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July 2013

Varg in the News Again

Who or what, you ask, is Varg? Varg Vikernes, the most notorious of the Scandinavian black metal musicians who took the ordinary heavy metal fascination with darkness and violence far more seriously than other bands. In an awful lot of metal, there's an element of schtick in the whole thing; sometimes there's a bit of tongue-in-cheek, or just an adolescent desire to shock, not to mention a great deal of macho posturing. The black metal crowd was much more serious, at least a lot of them. They attained great notoriety in the early 1990s when some of them became actively criminal and burned several historic Norwegian churches. Then in 1993 Varg murdered a fellow musician and was sentenced to 21 years in prison. He was released in 2009 after 15 years and moved to France where he lives with his wife and three, soon to be four, children. (See Wikipedia for a great deal of information.)

A week or so ago he and his wife were arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist massacre. Apparently they were released pretty quickly, but Vikernes is still--if Google's translation of this Norwegian news story is correct--facing charges of violating France's anti-racism laws in writings on his web site. 

He has apparently become a pretty serious racist and nationalist in a very Nazi-like vein: anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, nature-worshipping, pagan-fantasizing. Here's a segment of an interview in which he talks a lot of ahistorical rot about the origins of Christianity, rot which he firmly believes and discusses at great length on his web site.


How seriously should one take this sort of thing?--as a social force, I mean. There's no reason to think he himself is not perfectly serious, and the people who comment on his web site seem to. Is it anything more than a handful of cranks blathering on the web? I really don't have any idea. But it doesn't seem far-fetched that these sentiments would strike a chord with a certain number of alienated young people in a Europe dominated by a culturally self-destructive but personally power-seeking elite.

Curious about his music? Try something from this list. "Burzum," by the way, is the word for "darkness" in the Black Speech that Tolkien invented for the orcs. Vikernes for a time used the stage name "Count Grishnakh," which you may remember as the name of an orc soldier. It is difficult to enter into the mind of someone who could read The Lord of the Rings and want to be an orc. 

Asleep At the Wheel: Hot Rod Lincoln

Weekend Music

I was having trouble finding what I wanted on YouTube (maybe next week) and this appeared in the sidebar. I like it better than what I was looking for.


The Wheel, as their fans call them, as you may or may not know, are a Western swing (sort of country-jazz hybrid)  group who have been deservedly popular for most of the past forty years. It's not the kind of music I listen to on record very much, but I saw them once, at a local music festival, and enjoyed it as much as I've ever enjoyed any popular music performance. That was a good fifteen years ago. They're still touring to enthusiastic audiences, so probably worth seeing if they come your way.

Here's a surprise: Ray Benson, the imposing (6'4", I think) frontman, who seems pure Texas cowboy, is...a Jewish guy from Philadelphia.

The Wheel has pretty much made this song their own, but people of my age may remember hearing it on the radio in the late '50s or early '60s. I think that must have been this version:


But that, apparently, is still not the original, which dates back to 1955. 


The attentive listener will have noticed that the original car has not a mere eight but twelve cylinders, a configuration that I think was pretty much gone from the automobile market by the 1950s (and I suppose had always been rare). Surprisingly, the song is based on a real car and a real race and the description is accurate.

Last Word On the Zimmerman-Martin Case

Last word from me, I mean. I could go on and on about this, and it's mainly the fact that there aren't that many people who read this blog, and of those the majority probably more or less agree with me, that holds me back. So I'll get this off my chest and move on to other topics.

I'm appalled at the number of people who don't seem to understand or care about the concept of proof in a criminal case. I'm appalled at the number of people who seem to think a man should be sentenced to thirty years in prison on the basis of their firm belief that he deserves it, regardless of the evidence. I'm appalled that the basis of that firm belief seems to be that the accused is, for polemical purposes, white, and the deceased was black. I'm appalled by "civil rights leaders" who claim to want racial harmony but have unceasingly spread inflammatory falsehoods. I'm appalled by their assertion that there is some sort of widespread pattern of white men gunning down black children, and by the fact that a lot of black people seem to believe it. I'm appalled by the way much of the press has manipulated and even falsified the story in order to serve their preferred "narrative" of a violent bigot attacking a child.  

In too many minds the racial situation is forever fixed around 1963, with pure-hearted black civil rights activists pitted against wicked white segregationists. But that world is gone. Nobody with sense would deny that white racism still exists. But nobody with sense would cling to the idea that most white people are, at heart, Bull Connor. (I wonder how many people reading this don't even know who Bull Connor was--if you don't, see Wikipedia.)

One can certainly understand the continuing concern of black people about racism. One can understand why they were disturbed by the initial reports about this matter. The truth might have gone a long way toward reassuring them. But there were too many people who didn't want to tell the truth, or even to know it. The work of division has been done. I hope it hasn't been as successful as it seems.

If you want a detailed account of Zimmerman's version of the events, watch this video:


Yes, we only have his word, and the only person who could contradict the essentials of it is dead. But the story is plausible and consistent, and there is some evidence to support it, and none to contradict it. Here's a good summary of the distortion and misinformation spread by the Al Sharptons of the world and their allies in the media; it includes a note about the almost universally accepted belief that Zimmerman disobeyed the police dispatcher's order not to follow Martin--almost universally accepted, but supported by no evidence.

The most egregious distortion is the portrait of Zimmerman as racist. It is certain that he misjudged Martin, with tragic results. But there is no evidence at all that he was motivated by a general animosity to black people. The fact that Martin was a young black male no doubt had something to do with Zimmerman's taking notice of him, but Martin's dress and behavior would have been parts of the impression, too. It is dishonest to assert race as a factor without also mentioning that the neighborhood had experienced a series of breakins perpetrated by young black males. Bill Cosby would not have attracted the same attention. This news story contains a lot of information about Zimmerman's background and the neighborhood where the shooting took place. It's hard to fit that Zimmerman into a pointy hood, and hard to describe that place as a bastion of white supremacy. And I trust anyone who has followed the story at all knows that Martin was not the cute little twelve-year-old that he was in the widely circulated picture, but a pretty tough seventeen-year-old who showed signs of heading in the wrong direction.

Finally, here is Shelby Steele on the sad state of a once-noble movement:

Almost everyone saw this verdict coming. It is impossible to see how this jury could have applied the actual law to this body of evidence and come up with a different conclusion. The civil-rights establishment's mistake was to get ahead of itself, to be seduced by its own poetic truth even when there was no evidence to support it. And even now its leaders call for a Justice Department investigation, and they long for civil lawsuits to be filed—hoping against hope that some leaf of actual racial victimization will be turned over for all to see. This is how a once-great social movement looks when it becomes infested with obsolescence.

You can read the whole thing here.

It was a tragic incident, the result of misjudgments on the part of both Zimmerman and Martin, though Martin's proved the more grave. It never should have happened, but, having happened, it should never have become a racially divisive issue on a national scale. I don't know the motives of those who have used it to inflame hostility, but I don't think concern for the welfare of the nation is among them.

Trayvon Martin, RIP. In spite of the hostility and suspicion surrounding his death, I look around me every day and see black and white people coexisting on reasonably good terms. Riots, thank God, did not happen after the verdict. The Sharpton-organized rallies don't seem to have attracted huge crowds. We can hope that the stale old product of the race-mongers is not selling as well as it used to.

That Was Then, This Is Now

The racial problems in this country have worried me a great deal for some time, and I’ve grown pretty pessimistic about them. The possibility that Obama’s presidency might help African-Americans to believe that this is their country, too, gives me hope.

Oh well.

I mean, not so much about that specific notion--that it's their country, too--but about the general improvement in race relations that even some people who didn't support Obama, like me, hoped might follow his election. But things are actually worse. Obama himself has not been the problem so much as his supporters. 

Sally Thomas: Brief Light

I could go on for a long time--I've already gone on for a couple of months--planning to write a substantial review of this splendid book of poems, with a lot of attention to its specific virtues. The result would be a pretty good appraisal and appreciation. But I have a lot to do, and am generally pretty distracted; it could be a long time. So I'm going to content myself with a brief notice.

I don't have much of an appetite for contemporary poetry. Few people do, of course, but I should, since I make the occasional attempt in that direction myself. Back in the 1970s I knew a lot of aspiring poets who were working on MFAs in creative writing, and they read their contemporaries in great volume, often to the neglect, I thought, of older and better work. Now and then I followed someone's recommendation and read a little in one of these poets, but very little of it made much of an impression on me.

Worse, it was frequently somewhat off-putting for reasons that I couldn't articulate. I think that had to do with the sensibility of the writers, and in that term I'm including not just personality but the effects of the poet's general view of things, including his or her theology, or rather lack of it in most cases. Frequently there was an obvious verbal gift, and an impressively close--often too close--attention to sensory, mainly visual, detail, which is a sort of convention in poetry since the early 20th century. But the poems just didn't seem to add up to much. Stylistically a very mannered school had arisen, as mannered in its way as the 18th century establishment against which the Romantics rebelled, and it was in general not a manner I liked greatly. And the sensibility tended strongly toward what I have elsewhere called the Stoic Resentful. For these reasons, and for some other, more fundamental lack of aesthetic response, I just didn't find much to like. I'm sure I've missed a lot of good work, but I didn't have the time to seek it out among the ordinary.

What that has to do with Brief Light is not that it stands in utter contrast to the prevailing mode, but that it is in fact to a great extent in that mode, yet with so much skill in execution, and with such a different sensibility, that it does seem a different and better thing. I will admit that my spirits tend to sink when I see a Catholic poet praised for being Catholic, especially if at the same time he or she is praised for rejecting the modernist method and writing in strict forms. The result is frequently not much more than adequate, but one hesitates to criticize it because its intentions are so good. It's like much, if not most, Christian rock or "CCM"--Contemporary Christian Music: maybe pretty good, but never quite as good as the secular stuff. There's usually something constrained about it, a sense that the artistic impulse is being forced into a container that doesn't really fit it. We want Catholic artists, yes. But we don't want to have to condescend to them, to make allowances for their defects, to hold them to a lower standard than we would others. 

We want Catholic art that fully and naturally embodies its own life, that goes where it goes not because some disconnected hand is pushing it but because that's where it naturally goes. And we want the same standard of craft that we would expect from any art. Aesthetically at least, we generally have the sensibility of our times--we can't help it--but we want it transformed by the leaven of Catholic faith: transformed, all the way through, not just painted.

We have what we're looking for in this book. Formally, it fits in perfectly well with most of contemporary poetry. It's subtitled "Sonnets and Other Small Poems," and I haven't counted, but I think half at least of the poems have fourteen lines and are in some variant of sonnet form, from fairly loose to fairly strict. This is not unusual nowadays; form has made something of a comeback. Its rhetoric is contemporary, and even, I think, shows the influence of the MFA school (for instance, in the one thing that I would criticize here and there: the creation of a verb from a noun, as in the snake "sluggarding in the woodpile"). But its sensibility is deeply Catholic although belief is hardly mentioned directly. I suppose I mean that it seems to see things in the way a Catholic ought to see them.

 All right, then. But can I be more specific about what makes these poems such a pleasure? I'm not very good at describing poetry, or much inclined to do so. It's no more useful than describing music: a few broad words to indicate the general impression, and then one must read or listen. These poems are intelligent, wise, distinctly feminine, sharply observant, occasionally witty, suffused with deep feeling and a consciousness of the enormous significance of our small lives and the small things that fill them...yeah, yeah, all true, but that doesn't mean much until you experience them. It seems inappropriate to reproduce an entire poem here, and after flipping through the book for ten minutes I find no passage I want to quote, because, fine as the lines might be in isolation, they are on their way to something more powerful than they alone can accomplish, and it seems a shame to interrupt their journey.

I am able resolve this dilemma by pointing you to a poem on Sally's blog: On New Year's Eve: Letting the Time Go Where Time Goes. It's not in the book, but it's representative. That thing she does with the last line is a good example.

Did you read it? See what I mean?  Go buy the book.

Big Country: In A Big Country

Weekend Music

Rob G pointed out to me a few days ago that this past week was the 30th anniversary of the release of Big Country's first album, The Crossing. That's definitely an occasion worth remembering. The Crossing is one of my favorite albums; I think I even put it on a top 25 list...yes, apparently I did, though it wasn't strictly the top 25. I don't know of anything that sounds much like Big Country's music except Big Country's music. As far as I know they are the only group that thought it would be cool to make their guitars sound like bagpipes. 


If you aren't familiar with them and like this song, you can safely buy the album, as pretty much everything on it is just as good. I haven't listened to them for a long time, but judging by this I would still like them just as much. I used to have a tape with The Crossing on one side and R.E.M.'s Murmur on the other. It was my favorite late-night-driving tape.

P.S. Pause and say a prayer for the soul of Stuart Adamson, singer, guitarist, and one of the founders of the group, who committed suicide in 2001.

Everybody Has Wanted to Do This

Destroy an office printer, I mean. Maybe you've seen this before, but I'm sure you'll enjoy it anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if I've posted it before. The first two scenes here are from earlier in the movie, the rest near the end. (Office Space, and it's very funny.) Warning: a bit of rough language, and I think that stretch of silence may represent the removal of some of the crude stuff on the rap sound track.


Personally I hate and fear printers and copiers and avoid using them. 

About That "White Hispanic" Thing

So the Zimmerman trial is over, although the whole sorry affair goes on. Astonishingly, appallingly, the Justice Department has opened a tip line for people who would like to denounce George Zimmerman as a racist. 

Let's stop for a moment and reflect on what we owe to the race-baiters inside and outside the media who fanned and are still fanning the fires of racial animosity around this matter that probably should never have gone to trial in the first place, certainly not as second-degree murder (the detective in charge thought negligent manslaughter a stretch). Why white journalists are so eager to encourage black hostility to whites is a psychological puzzle about which I can only speculate: I suppose it has something to do with the tribalism which causes liberal whites to assume, or at least assert, that most whites are racist and would re-create the segregated society of the pre-1965 South if they only could.

A passionately left-wing acquaintance assured me that this case was "just like Scottsboro" (see here for an account of the Scottsboro case, which began in 1931 with a false accusation of rape). That was one of those moments when one is completely at a loss for words: if there is any comparison to Scottsboro, it's in the volatile mob emotions that have been unleashed, and the associated lack of interest in facts. But this time those dangerous forces favor the black man. No one has ever produced any evidence--and not for lack of effort--that either Zimmerman or the police who accepted his account of the events were operating out of racist motives. It was simply assumed and asserted, treated as self-evident, because they were white, and Martin was black; it was straightforward racial prejudice. 

In Zimmerman's case, it was white with qualifications. There's been a good deal of jeering at the journalists and others who insisted on describing him as "a white Hispanic." The jeering was deserved, because they seemed to be and probably were attempting to preserve their "narrative" in which a white bigot stalked and killed an unarmed "child."

But the journalists, whether they knew it or not, were actually following federally-defined standards for racial classification. There actually is, in at least some official racial categories, such a thing as "white Hispanic." I work in education, and we are required to track and report the ethnicity of students. The categories are specified by a federal standard. Up until a few years ago those were: Asian, American Indian/Alaskan, Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, and White. A few years ago the scheme was revised: American Indian, Asian, Black, Multi-racial, Pacific Islander, and White. Hispanic was separated, becoming a yes/no flag accompanying one of the other codes. So one can indeed, in this scheme, be a white Hispanic, or for that matter an Asian Hispanic.

Perhaps the idea that "Hispanic" is a race became too much even for the race-counting establishment. (Click here for a glimpse into that odd world.) But given the demands of liberal race-consciousness, eliminating it was unthinkable. The whole thing is pretty bizarre. Presumably "Asian" encompasses not only the Far East (is that phrase still allowed?) but also India and Pakistan, which have nothing much in common, either racially or culturally, with China or Japan. Why should Middle Eastern not also be a "race" in this scheme? A great many Mexicans are racially pretty close to American Indians, certainly closer than to the average Argentinian, but official doctrine puts Mexicans in the box with Argentinians. 

To a considerable extent these "racial" categories are, in effect, political categories. The reason for the establishment's extreme concern with them is something of a puzzle to me. I assume that it is well-intentioned for the most part. But its effect is to encourage and preserve divisions that an already-divided society should not be cultivating.

Zimmerman's mother is Peruvian, his father of German descent. It occurs to me that if their ethnicities had been reversed, and the family surname had been Mesa instead of Zimmerman (or better, something like Lopez), this tragic incident, which we can all agree should never have happened, might have remained mostly unknown outside Sanford, Florida. Instead it has become another exercise in sowing the wind, which I'm afraid we'll reap one day.


Hart On Dennett

In case you missed it in the comments on the previous post, here, courtesy of Rob G, is David Bentley Hart's extremely sharp, in every sense of the word, commentary on a book in which Daniel Dennett explains the phenomenon of religion to us, and advises us as to how to rid civilization of it. It's particularly enjoyable (and impressive) for its succinct demolition of the pseudo-scientific concept of the "meme," which is, in brief, an idea which takes on a life of its own. Dennett, following Richard Dawkins, takes this metaphor literally, and supposes that memes tend toward their own preservation in the same mechanistic way that genes are said to. From this the Dawkins school professes to be able to study culture as one studies biology. But

Unfortunately, all evolutionary stories about culture suffer from certain inherent problems. Evolutionary biology is a science that investigates chains of physical causation and the development of organic life, and these are all it can investigate with any certainty. The moment its principles are extended into areas to which they are not properly applicable, it begins to cross the line from the scientific to the speculative. This is fine, perhaps, so long as one is conscious from the first that one is proceeding in stochastic fashion and by analogy, and that one's conclusions will always be unable to command anyone's assent. When, though, those principles are translated into a universal account of things that are not in any definable way biological or physically causal, they have been absorbed into a kind of impressionistic mythology, or perhaps into a kind of metaphysics, one whose guiding premises are entirely unverifiable.

It's a measure of the materialist's determination to stick to his dogmas that anyone would advance the "meme" idea in the name of science.

On Daniel Dennett

Found this in an old SNJ (I will be sorting through them for a while) and rather liked it (Dennett, if you don't recognize the name, is one of the aggressive atheists, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea). I had just read a piece in which he predicted that religion would soon wither away, now that we have science and stuff:

Does Dennett really think that unbelief is new, and that exposure to science automatically induces it? Does he really believe that indoctrinating young people in it will crush, within a generation, the human desire for the Absolute? Does he think that no one has ever lost his faith by ignorance and regained it by learning, or lost it by emotion and regained it by reason? Does he think atheism has languished only because no one has ever considered its arguments? Does he, in short, understand anything at all about the human soul?

You can read the whole post here.

Richard Thompson: Genesis Hall

Weekend Music

I ran across this while looking for more of his solo stuff on YouTube: interesting solo take on the Fairport Convention song done so memorably by Sandy Denny. Seems to be from the same concert as the solo version of last week's "Down Where the Drunkards Roll." 


Scott and Kimberly Hahn: Rome Sweet Home

 I don't think I would have read this book had not our after-Mass study group chosen it. I was aware of it, of course: the conversion of former Presbyterians Scott and Kimberly Hahn had been well-publicized, and Scott's name was already known as a Catholic scholar/controversialist before this book appeared. (Some of you may share my surprise that said appearance was twenty years ago.) I had read a bit of Scott's work, and heard a couple of audio presentations in which he discussed his journey. And I didn't really think the book was likely to add much to what I knew. And, to be blunt, what I had seen of his work did not lead me to think that the book would have a lot of literary merit. That is, I didn't expect anything along the lines of The Seven-Story Mountain. He seemed to be intellectually very solid, but without a great expressive gift. And being pretty familiar with the general trajectory of Protestant-to-Catholic conversions, I thought I probably knew the story.

That's a rather awful thing to confess, I know, because the drama of every soul is unique and has its own kind of beauty. But it is how I felt. My expectations were confirmed when I learned that the book is in some significant part a transcription of several of those audio presentations. And I was more or less right about the literary merit. Rome Sweet Home did not win any prizes for its prose style: it's a plain, straightforward, conversational narrative. 

Still, I found it fascinating. And the a large part of the reason for that is Kimberly's story. The narrative switches back and forth between the two. Scott's is pretty straightforward. As a Presbyterian, he is zealously committed to the truth, and to the quest for true Christian doctrine. Once he opens himself to a serious and just appraisal of Catholic theology, his conversion seems almost inevitable. The Protestant reliance on scripture alone, for instance, collapses for him when he considers the question of where the authority of scripture comes from. It is the sort of intellectual process that is, in broad terms, pretty familiar to us. He doesn't have the very deep resistance that some Protestants (even merely cultural Protestants) do: it is strange and shocking to him that he becomes convinced of the truths of the Church, but it doesn't seem to shake him to his roots. 

Kimberly Hahn, on the other hand, is shaken to the roots. It is her story that makes this book more dramatic than I expected it to be. As the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who even as an adolescent was dedicated to her faith, she has very deep emotional roots in Protestantism. She was anti-Catholic, not in a hostile and bigoted way but in simply assuming that Catholicism is a corruption of Christianity. Scott's rapid progression toward the Church is extremely disturbing to her. She tries to ignore it, she tries to resist it, she tries to allow it while holding herself apart from it. She is torn desperately between her loyalty to her husband and her loyalty to her family. She prays that the cup be taken from her. 

Soon after the completion of their journey to Rome the Hahns became human advertisements for the Church, and specifically for Protestants who might be hearing the call. I assumed, for no particular reason, that it had been a fairly easy process for them, and that they had made the trip hand-in-hand. Not at all. Kimberly suffered real anguish in the process, and it came very close to destroying their marriage. That they did in the end emerge hand-in-hand is a tribute to the powers of love and grace. It's definitely a story worth reading.


The Problem With the Term "Pro-Life"

I had a brief debate with a friend on Facebook the other day about the meaning of the term "pro-life." In brief, he objected to its being only a synonym for "anti-abortion," and wanted it to have a broader meaning, taking in all the things one might believe or do to support the intrinsic value of all human life, while I responded that not everything that he wanted to encompass with "pro-life" was of the same moral significance as abortion.

His was a familiar line of thought to anyone who's been following the abortion debate for the last few decades, and it has some philosophical justification, but it's always struck me as a tactical mistake. It's not that there's anything wrong with most of the things people want to add to the definition, but that the effort to do so obscures the very distinctive, almost unique, moral problems surrounding abortion. And, it has to be admitted, the tactic has been used dishonestly for precisely that reason, to provide moral cover for Christians who don't actually think abortion is a very important issue, or perhaps are even in favor of it. (My friend was not doing that, I hasten to add.) Eventually the term becomes so vague that it's hardly more than a synonym for "good." 

Coincidentally, it was only a day or so later that I ran across a perfect instance of the broadened-out-of-existence use of "pro-life." It's at a blog called Formerly Fundie, and the post is titled 10 Things You Can’t Do and Still Call Yourself “Pro-Life”. And, not surprisingly, it's a series of moral ideas formulated in such a way as to signal quite strongly a more or less progressive political agenda. But it's not so much the progressiveness that's the problem as the very broad range of the questions which the writer wants to make a required part of the definition of "pro-life."

While most are based on worthy principles (and the author seems a fine man), some are vague even at the abstract level--"gender equality"--and some are pretty trivial in comparison with abortion--use of the word "illegal," for instance. More importantly, all, at the policy level, admit of many different responses that are compatible with Christian ethics.

But it comes as no surprise that on the question of abortion itself, which is what most people on both sides of the question think of first when they hear the term "pro-life," the author pulls back, denouncing only "unrestricted, elective abortions after the age of viability." Clearly he wants to leave the present legal status of abortion more or less as it is, and to dissipate the moral pressure of the very broad Christian opposition to it. In short, he wants to appropriate "pro-life" for purposes other than opposition to abortion. 

It's a well-worn tactic, and sometimes a useful one for its proponents. But for opponents of abortion it functions mainly as a distraction, generating a lot of useless arguments and encouraging division. For that reason I've often regretted the adoption of "pro-life" as a synonym for "anti-abortion." I've always assumed it was done because someone thought it would be better to be for something than against something, to be positive rather than negative. 

But it seems rhetorically defensive, as if there was some slight misgiving about the cause, some lack of confidence. Many political movements have proclaimed themselves anti-something with the greatest assurance and certainty: no one who is anti-war or anti-racism is reluctant to say so in the plainest terms. It's too late to change now, but I think it would have been more effective to say straightforwardly that the anti-abortion movement is precisely that, and proudly. 

Thunder Rock

Update: re-reading this, I think I gave away a bit too much of the plot, because I was trying to get to that main point mentioned toward the end. So consider this a somewhat spoiler-ish review. Also, in faintly praising it, I don't think I did justice to its purely dramatic appeal, which is definitely there. I suppose, on balance, I thought it was about 3/4 of an excellent movie, foundering somewhat on its message toward the last.

An embittered war correspondent lives in isolation as a lighthouse keeper on one of the Great Lakes. He receives a series of strange visitors who cause him to re-evaluate his life.

That is approximately the TCM description of this 1942 movie. And that, in conjunction with the fact that it stars Michael Redgrave and James Mason, were reason enough to cause me to hit the "record" button on the DVR. We watched it last night, and although I don't think I would strongly recommend it, it is interesting, and quite well made. Contrary to what you'd assume from the Great Lakes setting, it's an English production, based on a successful 1939 play. 

The journalist, David Charleston (Redgrave) is actually not a "war correspondent," but a reporter covering European politics who had tried unsuccessfully to sound the alarm against fascism and the approaching war. Despairing and dissillusioned because so few people see what's coming, and so many will not listen to the evidence he presents, he has withdrawn from the world and never leaves the tiny island on which his lighthouse stands.

Fascinated by the story of a ship that in 1849 had been lost nearby, carrying a load of passengers who were mostly emigrants from Europe, he has studied the passenger list, and begun to imagine them and their stories, until they have come alive for him. They, along with the captain of the ship, enter the film as apparently real people.

Charleston believes that they lived in a better world than he does, a world which was not facing what seems to him the end of civilization. But as they become more their real selves, and less the embodiment of his presuppositions, he finds that he was mistaken, and that they were all facing social conditions that seemed as terrible to them as his situation does to him, and were running away from it when they came to America.

Several of the passengers were agitating for causes, e.g. women's rights, which seemed to them doomed, but Charleston is able to tell them that they eventually won, and that many of the injustices by which they were oppressed have been corrected. The story so far has had a certain propagandistic streak, though not enough to damage the dramatic interest, but at this point it falls into some pretty heavy-handed progressive cheerleading (with, naturally, an anti-Catholic note). 

But that's also where the film transcends its own propaganda, reminding us that we do not know what is going to happen, and that even when the future promises grim events, and delivers on the promise, there is still more to the story. Beyond a present calamity, something better may await. It's a thought worth keeping in mind when reading the news these days.

TCM has kindly put a couple of clips online. They'll give you a good idea of whether it's something you'd like to see or not. Notice the music: I thought the score was pretty effective throughout (though I know the theremin will make some people laugh).

Go here to see another clip, this one from earlier in the story, where supplies are being delivered to the lighthouse.

Richard Thompson (and family and friends): Down Where the Drunkards Roll

Weekend Music

This week I'm going to avail myself of Neoneocon's work in gathering three versions of this great Richard Thompson song: the original Richard and Linda recording, one by Loudon and Rufus Wainwright, and one by RT with a bit of help from Loudon Wainwright and, I think but am not sure, Martha Wainwright. Rufus and Martha are Loudon's children. I'll add a comment to this one saying which one I prefer.

Happy Fourth, Anyway

Even though it seems that anti-Christian forces are gaining the upper hand, there's still a great deal to love in this country--much to love, and much for which to be grateful.

This picture was taken five years ago at the home of my wife's sister and her husband. There was a big family gathering on that Fourth, and a very pleasant time, and this image has remained in my mind as representative of all Fourths, or at least of what they should be. 


Patriotism, Fox News Style

Item on their web site today: American Flag Bikinis for the 4th!

No, I'm not linking to it. Go find it yourself if you must.

In a way, though, I have to admit it's the absolutely perfect symbol for one aspect of what's happened to this country.

And, to answer the obvious question: yes, I do go to their site, among others, for news. This is in large part because I make a conscious effort to avoid CNN, having had my fill of their Christianity-debunking "news" stories a while back. There really isn't any news site that doesn't annoy or offend in some way.

Homosexuality and Hate

I've never bothered to argue against the charge that opposition to same-sex marriage, or disapproval of homosexual activity in general, constitutes "hate," "bigotry," and so on. One reason is that it's so ridiculous. I tend to think that most of those making the charge recognize, somewhere deep in their hearts,  that it's irrational. I even speculate that an intimation from their own consciences that they're not being entirely honest accounts for some of the ferocity with which they make it.

I find it hard to take the charge seriously, because I experience its absurdity directly. I have direct and certain knowledge of my own feelings, and I know I don't hate or even dislike homosexuals. As a matter of fact, if I have any discernible tendency toward them, male or female, it's toward liking them. As a mild-mannered bookish male, with a decided deficiency of machismo, I've always been something of a misfit, and tend to be more comfortable with others who don't fit in. I have in common with a lot of gay men a relative lack of interest and aptitude for masculine things like sports, and a great interest in books and music. Like everyone, I've known, worked with, and been on friendly terms with, a number of homosexuals over the years, including one very close friendship, and simply have never felt anything approaching animosity toward them based on their sexuality. Puzzlement as to why they are sexually attracted to their own sex, yes; animosity, no.

However, I do think homosexual acts are wrong.  A great many sexual acts are wrong, and we are all to some degree "objectively disordered," to use the Vatican phrase that so angers many homosexuals. I will say, too, that many of the specific acts involved in homosexuality, especially between males, are distasteful to say the least to me. Moreover, I think marriage between two men or two women is a logical contradiction, which is to say that I think it's inherent in the definition and concept of marriage that it involves opposite sexes.

These admissions, I know are enough to convict me of "hate," "bigotry," and "homophobia" (that last word being a bit of cant which no one who cares about language and truth should use) in the eyes of gay rights activists and their allies. I'm under no illusions about how much credence or moral credit my insistence that I don't hate will be given; I only want to say it publicly for the record.

Because I know I don't hate homosexuals, and have never seen any evidence that any Christians whom I know personally hate homosexuals, I tend to discount the idea entirely. But no doubt hatred does exist (apart from the clearly disturbed Westboro Baptist group). I do run across some  hostile and derogatory stuff in comments on blogs and news sites, though most of it doesn't strike me as being at the level of animosity that I would describe as hate. But as we experience more hostility and contempt from the other side, the impulse to react in kind is going to grow. That's where it seems to me that the struggle against the inclination to hate will be fought for most Christians. God doesn't give us any choice about fighting it.