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May 2013

A Week in CrazyWorld

I have resisted the smartphone trend, partly out of general contrary reluctance but more out of parsimony: the dang things are expensive, and they cost a lot to use. I do have a mobile phone. I've had one for something like ten years, since I embarked on a long drive alone and my wife talked me into getting one just in case I needed it, and to let her know I was all right. I've gone through several of them now, because she is rather attached to them and interested in them, and whenever she got an upgrade I got her hand-me-down, up until the point a couple of years ago (I guess) when she got an iPhone. 

For a long time I rarely used the mobile, mainly for simple purposes such as calling home or work to say I'd be late. But of course the usage has slowly grown, and people at work have the number, so that I can be reached if I'm away from home and there's an emergency there. I even learned to send text messages.

Last Christmas we upgraded the iPhone belonging to one of our children, and I got her former model as a hand-me-down. It doesn't function as a phone, because I have no intention of paying the monthly fee for that service. But I took it because in my job I really need to have some familiarity with these things, and this was a way to do so without spending any money. It does have WiFi, so I can do all sorts of things with it if I have that connectivity, including reading my email. Mostly I've used it as an mp3 player.

This week I'm at a technology conference. I've been away for the whole week, and there are a lot of problems that come up at work every day that no one else knows how to handle. So I've been carrying around with me both the ordinary mobile phone, for emergencies, and the iPhone, for less pressing matters that can be handled by email (the convention center has Wi-Fi, naturally). 

It's crazy-making. I sit in a conference session in which someone is talking about some terribly complicated technical matter, and the phone buzzes with a text message. I try to handle whatever problem it presents me with while not completely losing the thread of the talk. If there's a lull I pick up the iPhone and check my email, to see what's transpiring with the problems I've been dealing with that way, and probably encounter a new one. 

My attention span and ability to concentrate, not so hot at best, are so attenuated that there is never a moment when I'm entirely focused on one thing. It doesn't help that being in a large crowd always tends to make introverted me uneasy and distracted. 

When I leave this conference I won't be tied to these devices anymore, but such seems to be a normal way of life for an awful lot of people. Setting aside the introvert part, I can't believe that the adoption of these habits isn't going to have the effect of making people in general less able and/or willing to think deeply and to reflect. I hope they're more resilient than I am.

Error Has No Rights

I've been meaning to write about this for some time, and I find that every time I start collecting my thoughts I discover that events have taken another step. It's dawning on more and more Christians that the movement for homosexual marriage and for approval of homosexuality in general means that the liberal culture is beginning to operate on that erstwhile Catholic motto that "error has no rights." 

James Hitchcock, writing in the March/April Touchstone, has an excellent succinct summary of the situation. The article is not available online, and my copy of the magazine is in my office at work, thirty miles away, so I can't quote him precisely, but he makes three key points. 

First is that liberalism, in the sense that we casually use the term, is a religion. This is neither classical liberalism, nor political liberalism insofar as specific opinions about, for instance, government spending, are concerned. It's a complete philosophy of life comprised of practical atheism (though with plenty of room for unstructured "spirituality"), left-wing politics, sexual liberation, and hostility toward the Western heritage, with particular animosity for Christianity. 

Second, that this religion is engaged in a struggle for dominance with traditional religions, most visibly with the strains of Christianity which still insist on the objective meaning of traditional beliefs, but also with similar strains in Judaism. (Islam is a special case: to be applauded and encouraged as an enemy of Christianity, but yet alarming, because so entirely un-liberal.)

And third, that this religion is less and less inclined to consider that its opponents have a right to express their views in public. 

The reasoning is based on the assertion that a negative view of homosexuality is exactly the same thing as racism, and that opposition to homosexual marriage is exactly the same thing as opposition to equal rights for black Americans. The gradual defeat of racism in law and in public opinion is the defining historical paradigm for liberalism--and almost every question is subsumed in it, with the side favored by liberalism naturally standing in the place of Martin Luther King and its opponents in the place of t he Ku Klux Klan. This very simplified good-vs.-evil schema is immensely powerful, not only among committed liberals themselves but among white Americans at large, who remain rightfully ashamed of the racism of the past and are at least defensive about taking the wrong side in any controversy which has been framed this way.

Examples of this are popping up all over the place. There was a good bit of noise a few months ago when a Washington Post reporter explicitly affirmed that he felt no more obligation to be fair to opponents of same-sex marriage than to be fair to open racists. This post on Rod Dreher's blog at The American Conservative gives a good summary of that affair, with links to more details. 

And if you read the comments on any post related to same-sex marriage at National Review's blog, you'll find, over and over again, liberals making exactly the same argument, though with more vigorous hostility, and an often-repeated happy anticipation of the day when those who disagree will be defeated and silenced. I imagine you can find many instances in the hundreds of comments on this post, for instance. It seems a Christian legal organization came into possession of a list of suggestions for IRS managers about dealing with homosexuals ( As the post notes, the suggestions clearly assume that disapproval of homosexuality (etc.) is not tolerable in the modern workplace. Some of them are simple matters of civility, but some go far beyond that in insisting on active agreement and suppression of disagreement. (Click here to go directly to the document.)

When you consider that the agency in question here is the one in charge of implementing tax policy and has enormous discretionary power to inflict punishment, and that it is currently in the news for plainly having used its powers to handicap conservative organizations, the picture of what is coming our way is pretty clear. I have been saying for many years that the pretense of secular democracies that government is completely neutral on fundamental philosophical questions is untenable and doomed. I'm now watching the pretense dissolve. Liberal culture is largely in control of the federal government, and we can expect it to push ever harder to disgrace and marginalize orthodox Christians and other dissenters, and to attack, where possible, the legal right to act or speak in opposition to the liberal consensus on homosexuality . Any Christian who doesn't see this and doesn't think it's significant has his head in the sand. That may not be a sin but it certainly isn't a virtue.

I had a dream last night that was a sort of murder mystery in which I was both the murderer and the detective.

Loudon Wainwright III: Talkin' Bob Dylan

Weekend Music

Today is Dylan's birthday. He's 72. Loudon Wainwright III, as you may know, was one of several artists who were briefly touted as "the new Dylan" in the early 1970s.


The kid he refers to in the last verse is presumably Martha Wainwright, herself a worthy artist, I think somewhat less well known than her brother Rufus, who is a gay star (that is, not just a star who is gay, but a star for whom being homosexual is a significant part of his matter and presentation--or at least that's the impression I have from seeing him on TV a couple of times).

Time to Dump The Atlantic

Here's the cover of the current issue:


The magazine has always been a very mixed bag. But over the last few years the mixture has tipped decisively toward the conventional thinking of affluent liberals. The good things have been fewer, and the bad things more numerous and egregious. And whether good or bad, the whole magazine has become thinner, in both paper and ideas, and more superficial. I supposed I should have dropped it several years ago, when this cover appeared:

Of course I don't expect a secular magazine to see things from a Christian point of view. But respect is not too much to ask, not to mention reason. The article to which the cover refers actually was not as bad as the title made it sound--as I recall, it was mainly about the influence of prosperity-gospel preachers. But still, the title was ugly enough.

Most Peculiar Biblical Exegesis Ever?

This has been getting quite a bit of commentary on blogs and Facebook for a couple of days, so maybe you've already seen it. I generally avoid picking on the Episcopal Church: it feels a bit unsporting, because it's such a soft target if you're looking for heretical/apostate Christians, and because in spite of all that there are still a number of people in it who believe something close to the historical faith.

But a recent sermon by presiding bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori is too tempting. Surely her interpretation of Acts 16 is one of the strangest and most un- or anti-Christian ever advanced. In a nutshell, she asserts that Paul's exorcism of a young slave girl is an act of aggressive intolerance:

Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!

Read the whole thing, so you can't be accused of taking her out of context. This story is being circulated with titles such as "Presiding Bishop Says Diversity Saves, Not Jesus." That's not quite fair. But it's not all that unfair, either: apart from the Acts 16 analysis, most of what she says consists of banalities about openness that are at best half true from the Christian point of view.

I admit I have always found that exorcism story a bit puzzling, since the girl is testifying to the authority of Paul and his companions. Perhaps it was the relentless compulsive behavior, not the words themselves, that worried Paul.

George Herbert: "Whitsunday"

Listen sweet Dove unto my song
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

Where is that fire which once descended
On thy Apostles? thou didst then
Keep open house, richly attended,
Feasting all comers by twelve chosen men.

Such glorious gifts thou didst bestow,
That th’ earth did like a heav’n appeare;
The starres were coming down to know
If they might mend their wages, and serve here.

The sunne, which once did shine alone,
Hung down his head, and wisht for night,
When he beheld twelve sunnes for one
Going about the world, and giving light.

But since those pipes of gold, which brought
That cordiall water to our ground,
Were cut and martyr’d by the fault
Of those, who did themselves through their side wound

Thou shutts’st the doore, and keep’st within;
Scarce a good joy creeps through the chink:
And if the braves of conqu’ring sinne
Did not excite thee, we would wholly sink.

Lord, though we change, thou art the same;
The same sweet God of love and light:
Restore this day, for thy great name,
Unto his ancient and miraculous right.

Miles Davis and Gil Evans: Miles Ahead

Weekend Music

I'm only going to post one track from this album, but I really want to recommend the whole thing. It's almost universally considered a classic, and if you have much interest in jazz you've probably heard it; certainly you should hear it. I bought it some time back, on the strength of its reputation. I listened to it once without paying much attention, was a little disappointed with the overall sound, and put it aside. Something prompted me to take it out again last week, and I gave it my standard three full hearings before making up my mind about it. On the first one, I was, again, not much taken with it, but by the end of the third I was sold.

Miles Ahead is the first of three classic collaborations between Davis and composer/arranger/bandleader Gil Evans. It could technically be called a big-(jazz)band performance, but it's pretty far from the big bands of the 1930s and '40s, much more complex and musically adventurous. The actual billing on the album cover is Gil Evans in small type, followed in larger type by "Miles Davis + 19," meaning the 19 members of the band. To me there seem to be a lot of 20th century classical sounds here, though I don't have the musical knowledge to describe them. 

Here are two versions of "Blues for Pablo." The first, from the album, has better sound and is more polished. The second is live and is interesting for that reason.



One non-musical aspect of this and other works from the 1950s is the extent to which it gives the lie to the idea that the '50s were a dead period, culturally.

"The joy of life is diminishing"

I get a daily email from the Vatican Information Service which reports on the doings of the pope. A lot of it is dull stuff about meetings and ecclesial appointments, so usually I just scan it quickly. But usually there are at least a few remarks from the pope. And sometimes there's something pretty substantial. Usually I don't read those at once, because I'm at work and busy. I read the first paragraph or two of this one yesterday and thought, "this is good stuff, I'll read it later when I'm not in a hurry." Well, it's good stuff, indeed. Powerful stuff. So I'm just posting it in its entirety.

There are a few factual things I would quibble with here, but I think the pope is right on the money (so to speak) about the overall state of things.

Vatican City, 16 May 2013 (VIS) - This morning the Holy Father received the credential letters of four new ambassadors to the Holy See: Mr. Bolot Iskovich Otunbaev from Kyrgyzstan; Mr. David Shoul from Antigua and Barbuda; Mr. Jean-Paul Senninger from Luxembourg; and Mr. Lameck Nthekela from Botswana. In the address he gave them, the pontiff urged them not to forget the predominance of ethics in the economy and in social life, emphasizing the value of solidarity and the centrality of the human being.

“Our human family,” the Pope said, “is presently experiencing something of a turning point in its own history, if we consider the advances made in various areas. We can only praise the positive achievements which contribute to the authentic welfare of mankind, in fields such as those of health, education and communications. At the same time, we must also acknowledge that the majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences. Certain pathologies are increasing, with their psychological consequences; fear and desperation grip the hearts of many people, even in the so-called rich countries; the joy of life is diminishing; indecency and violence are on the rise; poverty is becoming more and more evident. People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way. One cause of this situation, in my opinion, is in the our relationship with money, and our acceptance of its power over ourselves and our society. Consequently the financial crisis which we are experiencing makes us forget that its ultimate origin is to be found in a profound human crisis. In the denial of the primacy of human beings! We have created new idols. The worship of the golden calf of old has found a new and heartless image in the cult of money and the dictatorship of an economy which is faceless and lacking any truly humane goal.”

“The worldwide financial and economic crisis,” the pontiff observed, “seems to highlight their distortions and above all the gravely deficient human perspective, which reduces men and women to just one of their needs alone, namely, consumption. Worse yet, human beings themselves are nowadays considered as consumer goods which can be used and thrown away. We have started down the path of a disposable culture. This tendency is seen on the level of individuals and whole societies; and it is being promoted! In circumstances like these, solidarity, which is the treasure of the poor, is often considered counterproductive, opposed to the logic of finance and the economy. While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good. A new, invisible and at times virtual, tyranny is established, one which unilaterally and irremediably imposes its own laws and rules. Moreover, indebtedness and credit distance countries from their real economy and citizens from their real buying power. Added to this, as if it were needed, is widespread corruption and selfish fiscal evasion which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The will to power and of possession has become limitless.”

“Concealed behind this attitude,” the Bishop of Rome warned, “is a rejection of ethics, a rejection of God. Ethics, like solidarity, is a nuisance! It is regarded as counterproductive: as something too human, because it relativizes money and power; as a threat, because it rejects manipulation and subjection of people: because ethics leads to God, who is situated outside the categories of the market. These financiers, economists and politicians consider God to be unmanageable, God is unmanageable, even dangerous, because He calls man to his full realization and to independence from any kind of slavery. Ethics—naturally, not the ethics of ideology—makes it possible, in my view, to create a balanced social order that is more humane. In this sense, I encourage the financial experts and the political leaders of your countries to consider the words of Saint John Chrysostom: 'Not to share one’s goods with the poor is to rob them and to deprive them of life. It is not our goods that we possess, but theirs'.”

The Pope asserted that “there is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. This would nevertheless require a courageous change of attitude on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and farsightedness, taking account, naturally, of their particular situations. Money has to serve, not to rule! The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but the Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them. The Pope appeals for disinterested solidarity and for a return to person-centred ethics in the world of finance and economics.”

“For her part, the Church,” he reiterated, “always works for the integral development of every person. In this sense, she reiterates that the common good should not be simply an extra, simply a conceptual scheme of inferior quality tacked onto political programmes. The Church encourages those in power to be truly at the service of the common good of their peoples. She urges financial leaders to take account of ethics and solidarity. And why should they not turn to God to draw inspiration from his designs? In this way, a new political and economic mindset would arise that would help to transform the absolute dichotomy between the economic and social spheres into a healthy symbiosis.”

Finally, Francis greeted—through the ambassadors—the faithful of the Catholic communities present in their respective countries, urging them “to continue their courageous and joyful witness of faith and fraternal love in accordance with Christ’s teaching. Let them not be afraid to offer their contribution to the development of their countries, through initiatives and attitudes inspired by the Sacred Scriptures!”



The great thing about digital photography is that if you don't get the picture you intended, you can turn it into something else. Well, one of two great things: the other is that you can take as many pictures as you want with no added expense apart from battery use. Ok, three things: you don't have to wait several days or longer to see the results.

Is Europe Heading for Serious Trouble?

This story from the Telegraph is somewhat alarming. I read National Review's blog pretty regularly, and a couple of their English writers, in particular Andrew Stuttaford, discuss the EU often, always in very negative terms. They are quite hostile to it, viewing it as a road to despotism, and since I don't know anything much at all about it, I always remind myself that I'm only getting one side of the story, especially when they predict disaster for it. But this, although from a different perspective, sounds just about as bad.

Dawn Eden: My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds With the Help of the Saints

I'll say right off that I wouldn't have read this book if I hadn't been acquainted with the author (via the Internet--we have never met face-to-face) since somewhere around 2005 or so. Many or most who read this blog will be familiar with Dawn Eden's name because of her powerful conversion story, her long-running blog The Dawn Patrol, her previous book The Thrill of the Chaste, or her writings in the Catholic press. (If not, this episode of EWTN's The Journey Home is a good introduction. The Dawn Patrol is still active but more as a vehicle for announcements than as a typical blog.)

The book is a spiritual guide to healing the wounds of sexual abuse suffered in childhood and youth. And since I did not have that experience, I supposed it would not have any great relevance to me, and read it just because I figured Dawn Eden would have some interesting things to say. But I was wrong about its relevance; I soon realized that the counsel it contains is applicable to all sorts of other situations. It wasn't until after I'd finished reading it that I realized that the title doesn't refer specifically to molestation in childhood or youth: it simply says "sexual wounds." And don't we all have those, one way or another? Or, if not specifically sexual wounds, then wounds, period. 

I can say in one sentence that the essence of the book is that love has the power to heal the past. In eight chapters, each bearing a title that begins with the words "The Love," Dawn describes aspects of this healing, using examples from the lives and thoughts of specific saints interwoven with her own experiences to illustrate specific ways by which that healing can happen:

The Love We Forget: Discovering the Father--with St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Josephine Bakhita
The Love That Shelters: Opening our hearts to the Sacred Heart--with Mary, Mother of Hope

And so on. As you can see from those two, the saints brought to bear on this problem are not necessarily ones who suffered from sexual abuse. Ignatius, for instance, might seem an odd one for the purpose. But he appears, and appears first, because he asked God to take, along with everything else of him, his memory:

In Ignatius's understanding of the human mind, the concept of memory refers to more than just particular memories. Memory includes everything that had entered into his consciousness to make him who he was--whether or not he could actually remember it. It forms the foundation of his present identity, including his hopes for his future.

To borrow a phrase from another Jewish convert, Edith Stein, this book can be fairly described as a science of the Cross. The emphasis throughout is not on conquering the past but on accepting it and, most importantly, being reconciled with it in the love of God, and I mean that in the reciprocal sense: God's love for the sufferer, and the sufferer's love for God.

One reads of people surviving terrible traumas (such as the one that recently came to light in Ohio, in which three women were kidnapped and subjected to rape and other mistreatment for ten years). And often the advice given to them, and the intention they announce, give the impression that they are to conquer their emotional damage by sheer force of will: to repress the memories, to adopt an attitude of conquering courage--to triumph by strength and endurance in the way that an athlete does. That at least is the impression that the vocabulary often gives. Now, far be it from me to suggest that I know better how to cope with trauma than those who have experienced it. But from the Christian point of view it doesn't seem the most appropriate or indeed effective way. Sufferers are advised not to let the trauma define them, and in one sense this is surely good advice--if it means not to allow one's whole identity to be reduced to that of one who has suffered a specific trauma. In another, though, it isn't the Christian way: we are to some significant extent defined by those things, and we have to incorporate them into ourselves rather than attempt to remove them surgically, so to speak. It is a necessary aspect of the reality of the Cross as it touches each life.

This perhaps is the truth contained in some of the saints' legends that have always struck me as grotesque to say the least, in which the saint is picture in heaven as still exhibiting some mutilation suffered in his or her martyrdom. I really find this hard to handle, and hope it is not literally true. But it is surely symbolically true. 

Be that as it may, in Dawn's case the road of direct resistance simply did not work. Much of the personal story recounted here deals with her attempts to repress the memories and their accompanying emotions, with generally ineffective (if not disastrous) results. It was only by accepting--not "embracing," exactly--her experiences, and placing them, with the assistance of these saints' stories, within her personal salvation history that she has been able to reduce their destructive power over her. (I don't say "conquer," as if it were all over, because things don't generally work that way.) 

Although much of the story has already been told in this book and her other writings, I found myself hoping that Dawn would eventually write an actual memoir or autobiography that would bring all the pieces of personal narrative together in one place. But then maybe this mixture of memoir and theology is the right one for her. 

This book would certainly be a  great tool for anyone engaged in counseling victims of sexual abuse, and it includes a number of resources for just that purpose. But, as I said before, it can be useful for anyone who has suffered, which is to say everyone:

Memory does not have to be, nor should it be, the enemy. Rather, as Pope Benedict XVI has written, "Memory and hope are inseparable. To poison the past does not give hope; it destroys its emotional foundations."

(Here is the publisher's page for My Peace I Give You.)

The War

The Lord sends us into spiritual combat. It is a fight to the death that he himself has undertaken, and one that we too are invited to identify as our own ultimate battleground, conscious that it is God's war....

What is at stake in this war? It is whether in my heart, as well as in the heart of the Church and of humanity itself, the Kingdom of Heaven will be established, with his law of love and the Lord's way of life: poverty, humility, and service. Or whether the kingdom of this world will triumph, with its laws and values of wealth, vanity, and pride.

--Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis)

Cream: As You Said

Weekend Music

Really this should be credited to Jack Bruce, as he does everything here except for Ginger Baker's high-hat cymbal. And the lyrics are by Pete Brown. I liked Cream's music well enough but was never a zealous fan, which is evident from the fact that this was by far my favorite track on the Wheels of Fire album, and sounds utterly unlike everything else on it. (Later on I came to like the live "Crossroads" on the same album as much as this, although they're so different that they can't really be compared musically.)


Jack Bruce went on to record several solo albums with mostly surrealistic lyrics by Pete Brown and a strange off-kilter musical sensibility having little in common with the blues-rock of Cream. They weren't very popular, but those of us who like them really like them. The first, Songs For A Tailor, is my favorite, and in fact one of my very favorite albums of the late '60s/early '70s. This song would have been much more home there than on a Cream album. I've sometimes wondered what Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker thought of it.


On Hating Twitter

I’ve hated it reflexively since its beginning. But with time’s passage and deliberation, I’ve come to hate it with deeper, more variegated richness.

I have to say that I pretty much feel the same. And when I say "since its beginning," I mean since I first heard its name, which makes it sound trivial and superficial, which as far as I can tell is the case. My experience with it has been confined to reading "tweets" published elsewhere or the occasional Twitter feed on some web site, and has done nothing but confirm my desire to avoid it. I was briefly tempted recently, when a friend invited me to join, but I resisted and suggested Facebook instead. I'm not wild about Facebook, but it's fun in small doses. I don't hate it.

The rant quoted above is by Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard, and you can read the whole thing here. It's a bit long but worthwhile if you have the same reaction to Twitter.


The Angry Mr. Harris

I don't know much about Sam Harris, one of the belligerent "new atheists" ("What is new about them?", I always want to ask). But simply from having come across bits of his writing here and there on the web I have the impression that he's a very angry man. So it was only a little surprising to read in a recent Atlantic piece that he is a devotee of a martial arts technique which apparently involves actually choking people into unconsciousness, or nearly so, as a part of normal practice.

Which casts a peculiar light on his comparison of debating to fighting:

The sort of satisfaction one hopes to achieve in intellectual debate is always elusive.... I’ve had debates where it’s absolutely clear to me that my opponent has to [surrender].... They are wrong—just as demonstrably as you’re wrong when you’re being choked to death in a triangle choke.... You rarely get the satisfaction in intellectual life where the person who is wrong has to acknowledge and grow from the experience of having been self-deceived for so long.

We all know the frustration of making an argument that seems obviously decisive to us and yet fails to convince or even impress our opponent. Narrow and rigid thinkers like Harris seem to have a tougher time with it than others: they do not readily see things outside that narrow and rigid frame, and don't understand those who do. But this has a violent edge and implication that's a bit creepy.

The writer of the piece says that the remarks above raise "the possibility that, however calm and well-spoken Harris appears onstage with, say, Rick Warren, he may be silently imagining strangling the pastor into unconsciousness." It strikes me as not just possible but probable.

Bertie Wooster On Suffering

From "The Aunt and the Sluggard"; Bertie has had to lend both his apartment and Jeeves to a friend, and is living alone in a hotel:

You know, I rather think I agree with those poet-and-philosopher Johnnies who insist that a fellow ought to be devilish pleased if he has a bit of trouble. All that stuff about being refined by suffering, you know. Suffering does give a chap a sort of broader and more sympathetic outlook. It helps you to understand other people's misfortunes if you've been through the same thing yourself.

As I stood in my lonely bedroom at the hotel, trying to tie my white tie myself, it struck me for the first time that there must be whole squads of chappies in the world who had to get along without a man to look after them. I'd always thought of Jeeves as a kind of natural phenomenon, but, by Jove! of course, when you come to think of it, there must be quite a lot of fellows who have to press their own clothes themselves, and haven't got anybody to bring them tea in the morning, and so on. It was rather a solemn thought, don't you know. I mean to say, ever since then I've been able to appreciate the frightful privations the poor have to stick.

Baudelaire On Satan

Probably you've heard a remark attributed to Baudelaire that goes something like this: The greatest trick of the devil is to persuade men that he does not exist. I suppose the following passage from one of his prefaces to Flowers of Evil, quoted by David Yezzi in the April issue of The New Criterion, must be the source of it. In any case, it's a considerably sharper version of the basic idea:

It is harder to love God than to believe in him. On the contrary, it is harder for people in this century to believe in Satan than to love him. Everyone is at his beck and call but nobody believes in him. The sublime subtlety of Satan.

--Baudelaire, Preface to Flowers of Evil

My old edition of the poems, with translations by various hands and the preface translated by Jackson Mathews, says "Everyone smells him." Unless these are variants in the original, that's a pretty big discrepancy. Otherwise they're more or less the same. The first is better, I think. I wonder which one Baudelaire meant.

Are Dogs Funnier Than Cats?

Yesterday I clicked on a news story with that title because I thought it would be amusing and was curious as to what the answer would be, and how it was determined.  As it turned out, it was amusing more because of its slight earnest professor-analyzing-a-joke quality than for the light it shed on the subject. I was not expecting an attempt to answer the question scientifically: how could it be answered in any way except very subjectively? Also unexpected was the discovery that "canine behavioral researcher" is apparently an actual occupation--although, well, why shouldn't it be?--dogs are certainly interesting, and of importance to us in many ways.

Anyway: in general, actual dogs are funnier than actual cats, I think. I mean, as opposed to pictures of either with amusing captions added. Laughter at an adult cat--kittens are funny--is usually at the cat's expense, at its sense of dignity and self-importance. The dog's mixture of eagerness, earnestness, and goofiness, and their willingness to make, in human eyes, fools of themselves, makes them more likely to do funny things.

Spam, spam, spam, spam

You may have noticed that the spam catcher is not catching anything, hasn't been all day today. I haven't changed anything that I know of, and reported the problem to TypePad earlier today, but so far no response. I may have to enable "captcha", which I very much hate.