, this will prove to be a fairly mild event, even for those in its path, which seems to be quite a disappointment to the people at the Weather Channel, who give every appearance of cheering for the storm. We haven't even had more than a sprinkle of rain, and a few wind gusts.

And everyone is either laughing at or complaining  about the various officials who called for evacuations, shut down schools, and so forth. The college where I work is closed today and tomorrow, though I won't be surprised if they call the staff back. So I'm getting an unexpected day or two off. It appears a ridiculous panicky over-reaction, but in fairness to those who made the decisions it has to be said that you just never know what these storms will do. And better safe than sorry is usually a good policy. Anyway, I'm not complaining.

Sunday Night Journal — August 26, 2012

Waiting for the Hurricane

This will be brief, as I've been busy most of the day making preparations for Tropical Storm Isaac, which is expected to be Hurricane Isaac by the time it makes landfall somewhere along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. The tropics have been pretty quiet since Hurricane Katrina in 2005--it's hard to believe that's seven years ago now--and we had gotten complacent. Even if these storms end up being relatively mild, they still produce a lot of anxiety, and it's a lot of trouble to get ready for them. You need to move things like patio furniture inside, or tie them down, so they don't end up coming through your window. Lots of people board their windows, but we're going to skip that this time. I hope we don't regret it. We're pretty protected from the wind here, and I always figure the biggest risk is of a tree falling on the house. Hurricane Katrina did send water up to the house, but fortunately not further, so we didn't get flooded. It would have to be a pretty extreme storm for our house to flood or be damaged by a surge, and at this point Isaac isn't expected to be one of those.

Here are a few hurricane-related posts from that period in 2004-2005 when we had Ivan and Katrina and several smaller storms:  Sunday Night Comes On a Tuesday Morning This Week, about waiting for Ivan. You Can't, In Fact, Always Get What You Want, written while waiting for Dennis, which preceded Katrina by six weeks or so. Then, a few weeks later, Not So Calm Before the Storm, written the night before Katrina. And Uneasy In the Aftermath, after Katrina.

I can't find it now, but I'm pretty sure I had a post at some point about how unprepared we were for one of the storms, and how bad it would have been if the storm had not turned out to be relatively mild, and how we had learned our lesson and would be prepared with food, water, flashlight batteries, etc. etc. for the next one. Well, that didn't last. But at least we no longer have the filing cabinets full of family records and important things like insurance policies in the part of the house that's on the side closer to the bay and four feet lower than the rest.

Truffaut: Day for Night

I watched this last weekend. I don't really know much of Truffaut's work. Jules and Jim was a staple of art film screenings in the 1960s, and I think I may have seen it twice. I liked it. I think I may have seen The 400 Blows back then as well, but can't remember for sure, so obviously it didn't make a lasting impression on me if I did. And I saw Stolen Kisses when it was in theaters in the late '60s--yes, there was a theater in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that showed the occasional artsy or foreign film. I remember liking it a good deal, though I don't remember anything specific from it. I recorded it off Turner Classic Movies a few weeks ago and will be watching it sometime soon (if the house doesn't get destroyed by a hurricane). 

Day for Night is apparently considered one of Truffaut's best. It's a movie-about-a-movie, or rather about making a movie, which didn't produce great expectations in me. I've seen 8 1/2 and another Fellini film about movie-making of which I can't remember the name right now. I was unenthusiastic about both. I suppose I'll have to watch 8 1/2 again sometime, since so many critics regard it as a masterpiece, but am in no hurry.

I like Day for Night considerably more than either. It's an engaging and charming work, though it doesn't touch great depths. There's a kind of sweetness about it, a gentle touch: you feel that the director likes his characters, and wants them to be happy. And though they pass through a number of tribulations in the process of making the movie, they come out reasonably well in the end.

Jacqueline Bisset plays Julie Miller, an American actress recruited for the title role of the film-within-the-film, Meet Pamela. Before she arrives, she's described as fragile, having recently suffered a breakdown of sorts. And "fragile" is just what she seems. I didn't know much about her; beyond recognizing her name I can't remember whether I'd seen her in anything else. I was impressed. Truffaut himself plays the much-harassed director. 

I hate to sound like I'm damning with faint praise, because I really did enjoy it, perhaps the more because I wasn't necessarily expecting to.  But although I can recommend it, I can't muster a really passionate recommendation. I suppose it takes something either very big and serious, or very funny, to get that kind of reaction from me. 




Dar Williams: I Am the One Who Will Remember Everything

Weekend Music

I've heard Dar Williams's name here and there, but don't know much about her. This song was a free download at eMusic sometime in the past few months. At one time I had many, many of these that I'd never really listened to, because I always downloaded them without listening to the samples first. I've become more choosy now, downloading only the ones that seem really promising. I worked my way through the backlog by putting half a dozen or so tracks on a flash drive and listening to them in the car, and after a few listens marking (in the music player on my computer) the ones I really like with a four-star rating, so that I can find them later. This was in the most recent batch, and it very definitely gets four stars. Moreover, it makes me want to hear some more of Dar Williams. 

I'm not sure exactly what this song is saying--something about children and war and maybe more generally about children--but I sure like it. You can read the lyrics here



...stands for Anybody But Obama. I haven't said much (have I said anything?) about the election. But I posted a comment at Neo-neocon earlier, and since I spent more time than I had intended on it, and it's a pretty good summary of my view of President Obama and the election, I think I'll reproduce it here. The topic of the post (read it here) is why some people still find Obama likeable, and why they ever did in the first place. A number of people commenting there dislike him very intensely, to say the least. Here's what I said:

Well, this is interesting. Another data point: I was inclined to like Obama when I first heard him speak, sometime in the year or so before the 2008 campaign was in full swing. I thought well, maybe he actually is the sort of person who could bring us together instead of dividing us, who could appeal to what’s best on both sides of our divisions, etc.

That didn’t last long, but I still hoped he would beat Hillary for the nomination–because I have the visceral dislike for the Clintons that many of you seem to have for Obama. (I thought I was over that, but every time I hear Bill’s voice it comes back.) Even after he won the election, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, and hoped that he would be a decent president. And, yeah, I admit to a sentimental warmth about the election of our first “black” (i.e. visibly mixed-race) president.

Pretty soon, of course, I realized how bad he was going to be, and that his idea of conciliation was that everybody would do what he told them to. So I lost any good feeling toward him that I’d had.

But I still have not developed that strong personal dislike. I’ve been in the Oval Office with him, shaken his hand, looked into his eyes, said a few words to him (“God bless you”). (No, I’m not anybody important, it was a ceremonial occasion.) I didn’t have any gut-level sense of “this is a bad guy” or even “this is a phony.” I just think he’s a man with very bad ideas and a very bad agenda upon which he is very determined, and I want to see him gone. It’s not personal.

I read a comment once from some Bush administration official that many people had the idea that Bush was dumb, but a nice guy, and that both were false. Substitute “smart” for “dumb” in that sentence, and I think it’s pretty true of Obama.

I was pretty sure from the beginning that Obamacare was going to be used as a tool by social progressives to impose their will on retrograde elements, and I was certainly right about that. The attack on religious freedom was the last straw, a matter so fundamental that it makes all other issues seem less important, the political equivalent of an enemy invasion, the point at which negotiation is no longer an option and you have to either fight or accept the invader's rule. At this point I would vote for an empty beer can over Obama and his zany sidekick.

Sunday Night Journal — August 19, 2012

A Few Simple Commands

Thursday was the Feast of the Assumption, and I made my way across town to St. Mary of the Visitation, where our little Anglican Use congregation was having Mass at 12:15. I was having an extremely busy day at work, and had trouble getting away. Then the drive took a little longer than expected, and so I was late. I walked in just as the reading from Revelation was beginning. It was a bit of a shock to step so suddenly from the workaday world to the very strange events described there: a woman clothed with the sun and crowned with stars, about to give birth; a dragon with seven heads and ten horns waiting to devour the child; the defeat of the one who accuses “the brethren” day and night before the throne of God.

What can all this mean? What is it really describing? We’re often told that it’s all symbolic and we shouldn’t take the specific imagery too seriously. No doubt it is symbolic, but that doesn’t mean the images are connected to what they symbolize only by the thread of metaphorical logic. I think we’re justified in supposing that the symbol is also an accurate picture of some aspect of the reality. But I also think the full reality is most likely something we could not possibly understand, the way the two-dimensional creatures in the classic Flatland are utterly unable to imagine the third dimension. We’re given these very strange but fundamentally simple representations because we aren’t capable of understanding anything more. 

I sometimes wonder what the reality represented by the term “throne of God” might actually be like. I can’t really say that I conjecture, or imagine, because I can’t even get that far. And I wonder about the relation of stories like the woman and the dragon to time and eternity. They happened, or are happening, or will happen, or perhaps all three together. How does it all work, this spiritual world of which the Bible and the traditions of the Church give us only hints and simple pictures? Dragons, thrones, women, moon and stars—we can make sense of these, but what the combat between God and evil really looks like, from an angel’s point of view, is probably as incomprehensible to us as a book on mathematics is to a dog. What does “looks like” even mean in that realm? The possibility of getting some sort of real understanding of these things is not the least of the pleasures I hope to experience in the next life. No doubt we’ll never be able to understand it all, but our understanding will grow and grow as we become more and more like God.

Meanwhile, we have to recognize our limits. I find it useful to consider my two dogs, Andy and Lucy, in connection with this. My wife and I from time to time have an exchange about their mental abilities. She’ll say, for instance, that they think its unfair if one of them gets some sort of treat or special treatment and the other doesn’t. I insist that dogs don’t “think” in that sense. It’s clear that when either of the dogs gets something, the other expects to get it, too, but I don’t think that is evidence of a concept of fairness, but rather simply that the second dog wants it. In any case, they certainly can’t form any conception of the reasons for that unequal treatment. Andy has to stay on a leash when we walk, while Lucy gets to go free (in the immediate neighborhood), because she’s reasonably obedient and he isn’t. I have explained this to him, but have never received any indication that he understood.

The human purposes that govern these things, indeed almost every aspect of the human life that goes on all around them, and occasionally makes some sort of direct intervention in theirs, are utterly incomprehensible to them. What , for instance, do they make of the sounds that we continually make and which to us constitutes a symbolic language referencing everything from the temperature of the house to theology? They recognize their names, though Lucy seems not to know the difference between “Lucy” and “Andy.” And they recognize a few simple commands: “no,” “come,” “sit.” They’re pretty good at recognizing a tone in the human voice that indicates displeasure or something bad about to happen, and they recognize a comforting gentle tone, but there’s no reason to think that they understand the content of a specific sentence like “Stop making that noise—it’s driving me crazy.” Essentially everything that isn’t a command signifies nothing more specific than approval or disapproval: “No!” “Good boy” (or girl)

Most of the activity that goes on in the house is utterly meaningless to them. What could they possibly make of, say, sweeping the floor, or washing the dishes? Every weekday morning they get put into cages,where they stay for the nine-to-ten hours we’re away at work. This was a last resort which we finally arrived at as the only way to prevent the trouble they got into while we were gone. They can have no least idea of where we go and what we do when we leave every morning, or why they have to be caged.

I think our relationship to God is very much like this. What we know is not false, but it is only a very small hint of the reality. Everyone knows the story of the vision St. Thomas Aquinas had toward the end of his life which made him declare that everything he had written was only straw. But I don’t think that meant that what he had written was false, only that it came nowhere near doing justice to the reality. All our theology tells us little more about God than my dogs know about me, which likewise is not false but which does not even have a vocabulary for the sort of knowledge it does not contain. We are capable of knowing a few things: who the food and the petting come from, and with a lot of training we can manage to understand a few simple commands—do not steal, do not murder, do not commit adultery—but, like ill-trained dogs, we are not at all reliable about following them.

The big difference between the two cases is that we have been told that we are capable of more, and will one day pass into a different order of being where we will be capable of understanding things that are perhaps now as far beyond us as human speech is for a dog. I sometimes think we can learn something from our dogs about obedience to mysterious commands.


I’m sure this image is under copyright but I haven’t been able to find its source.

From Rand Readers

Here's some actual testimony in support of my view that people do see in Rand's novels something much less sinister than is exhibited in her philosophy as a whole. Following are excerpts from the comments thread on this CNN story, which itself is a pretty conventional view.

Just to make it clear: I think Rand's philosophy as philosophy is mostly evil, and that Atlas Shrugged is an atrocious novel (see this post from 2008). My point is not to defend either. I have two points: one, those of us who find her work appalling need to be accurate about what we're condemning. Blasting her for views she doesn't profess only makes us look bad in the eyes of her admirers. It simply isn't true, for instance, that Atlas Shrugged, for all its very weird idealization of tycoons,  presents ordinary working people as "moochers" etc.; it presents honest hard-working people as honest-hardworking people, and dishonest lazy people as dishonest lazy people, wherever they're found.  And two, more importantly, we should not assume that those who find some sort of inspiration in the novels are  adherents of her entire philosophy, and specifically that liking the (perceived) message of the novels negates a profession of Christianity. The last comment below especially seems to me to account for a lot of her appeal to Americans.


I think the point of her book was to champion innovation, hard work, and productivity. She intended to expose big government for its tendency to penalize and restrict innovation and productivity and to reward those who idle and watch as others innovate. That's what I got from it anyway.


Only someone who has not read her books, or has a serious problem with reading comprehension would offer this silly straw man of her positions.

What Rand opposed was the state forcing individuals to act as they see fit, as opposed to letting those people decide for themselves, and make their own way in the world.  State force, to make things "fair" was the evil she opposed, not the weak masses as you put it. 


All of you libs, who are regurgitating anti- ayn rand propaganda, should understand that she never vilified the poor and never praised the rich.  She praised the individuals who aspired to create, innovate, grow, and better oneself.  You are making the immediate conclusion that the poor are the do nothings and dregs of society.  That is your insecurity.  Rand defined success as following your passions and desires, thinking freely, and aspiring to create for yourself and not for others.  It's not about wealth and poverty.  It's about individual happiness and self achievement. There are plenty of starving artists and entrepreneurs who follow her philosophy.


I read Rands book and did not get the same impression as you. I got the impression that when government becomes so controlling business for what they think are reasons that will help the poor then they actually oftentimes do more harm than good.

When governments only policy is the re-dristribution of wealth from the makers to the takers then you soon have no makers and you soon have even more takers.  When you reward failure, then you will have more of it.  when you reward inefficiency then you will get more of it.   All these themes are what seems to be going on in government today.   I think the left wants to present the book as an absolute, but I think most people want to just take the main theme from the book and that is people should rely on themselves more and there government less.


What Rand books are you reading? The bad guys are petty bureaucrats, government regulators. The good guys are not all inventors or innovators. They are also hard working people who run a railroad efficiently and provide a valuable service to the population and provide good jobs for people. They are not the crony capitalists who get lazy and decide to grow and profit by getting cozy with the government and getting special consideration. 


Her work has little to do with rich or poor.  It's about  how today's society prefers to you conform to its needs at the cost of your independence. 


Neu! : Hallogallo

Weekend Music

I probably should have waited for the weekend to write the Krautrock post. So here's a sort of footnote to it, a Krautrock Klassik. This tune is often compared to Kraftwerk's "Autobahn," and one can see why, though in my opinion not as good. I reviewed the album on which it appears back in 2006 when I was doing a weekly music review. How can it be that more than half a decade has passed since then? I was pretty disappointed in the album, but I like this track.


Christians and Ayn Rand (again)

A few months ago I posted something about the curious and (I think) inconsistent affection some Christians have for Ayn Rand. My conjecture was:

I’ve suspected that what they, the Christians, do is to separate Rand’s economic ideas from her metaphysics. They read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead and are thrilled by the achievements of the heroes, and filled with indignation toward their malicious collectivist enemies. They either miss or mostly ignore the materialist and atheist foundations of Rand’s didactic stories; what they see is an inspiring story of individual heroism against collective stupidity and venality.

(You can read the whole post here.) Yesterday, more or less by accident (following a link to the same site sent to me a friend), I came across a post by Quin Hillyer at The American Spectator which seems to confirm my conjecture:

I know numerous, numerous conservatives, myself included, who thrill to part of Rand's message while utterly rejecting other parts of it. There is not a single contradiction in that unless somebody actually says he embraces Rand in full and then still tries to claim to be a devout Christian.

(Whole post here.) Quin Hillyer is no dummy. He used to work for the local paper here, and was a very astute observer and a good writer, and I was sorry when he moved on. He may be right or he may be wrong, but he's not stupid. And he's right that there is no contradiction in agreeing with one thing Rand says but not another. Left-wing Christians do it with Marx all the time. It depends somewhat, I guess, on what in Rand imparts that thrill. I don't think I experienced a thrill of any sort at any point while reading Atlas Shrugged.

Krautrock (Euroweirdness)

I sort of want to post something serious, but I had a bad day at work, and the serious stuff going on here in the U.S., mainly the presidential campaign, is profoundly disheartening. It's not just the campaign itself, but the people baying from the sidelines. So I'd rather think about something else.

It's a pretty self-indulgent post, I guess, since I think very few, if any, people who read this blog will be interested in this video. It's a BBC documentary on "Krautrock," which, if you haven't encountered it before, is the term applied loosely to a number of German bands active in the 1970s. The only thing they really have in common is that they were attempting to break away from the mostly blues-based music of the American and British rock scenes. Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Can, Neu!, Faust, and Cluster were the most prominent names. The documentary is not available for streaming from the BBC, but there's some information about it here. It's an hour long. I've noticed that sometimes YouTube videos work better if you click through and watch it at the YouTube site rather than here.

If you aren't interested in watching the whole thing, it's worth sitting through the first ten minutes or so for the clips of German "schlager" music, which at least in these brief samples is the worst pop music I've ever heard. I can see why some musicians thought any kind of noise would be better.


I don't actually especially like most of the music referred to here, I just find the phenomenon interesting. But I do like two of the bands, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. The first, in their '70s and early '80s heyday, produced fascinating otherworldly soundscapes almost entirely with synthesizers, flavored with Edgar Froese's excellent guitar work. Some of their work was slow and dreamy, some propulsive. Most pieces were long, at least up until 1980 or so--30 minutes or more, occupying both sides of an LP. Here's a section from one that's familiar to all TD fans, "Ricochet," arguably their most successful long work.


If you were around in the 1970s you may have heard Kraftwerk's "Autobahn" on the radio (or maybe you were even one of the people who bought the album--I wasn't). Their work was  more conventional in musical structure, but was cool and mechanical by design, using the synthesizer in a somewhat ironic way, presumably as a comment on the alienation produced by technology. They deliberately presented themselves as somewhat robotic. 


Sunday Night Journal — August 12, 2012

Father Oddie and Me

 From 1984 until 1990 I lived in Huntsville, Alabama, and my parish there was St. Mary of the Visitation, or, as it was generally called, simply Visitation. It was the oldest parish in town, and was therefore located near the original center of what had been a very small town until after World War II, when the Defense Department made its military base, Redstone Arsenal, a center for rocket development which eventually became the Marshall Space Flight Center. 

Across the street that ran behind Visitation was an Anglican church, of which I can't remember the name. Anglican, not Episcopal: it was one of those groups which had broken away from the Episcopal Church because of the latter's departure from its traditional beliefs and indeed from traditional Christianity in general. That's an old story with which anyone who's been around for the past thirty or forty years is very familiar. Some of the groups that struck out from the Episcopal Church were low-church evangelicals--there is an Anglican church not far from where I live now which describes itself as Traditional Protestant Episcopal (my emphasis), and which appeared, on the one occasion when I peeked inside, to have no altar. Others were on the Catholic end of the Anglican spectrum, and the Huntsville group was one of those. 

Suffering from occasional bouts of liturgical distemper which included both unhappiness with the Catholic liturgy and fond memories of the Anglican liturgy as I'd known it at Canterbury Chapel in Tuscaloosa before turning Catholic, I sometimes wondered about the little Anglican church behind Visitation. But I never made any attempt to get acquainted with the place and its congregation, partly because I was concerned that it might be too great a temptation. 

So as far as I can remember I entered the building on one occasion only. That was sometime in the late 1980s, when I attended a talk by a Fr. William Oddie, a priest in the Church of England. I think I saw some sort of advertisement for the talk, and though I can't remember now what it said it was interesting enough that I decided to attend. Perhaps it was advertised as being specifically about Anglican-Catholic relations, the dialog and the future possibilities. At any rate, I went. 

There are really only three things I remember about the event: first, that I was greeted at the door by a pleasant and somehow very Episcopalian gentlemen--by that, I suppose I mean that he was courteous and pleasant, though not exuberantly glad-handing, well-dressed, and had about him an air of tasteful affluence. The talk was to be held in the basement, and either I asked to see the church, or he offered to show it to me. The interior was simple and pleasing, handsome without any ostentation, and there was an altar. And when we entered it my host genuflected. I was pretty disconcerted by that and didn't know whether to follow suit or not. I think I finally did, figuring that if the body of Christ was there I was doing the correct thing, and if not God would understand that I intended no idolatry. 

Second was, of course, Fr. Oddie himself, who was the sort of well-spoken Englishman who tends to impress and captivate Americans, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. He was a middle-aged man perhaps five or ten years older than I (I was forty at the time), stocky, bespectacled, and I believe he wore a clerical collar. Of his talk, which was, overall, very sympathetic to Rome, I remember only two specific things: an ironic reference to "the redoubtable Bishop Spong," who was then much in the news for his ability to deny almost every article of Christian belief while remaining a bishop, and the assertion that the best Anglican theology was currently being done in Rome. I believe he may have mentioned then-Cardinal Ratzinger as an example, though I'm not sure about that--he did mention some names, and that would have been a likely one.

Third was a brief exchange I had with him after the lecture, when he made himself available for chat with the attendees. I told him that I'd enjoyed the talk and was interested in the whole question because I had left the Episcopal Church for Rome less than ten years before. His response has stayed with me because it was not the sort of polite "oh really how interesting" sort of thing one might have expected. Instead he looked me in the eye, paused for a moment, and said "How do you find it?" It seemed to me that it was not simply a conventional response, but that he really wanted to know. 

I don't have any memory of my reply, which was probably inarticulate. I know it was somehow affirmative. Perhaps I only said "Fine." 

In the years following that talk I saw Fr. Oddie's name here and there, sometimes in Catholic publications, and supposed he must have come over to Rome, which was no surprise at all; I think I must have heard him fairly early in the process of considering the decision, though perhaps he was farther along and keeping it to himself. Lately, with the unlooked-for appearance of an Anglican Ordinariate mission here, I've thought about that exchange with him back in the 1980s, and it occurred to me the other day to search for him on the web. 

I discovered that he's now a regular columnist for the UK's Catholic Herald, which he edited for a time, and, the Olympics being in progress in London, this admirable diatribe was near the top of the search results. He wrote a book in 1997 which seems to have foreseen the Anglican Ordinariate. Somehow I managed to escape hearing that he had written a biography of Chesterton. And, judging by this list of his Herald columns, he might be called "redoubtable" without irony. I look forward to reading a number of them. I think the Herald will become a regular stop for me.


A postscript: the Web is a wonderful thing. I couldn't remember the name of the Anglican church in Huntsville, but Google turned it up immediately: it's the Church of St. Charles King and Martyr (can't get much more Anglican than that), still there and still Anglican. And here is the web site of St. Francis at the Point, which is a few miles down the road from where I live. You'll note the descriptions of the two: "Traditional Episcopal" for the first, "Traditional Protestant Episcopal" for the second.

And here is Canterbury Chapel in Tuscaloosa. Or perhaps here

Frances Carroll and the Coquettes

Weekend Music

A couple of Saturday nights ago my wife and I watched a movie--actually we watch a movie almost every Saturday night--and after it was over I switched to Turner Classic Movies, which is a sort of idle habit of mine. There was a 1940 musical called Too Many Girls playing. It featured Lucille Ball, whom neither of us had ever seen in anything before her I Love Lucy years. My wife was intrigued, but as the movie was well under way at that point I went immediately to Netflix and put it at the top of the queue. So last Saturday night that was what we watched.

It was pretty bad, definitely not more than a period piece. I'm not a big fan of musicals, although I do enjoy some of the really good ones, like My Fair Lady. Although it's by Rodgers and Hart, the music didn't strike me as very engaging or memorable (granted, that was only one hearing), though the ersatz college fight song "Pottawattamie" ("PAHtahWAHtamy") was witty. 

When it was over, we looked at the extra stuff on the DVD, and found this, which was really more enjoyable than the movie for the most part. I like the drummer. She looks awfully young. And she looks like she's having a great time.


Apropos so many things, e.g. the same-sex marriage debate

An ignorant man who is not fool enough to meddle with his clock, is however sufficiently confident to think he can safely take to pieces, and put together at his pleasure, a moral machine of another guise, importance and complexity, composed of far other wheels, and springs, and balances, and counteracting and co-operating powers. Men little think how immorally they act in rashly meddling with what they do not understand. Their delusive good intention is no sort of excuse for their presumption. They who truly mean well must be fearful of acting ill.

--Edmund Burke, quoted here

And of course one of the corollaries of this is that once the ignorant man has dismantled the clock, it doesn't work anymore.

Because I Know You've Been Wondering

Which countries lead the world in heavy metal bands per capita?

Not surprisingly--well, not surprising if you know anything about metal--the Nordic countries lead the way, with Finland way out in front at 54.3 metal bands per 100,000 people, Sweden next at 37.3. I was just a bit surprised by the details. I would have guessed Norway first, then Finland or Sweden, but that's confusing notoriety with numbers, Norway being the birthplace of extreme forms such as death metal. 

So let's have a little Finnish metal. This is a band called Amorphis who have produced a series of albums comprised of songs based on episodes of the Kalevala, which I recently started reading. I haven't gotten very far in it, but I believe this is the voice of Lemminkäinen's mother as she begins to search a dark river for her drowned son. The lyrics can be found here--scroll down to "Silent Waters." 



Sunday Night Journal — August 5, 2012

Blessed With a Dark Turn of Mind

Some girls are bright as the morning
Some girls are blessed with a dark turn of mind

--Gillian Welch

Some boys, too. As far back as I can remember I've been troubled by an inability to get very dark things out of my mind, or to keep them from getting in there in the first place. Even if I have some warning that something I'm about to see is going to include horror--a story about a gruesome crime, for instance--something in me is inclined to press on, not because of an attraction but precisely because of fear and repulsion, something that perversely and stupidly wants to find out just how bad it can be, as if knowing the worst will somehow arm me against it. And then, if it's really bad, I'm stuck with it, perhaps for a long time. 

The first specific instance of this I can recall was when I was, I suppose, six or seven years old--old enough to read, at any rate. Somehow I came across a horror comic. It frightened me, yet I couldn't resist reading it. It may well have been an issue of Tales from the Crypt. I don't recognize any of the synopses in the Wikipedia entry, although "Terror Ride!" bears a resemblance. If it wasn't Tales from the Crypt, it was something similar; the sample illustration at Wikipedia is just the sort of thing I remember. There were several stories in it, all terrifying to me, but worst of all was the one that I think was last in the book. It involved an amusement park ride in which patrons rode little boats through a series of frightening scenes, including, for instance, a huge hideous figure with an axe poised to strike down at them. Except that there was a monstrous demented old man running the thing, and he had rigged the axe so that it actually fell.... 

This little book sent me into something close to a blind panic. It was as if I had been swallowed by some great invisible fear-beast; I could still see the world around me, but it was remote and unreal. The only real thing was my  terror, and the images from the comic that would not go away. I don't now how long I remained in this state. At the time it seemed a very long time, weeks or months, but perhaps it was only days. I never told anyone what was going on, and eventually it faded away. (As an adult in my mid-twenties I had an experience similar to that provoked by the comic, except that it wasn't provoked by any one thing, but by an accumulation of several things. It's a story for another time, but I think it was what has now come to be called a panic attack.)

Years ago I saw a Gahan Wilson cartoon that made me laugh in recognition--if you don't remember him, he specialized in creating very dark humor out of macabre situations. This one pictured a little boy walking down the sidewalk. As I recall he is bundled into a big coat, with only part of his head sticking out, and he looks somewhat fearful. Two women observe him, and one says "There goes that little Wilson boy, all alone as usual." But images of monsters and other nightmarish things are swirling all around him, visible only to him. I had to laugh; that might have been me as a child, not always but too often. 

The thing that has continued to plague me from time to time is something that I suppose happens to most people. You read about some horrible thing--it may be a news story about the atrocities committed in war, or by a despot, it may be an account of torture, it may even be something from the life of a saint. And it hits you like a blow to the gut. You're dazed and sick with horror and pity and you want to cry out. You can't believe that one human being could do such demonic things to another, you want to know why God allows it, and you get no answer. For a few minutes your mind flails about desperately, trying to escape what has just taken possession of it, wanting to be rid of the hideous knowledge, wanting to somehow undo or ameliorate the pain and terror of the person who suffered what you just read about, but helpless.

Then you get control, you go on about your business, and the horror fades. Only, if you're like me, it keeps coming back, and your mind ties itself in knots trying to keep it away--everyone knows the phenomenon in which the effort not to think about something only insures that one will think about it. I have fairly frequent bouts of insomnia, and it's often during these, as I lie awake in the dark, that images of horror come back to torment me. Sometimes I can only escape them by getting up and turning on a light and reading or listening to music for a while. 

But I've recently learned a different way of dealing with this. Like any Catholic, I'm familiar with the idea of offering any pain or suffering of my own to God as a sacrifice for others. But only somewhat recently have I begun to think of these bouts of morbid obsession in that light. I think it was Caryll Houselander who made this really clear to me, in passages like this one that I quoted a week or two ago:

"...your suffering, bitter though it is, is healing the world's sorrow. Don't think of it in terms of what is unbearable to you, but when a specially bad hour ends, even in sheer weariness, think, 'That is a drink of water to someone dying of thirst,' or, 'That is a bar of chocolate for a hungry child.' It is mysterious, but true."

Could it be possible that by accepting the anguish that sometimes visits me and offering it to God on behalf of the victims of torture and atrocities of all sorts that I could be helping them somehow--giving them a hint of comfort, helping them to endure or recover...something? With that hope, the entire picture changes, as if a negative image had suddenly become positive, and what was dark is now light. My pain now has a purpose, and therefore is easier to bear. Now, if gruesome images come to torment me in the dark--well, I won't say I welcome them, because they are still a torment, but I welcome the opportunity to make use of them. I am at peace. I don't fight them or try to escape them, but rather let them come and face them, fear and horror dispelled by the hope that this is actually of some effect in relieving the pain of the actual sufferer. I offer not only whatever is bothering me at that moment but all the similar fears that have beset me from childhood on. The idea that I might actually be helping some poor soul to survive unspeakable agony is to me a joy that is also unspeakable. Send me as much of this as I can bear, Lord, I find myself praying,  if it can help that tortured child that I read about this morning.

If it can really help--and you'll notice I say if, because I'm always struggling to believe--then I can truly say that my dark turn of mind is a blessing.

The translation of the Psalms that we use in our Anglican Use liturgy seem to be based on the Coverdale translation. I'm sure others are more accurate, but since the psalms are poetry, I think multiple meanings are permissible. Last week we had Psalm 84, and it seemed to speak directly to me, as of course scripture so often does: 

Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are thy ways, who going through the vale of misery use it for a well; and the pools are filled with water. 

Sling Blade

The local paper has a feature called "Today In History" or something like that, which notes significant events that have occurred on this date. August 4, for instance, was the date of: the murder of Lizzie Borden's parents in 1892, the declaration of war by Britain in 1914, and the arrest of Anne Frank and her family in 1944. It also happens to be the birthday of Billy Bob Thornton, and so a good day to recommend this movie, in which he gives a really remarkable performance.

I had heard that Sling Blade was a good movie, but had the mistaken idea that it was some sort of semi-horror thing, and very violent. Rob G corrected that misunderstanding in a comment here a couple of months (?) or so ago, and since his recommendations are usually good I decided to take this one. The movie begins with an account of a murder committed with the implement named in the title--a sort of scythe, and not the same thing I knew as a "sling" or "swing" blade when I was growing up. But there is no explicit violence. 

The story concerns Karl Childers, whom we meet as a patient in a mental hospital. He is clearly not right in the head. He's frequently described by others as "retarded," but his problem strikes me as something closer to a form of autism. At any rate, he has been committed to the insitution because he committed two murders, and presumably found not guilty by reason of insanity. I'm not giving away too much with that, because we learn it in the first ten minutes or so of the film. Karl has been declared to be cured, and is released. He returns to the small town of his childhood, and soon makes friends with a boy and his single mother. 

And that's enough synopsis. We are deep in southern gothic territory here, which of course overlaps with Flannery O'Connor territory, and while this is not quite an O'Connor-class story it's good enough to be worth watching more than once. It's not easy to watch; it's full of painful and then menacing situations. But it's difficult to stop watching, too; the story takes hold of you. I was not altogether happy with the ending when I saw it, but after living with it for a few days I changed my mind.

Billy Bob Thornton's portrayal of Karl is remarkable, to say the least, and probably the most immediately striking thing about the movie. I was surprised and very impressed when the credits rolled at the end, informing me that Thornton also wrote and directed it. I had been familiar with his name as an interesting actor whom I'd seen in only a few roles, mostly small, and as part of a celebrity couple of which the other half was Angelina Jolie. But forget all that publicity and gossip: the man is an artist.

Here's a clip which will give you an idea of the character of Karl. He has just returned to his home town.


The scene at the laundromat which closes this clip is where he meets the boy, Frank Wheatley. (Frank is played by the young Lucas Black, now an adult actor who played the younger funeral parlor employee, Buddy Robinson, in Get Low.)

The version I saw--the one Netflix sent me--is two and a half hours long. I gather from the commentary on the DVD, of which I only heard a few minutes, that it includes some scenes that were cut from the original release. Not having seen the other, I can't compare them, but although it's pretty slow-moving in the longer version I don't think much was wasted, and you might be missing some good stuff if you see the shorter one. 

Oh, and by the way: the soundtrack is by Daniel Lanois and consists mostly of his beautiful atmospheric guitar work. It's probably worth buying.

The Platters: The Great Pretender

Weekend Music

Released in late 1955, on the charts in 1956. I remember this quite distinctly, but I was only seven years old in early 1956, and I think my memory is from when I was older, maybe twelve or thirteen. That puzzled me until I remembered that on the radio--which was the only way I heard music until I was in my teens--in those days they played "oldies" from time to time, and an oldie was anything that wasn't a current hit. 


I sort of thought this might happen

On my way to work this morning I passed the Chick-fil-a restaurant located not very far from where I work. I don't usually notice it, but today I made a point of looking to see if it seemed busier than usual. I'd been to the dentist and so was getting to work later than usual, passing the restaurant at about 9:45. The parking lot was full and the drive-thru line wrapped around the building, the way it often does at the lunch hour. I thought this seemed unusual for that time of day--late for breakfast, early for lunch--but since I'd never paid attention before I didn't know if it really was. Well, apparently it was. The first picture in the gallery accompanying that story is the location I'm talking about. That picture was taken around lunchtime. When they say those people "brave[d] the hot sun," it's the truth. It was seriously hot today. And apparently this scene was occurring all over the country. 

Update: it's pretty striking that these two stories, one from the New York Times and one from the Los Angeles Times, treat today's events as being motivated entirely by the desire to make a statement against "gay marriage." Neither of them so much as mentions the actual events that provoked the protest. I mean, not a word--it's completely erased, leaving a seriously distorted picture. It's no wonder the reputations of these big journalistic institutions are in tatters, that they're frequently compared to Pravda, and so forth.