Politics Feed

The Dangers of Being a Player

Perhaps you've heard of a little controversy involving First Things. It seems that the editor, R.R. Reno, issued a quarrelsome Twitter post or two in which he called people who wear the masks prescribed as COVID-19 preventatives "cowards." I was aware that he has been skeptical and even scornful about the way the pandemic has been handled, and that some people were pretty annoyed with him on that score. But there was apparently quite an outcry about the "cowards" business, resulting in a lot of discussion about the magazine, its history and future. 

Here's Rod Dreher on the matter. (And here is his account of the initial explosion, if you aren't already aware of it and want to know.) 

When First Things appeared in the '90s I read it occasionally and liked it. But I didn't subscribe because (1) many of its articles were too academic for me, by which I mean they assumed a level of education that I don't have, and (2) it seemed to have a sort of program which I did not entirely buy into. That program was generally identified as neoconservatism. And I had many points of agreement with it. After all, I was and am in some literal sense a neoconservative in the strict sense of being one who was on the political left and moved to the right. But of course the term in practice encompassed and implied much more than that, so I didn't apply it to myself.

But I was bothered by something deeper than that, something I was only vaguely aware of and never gave much thought to. A sentence in Dreher's post (the first one linked above) gave me an abrupt realization:

Neuhaus’s great triumph with First Things came from his aspiration to make it a political player. He succeeded.

Yes, and that was the problem. When you want to be a player, you have to cultivate alliances, flatter this one and shun that one, calculate your position, keep a close eye on what people are saying about you and whether or not they are people who matter...on and on. I don't say that it's an indefensible thing. Maybe you can advance good causes that way. Maybe you can't accomplish anything much in the world without doing at least some of that. But it's not for me, and I think the scent of it--the impression that Neuhaus and company enjoyed that game, took pleasure in hobnobbing with the high and mighty--always bothered me.

Well, it's easy for me to criticize; I couldn't do that stuff even if I wanted to. I'm just not made that way. But, my personal qualities or lack thereof aside, the effort to become a "player" as a means of advancing the Gospel, or, more mundanely, of advancing political causes that you see as advancing the Gospel, poses obvious dangers. Dreher points out (the first post I linked to above is very much worth reading), and I think he's probably right, that the identification of First Things and neoconservatism in general with the Republican party has really damaged the effectiveness of the magazine even within the scope of Christian politics. The identification of so many prominent "public" Christians, including many of those at First Things, with Donald Trump has done even more. 

I don't mean the simple act of voting for Trump. In 2016 you had a choice between Trump and Clinton. In 2020 you will probably have a choice between Trump and Biden. (Let's ignore the third-party option; anyone who takes that road understands that his candidate has no chance of winning.) Given that choice, there are plenty of good reasons to vote for Trump. What I mean, what's doing the damage, is not that, but the fanatical embrace of Trump as righteous prophet-savior ordained by God to lead his nation, and Christians in particular, out of the wilderness. This is just the right-wing counterpart of the left's Obama-worship. And both, as I keep saying, are symptoms of a very bad development in American politics: the elevation of the presidency into the role of god-king incarnating the soul and will of the nation. You can hardly get more un-American than that.

More significantly for the fortunes of Christianity in America, though: when idols fall, those who have embraced them fall with them.

What Happened In the 1960s?

NOTE: the essay itself has been removed for the moment. Explanation later.

As some readers of this blog know, I've written a book which is part memoir and conversion story, part cultural history of the phenomenon we call "the Sixties." I have a certain amount of evidence that the attempt is not really successful. It's too long, for one thing: somewhere around 130,000 words, which makes it comparable in length to The Seven Storey Mountain (a book which I thought too long when I read it--so why did I think I could make one of equal length interesting?) I have a version which chops out most of the discursive social-philosophical-religious stuff, leaving something that's basically a memoir, and kind of a so-so one in my opinion. It's doubtful that either is going to see the light of publication day. 

In the first version, there's a long chapter which is a sort of bridge between my life up until I left home for college, and my plunge into the '60s cultural revolution. It attempts to describe the forces that made the revolution happen, the conditions in the mid-'60s which made many of us who were growing up at the time join that movement. I cut it out entirely from the second version of the book. But I think it's a worthwhile reading of those times and the way they led us to this time. So I cut it down by several thousand words, removing personal stuff, and leaving something that I hoped might interest a magazine.

Well, that didn't work out. I shopped it to half a dozen magazines and got no interest. So: one reason for having a web site in the first place is that one can publish whatever one damn well pleases. I've now posted the essay here, not as a blog post but as a standalone page. You can get an idea of what it's about from the original title: "The Tube, the Bomb, and the Closed World." Those are three of the factors I hold to have been of great importance in producing the revolution. The third one refers to the metaphysical closure of the Western mind over the past couple of centuries. As I say in the opening of the essay, understanding the phenomenon of "the Sixties" is important to understanding the culture war which it set in motion.

I should warn you that it's just under 4000 words long, which is rather lengthy for online reading. (The close approximation to 4000 is not an accident: that's the maximum acceptable length for articles at one of the magazines I sent it to.)

These Dang Republicans

Or, Right-Wing Virtue Signaling

Among other elections happening today is the one for congress from my district. It's a fairly close race so I've been getting a fair amount of advertising in the mail. Alabama is essentially a one-party--Republican--state now, so they're all Republicans. Their advertising all contains the following important facts about the candidate:

  • He loves Trump--and if any evidence at all can be found to support the claim, Trump loves him.
  • He will fight for and with Trump (and against Nancy Pelosi and that dreadful "squad").
  • He's a conservative Christian.

There generally follows mention of one or more of the specific issues that get the blood flowing for most Alabamians: abortion, illegal immigration, the 2nd amendment. Anything more definite is hard to find. It's exasperating--and I don't even disagree substantially with them. The candidates are more or less indistinguishable, though I feel pretty sure there would be reason to vote for one over another if I could find it. Journalism used to be helpful in this way but isn't much anymore, at least not around here. The newspapers have been gutted and are either vacant or clearly doing progressive PR, which doesn't seem to do the Democrats much good at the ballot box.

It's almost enough to make me feel sorry for Alabama Democrats, even for Doug Jones, the Democratic senator whose victory in 2018 was a fluke caused by the fact that the Republican nominee was the nut Roy Moore, and who is probably going to be sent back to Mountain Brook in November. Almost but not quite. I mean, Pelosi and the "squad" actually are pretty dreadful. 

The Culture War Is Asymmetrical

I'm constantly fighting the temptation to spend, or rather waste, a lot of time talking about current events, the perishing republic, and so forth. I believe it was in the very first year of this very long-running blog that I mentioned that urge, and noted that there was not much reason for me to carry it out because other people with much much much larger audiences were saying the same things I would say, and doing it better. 

Still, the need to grab the reader and say Don't you see what's going on?!?! is pretty strong sometimes, and I have to do it occasionally. Which is by way of excusing or sort of justifying or at least explaining this post, and also its brevity.

A few days ago I mentioned the sad phenomenon of  'the frenzied rhetorical attacks on white people and "whiteness" coming from the left.' In the comments, Stu replied that "the extremist right are also terrible." 

That's true, but it's not the most significant aspect of what's going on. It's not that there are racists or other assorted nasty people on the left, but that the left (using the term very broadly) holds the most prestigious and influential positions in society: education, the media apart from Fox News, entertainment, many of the courts, and most of the non-elected national government. And it tolerates or excuses or actively practices expressions of racial hostility which no one on the respectable right would dream of. Open race-based hostility on the right is marginalized by the right. Open race-based hostility on the left, provided it's directed at white people, is practiced frequently and is protected, at least, and often applauded, by the left.

More or less the same is true for other controversial issues, such as the various sexual causes. The progressive view is overwhelmingly portrayed in media, education, and entertainment as the correct, obviously virtuous and enlightened view. Opposition is very effectively stigmatized as, for instance, "homophobia" and the like. 

I'm not going to waste time trying to prove this by citing instances. I think it's overwhelmingly obvious. Rod Dreher provides examples almost every day, like this one, in which a black student (I think it's a student) complains that there are "too many white people" in the Multicultural Student Center, strongly suggesting that they leave. As Dreher says

...if a white student stood and ordered non-white students to vacate a space because their non-whiteness made it uncomfortable for white people, the entire campus would have had a gran mal seizure...

This was at the University of Virginia. Contemptuous and hostile references to white people--especially white men, especially white male Christians--as such, specifically because they are white--are perfectly acceptable at the most influential and prestigious levels of society, whereas the same sort of hostility on the part of white people toward others is mostly relegated to the gutter. It's not symmetrical. 

The Issues Are Not the Issues Anymore

I've been trying to remember where I heard, attributed to some leftist, the saying that "The issue is not the issue." The only thing turned up by a quick search is a remark attributed by David Horowitz to some SDS organizer of the '60s: "The issue is never the issue. The issue is the revolution." 

Even if that's apocryphal, it certainly describes the method of many political activists, especially those who see themselves as being engaged in a campaign for some sort of broad and fundamental change. You pick particular situations that can be exploited for your purposes, but they're mainly important as means toward a far more important end.

I think--I'm afraid--that the quotation has a wider application now. It pretty much sums up our whole political situation. Right and left disagree as much as they ever have about specific policy questions. But those are somewhat in the background except insofar as they can be used to advance the essential cause: for progressives, to gain decisive control of the federal government so that "the New America" can begin (I've been seeing that term a lot recently); for conservatives, to prevent that. 

Old-fashioned liberals believed in the constitution, but they are a fading breed, being replaced by leftists for whom the constitution is at best a set of more or less arbitrary rules that can be set aside when progress requires it. At worst it's just one more oppressive structure put in place by white men to keep everyone else down. In any case, it should be construed as requiring (or permitting, as the case may be) whatever advances the progressive cause. That tendency on the left has been evident for as long as I can remember, but it's far stronger now. 

It becomes more and more clear that a lot of very influential progressives simply don't care in any positive way about the actual history, culture, people, and constitution of this country. They can only value it insofar as it seems to promise a bright shining socialist John-Lennon-Imaginary future. Anything that would get in the way of that vision must be discarded or destroyed. They're best understood as millenarian religious fanatics. I don't by any means say that everyone on the political left thinks this way, but, as I said, they are many and influential beyond their numbers.

So when the question "What do conservatives want to conserve?" is asked, my answer now is pretty simple: the constitution. Everything else in American political life depends on that. If we lose it, we lose the republic. And I think that would be a bad thing--even for those who don't at the moment understand that it would be. 

Kevin Williamson, writing in National Review a couple of weeks ago in response to a New York Times call for "packing" the Supreme Court as a way of defeating the obstacle of originalist judges, makes the point brilliantly:

Bouie complains: “In the past, courts have walled entire areas of American life off from federal action. They’ve put limits on American democracy.” Indeed, they have — that is what they are there for. The Constitution and, specifically, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments exist explicitly to “put limits on American democracy.” Majorities do not get to overturn freedom of speech or freedom of religion. They do not get to impose slavery or imprison people without trial. There are lots of things majorities do not get to do. This is not some modern conservative invention to frustrate progressives — it is the design of the American constitutional order.

(Strange that you never hear progressives complaining about how Roe vs. Wade “walled off” abortion from majoritarian lawmaking.)

Bouie’s majoritarian ideology is nowhere to be found in the Constitution; in fact, the very structure of American government is designed to frustrate that kind of crass majoritarianism. Hence the Senate (as originally organized) and the presidential veto, both designed as checks on the excessive democratic passions to which the House might be subject; hence the written Constitution and the Bill of Rights, i.e. America’s Great Big List of Important Stuff You Idiots Don’t Get a Vote On, and a Supreme Court constitutionally empowered to police those limits. You can call that an ideology, too, and even conservative ideology, which it is: Properly understood, the principles and philosophy of the Founding are what it is conservatives try to conserve.   

Exactly. The movement for getting rid of the Electoral College deserves similar scorn for similar reasons. Speaking of which, there is no surer way to get me to vote for Trump than to attempt to subvert the Electoral College. (You can read Williamson's whole piece here.)

We're in a strange situation now (to say the least). I don't think Trump really understands or cares about the constitution much more than most of these progressives do. People call him a fascist, but that's silly and lazy: if the word means anything useful (which is questionable), a fascist is a person with a rigid ideology. That's one of the last things Trump can be accused of being. The note in his manner and behavior that makes people think of fascism is that of the caudillo: the amoral strong man of the sort who tends to gain control of nations that have no strong constitutional framework, no strong deeply-rooted sense of "government of laws, not men."

And yet he has pretty well delivered on his promise to appoint constitutionalist judges, who are the final bulwark of a republic deserving the name. The man progressives call authoritarian is actually, where it counts most, shoring up the foundations against authoritarianism--even if he doesn't know exactly what he's doing. 

Ahmari and French Debate

It's perhaps a bit wrong of me to post this--or inappropriate, or ill-mannered, or something--because I probably won't actually watch the debate. Well, maybe I'll find a transcript and read it. But I'm posting it for one reason. I guess all conservatives and some others are aware of the intra-conservative argument which is represented by these two; if you're not, see this. For my part I don't really want to take a side, as I think both have pretty strong arguments.

The two met for an in-person debate a couple of weeks ago. Here's a report on it from a reader of Rod Dreher's blog. That page also includes a video of the event. But here is the one thing that really struck me, from the reader who was there:

There seemed to be something of an age divide. The older folks in the room seemed to more likely to be in French’s corner, whereas all of the Millennials and Gen Zers I talked to instinctually agreed with Ahmari....

I think that's very significant. The times they are a-changing. Again. I myself have noticed that people of more or less my generation, and maybe a bit younger--let's say people over fifty--tend to see our current politics in more or less classically liberal and constitutionalist terms, as David French does. That framework has less purchase on the minds of younger people. Of course that could be only an effect of age itself; the younger people may change their minds as they get older. And I emphasize "tend to"; I can certainly think of plenty of exceptions, in both directions. 

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid Trump Controversies

A few months after Trump's election I realized that there was no point in following the news stories about him. Every few days there was some new burst of outrage, and at least two thirds of the purported scandals turned out, when I read more about them, to be exaggerated, trivial (what was that nonsense about Melania's jacket a while back?), or sometimes just plain false. It's just not worth the bother of paying attention. Even the big He's A Russian Agent!! story pretty much fizzled out, and in fact, according to some non-crazy people, was more of an FBI scandal than a Trump scandal.

I thought most of the media had thoroughly discredited themselves years ago, but they continue to dig their hole deeper. They clearly see destroying Trump as part of their mission, at the moment probably the most important part. And I suppose it works for them in some ways. It does serve to keep the anti-Trump outrage at fever pitch. But for those who, like me, don't much care for him but have kept some sense of balance, it produces only irritation and disdain. And of course his millions of active supporters just dig in their heels and see him as a hero-martyr. All in all, it serves only to deepen the cloud of anger and mistrust that has enveloped the country.

As of today the completely stupid uproar about Trump's statement that Hurricane Dorian threatened Alabama has been going for about a week. I frequently use Google News to get an overview of the day's news stories. This is about half of the stories about Hurricane Dorian currently displayed there. 


This is crazy. On both sides. It's hard to tell at this point who's baiting whom, and who's crazier. I'm not sure what Trump originally said, but the fact is that we here in Alabama were worried about Hurricane Dorian for a while. "Threatened" might be overstating it, but the projected path of the storm for several days had it heading more or less due west across the Florida peninsula. It is not only possible but has in the past happened that a storm has done that and then re-strengthened after it got into the Gulf. And I assure you that any hurricane in the northern Gulf of Mexico is always a big deal for us. Damn right we were concerned, and watching closely, until it became more or less certain that the storm was going to turn north. In calling it a threat to Alabama, Trump was not lying and not crazy. At worst he was exaggerating and/or speaking carelessly. It was not a big deal

But then of course the Trump Derangement Syndrome sufferers in the press and social media had to jump in and start jeering and accusing. And then of course the thin-skinned egotist in the White House had to respond. And the thin-skinned egotists in the press had to respond to that...and here we are, a week later, still talking about it as if it were important. I wonder if anyone has brought up impeachment yet.

I would like to think that this is some sort of nadir, but it can probably get worse. 

Johnny Tremain

I thought we had discussed this book here once, although I have not read it, but I can't find any mention of it. Anyway, here is an interesting discussion of it by Francesca Murphy at Public Discourse. She says it is

a liminal secular-religious book. It is on the border between the two, broad enough on both sides to pose a challenge in either direction. It challenges its secular readers to have a deep enough conception of the secular to encompass dying for the sake of freedom. It challenges its religious readers to deepen their pieties sufficiently to encompass the aspiration for freedom that is written in the human frame.

Well, I don't know about that, obviously, since I haven't read it. But apart from the identity of the author, this strikes me as an interesting indirect comment on the argument that's been going on among conservatives for a while now: is the liberal (and effectively secular) tradition a good thing or a bad thing, especially as it relates to religion? And in either case what are its prospects? 

Who Would Dumbledore Vote For?

I don't care. But apparently a lot of people do. Apparently J.K. Rowling is "a major voice in world affairs". I've missed that development. The piece I linked to there is from 2017, and maybe she is not speaking out as much as she was then. I looked at her Twitter account and there is very little there from recent months.

But the fact that she would reduce her characters to political puppets in this way is to me of a piece with the general quality of the Harry Potter books. And, I'm sorry to say, of the general cast of Rowling's mind:

She has revealed Dumbledore was gay and that Hogwarts would have been a ‘safe place’ for LGBT students.

Oh, come on.

I really tried to like the books because one of my children was of exactly the age to be an enthusiast. I succeeded to some degree, and mostly enjoyed them, though the last couple seemed so diffuse and convoluted that the resolution they offered didn't have the impact that I think they were meant to. The books never truly engaged or moved me, not like the work of Tolkien and Lewis did. I don't think it's just me, either; I think my view of them is more or less objectively correct. I don't think they will be much read fifty years or so from now, or a hundred, whereas I think the others will move a great many people as long as the language remains accessible to the average person.

The President and the Congresswoman from Twitter...

...have a whole lot more in common than either would like to think, much less admit. See this. Today Ocasio-Cortez is apparently denying that she meant what she obviously meant. A Taylor Swift-vs.-Katy Perry feud comes to the House of Representatives.

I guess we can expect a whole lot more teenage social-media spite among our elected officers as general interest in preserving and governing a republic continues to wane. 

I am going to swear off commenting on politics but apparently not today. 

Conservatism, Briefly Defined Described

Several days ago I wrote about the Ahmari-French argument, which might better be termed the liberal-postliberal argument (meaning classical liberalism, not the current party label), and which is currently happening on the right. See this post. I don't entirely agree with either side, and am not much interested in participating in the argument, so will not bother trying to articulate my view.

It's been something like forty years now since I somewhat reluctantly admitted that I had become, for lack of a better word, a conservative. But I've always maintained a certain distance from the conservative movement, and had only limited interest in the never-ending debate about What It Means To Be A Conservative.

Conservatism, as Russell Kirk said, is the negation of ideology. Or it ought to be. Accordingly, it resists definition. A decade or so ago I had an unpleasant argument with a traditionalist Catholic who had, in my opinion, taken Thomistic (or just scholastic?) logic where it doesn't readily go, and insisted (triumphantly) that because conservatism could not be defined precisely it must not exist. Cf. jazz, I thought; I can't remember whether I said it or not. That something cannot be defined in a complete and unambiguous way does not mean that we cannot speak of it.

The following note is from Kevin Williamson's entry in the Ahmari-French controversy. Both French and Williamson write for National Review and are in rough agreement on the question at hand. But this struck me as a fundamental truth that transcends that question:

Conservatives have always been, and will always be, at a disadvantage against the utopians of the Left and the utopians of the Right in that conservatives believe that it very often is the case that there is nothing to be done, or not much to be done, that most problems are to be managed rather than solved, that we should aim at mitigation rather than transformation, that we are better positioned to assuage than to conquer, that things are what they are and must be dealt which on that basis.

A few (?) months ago someone complained that I had "gotten so reactionary." Well, I may or may not be fairly described as reactionary, but if I am I have not gotten that way anytime recently. I've held pretty much the same basic political views since that transition forty years ago. Williamson expresses very well the foundation on which those views rest. I would add that "conservative" is descriptive, not prescriptive. The list of specific policies that it requires or rejects as being intrinsically good or bad is fairly short. 

I sometimes think conservatives are in a situation something like that of Cordelia in King Lear. Her father is enraged by the modesty of her profession of love and duty toward him. The extravagant promises of Goneril and Regan are much more pleasing, so naturally he thinks better of them--for a while.

Of course conservative hopes can sometimes be overly modest, willing to tolerate evils that could be ameliorated (though probably not obliterated). A perfect balance between the impulse to preserve and the impulse to improve would be...perfect. And is unlikely.


Some people say "conservativism" instead of "conservatism." I've always thought it sounded cumbersome and a little silly, like Peter Schickele's "musicalologist." But a few days ago I read someone's case for it as being more correct. "Liberal" is made into the noun "liberalism," not "liberism." "Conservative" therefore should become concrete in something called "conservativism."

This is going to bother me for the rest of my life.

Unfortunately, I'm Right

Some twenty-five years ago I wrote a piece for Caelum et Terra in which I asserted that a fundamental weakness of the American system is that it is agnostic on the ultimate questions. The Constitution defines a structure and a set of procedures that are meant to be philosophically and theologically neutral. It assumes a workable consensus on the fundamental questions, and therefore has no mechanism for coping with fundamental disagreements. Now that such disagreements have arrived, and on a scale where each side has enough political power to prevent either from totally dominating the other, we're in trouble.

The current argument raging among conservatives is at least partly about that same question, and it caused me to re-read my essay. And I think I was right. Am right: 

...now that the ethical consensus which underlay [the Constitution] has cracked, the inadequacy of the document alone is obvious. If the people cannot agree about what a human being is or what its purpose might be, what a family is, what a right is, what liberty is, then the Constitution is utterly impotent to guide them. To look to it for assistance in matters of first principles is like reading the owner’s manual of your car in hope of learning where you ought to go: as if a family, having decided to pack up and move, were to expect that by reading the instructions for checking the oil and changing a tire they would learn whether or not they could expect to find contentment in Chattanooga.

You can read the whole essay here, though I should note that it's on the long side for online reading (somewhere around 6,000 words). I think it holds up well, though I probably wouldn't write that last section today in a political context. Euthanasia has not made nearly as much progress as I expected it to, but sexual "liberation" has gone much further. It is all too accurate now to say that the people do not agree about what a human being is.

If you haven't heard about it, the argument I'm referring to is between conservatives who are beginning to give up on the whole classical liberal project and those who think it can still be saved.

Political liberals have long been impatient with the Constitution, pushing the concept of a "living Constitution," a sort of secular version of the interpretive technique by which progressive theologians make the Bible say whatever they want it to say. Political conservatives, aka classical liberals, have defended the Constitution as written and as straightforwardly understood ("strict construction," "original intent," etc.). This argument has been going on for a long time--my high school civics teacher staged a debate on the question fifty years ago. (I took the progressive side.)

In recent years there have been more voices on the left calling either explicitly or implicitly for the whole thing to be disregarded or dumped ("written by dead white males," etc. etc. etc.) Now some on the right are beginning to give up on classical liberalism, which of course has been pretty much the essence of American conservatism. (I know, the terminology is confusing, but you have to use it to talk intelligently about this stuff.) Ross Douthat has a pretty good overview of the controversy in the New York Times. Follow his links if you want to know more.

Personally I have a great deal of sympathy for the David French side of the argument. As I said here quite a few years ago, I would like to preserve and reform the American constitutional order, and I haven't changed my mind about that. Nor do I have any enthusiasm for the idea of Christian/Catholic integralism, especially considering the character of the upper levels of the Catholic hierarchy now. But I fear that the argument is becoming irrelevant. Possibly the greater danger is that the citizenry as a whole no longer really care about preserving the republic that the Constitution defines. Many on both the left and the right are looking (mostly unconsciously, but evidently) for some sort of authority figure to lead the forces of good against those of evil. Or, less apocalyptically, to be the benevolent and all-powerful Father of the Nation who will provide for them. As different as Obama and Trump are, you can see the tendency plainly among the enthusiastic followers of both.


If There's One Thing I Despise, It's a Mob

Or: "Driving Through The Caution Lights."

In 1932 my grandfather was the judge in a case where the lynching of the defendants was a very real possibility. This is what he said to the court:

Now, gentlemen, this is for the audience, and I want it to be known that these prisoners are under the protection of this court. The Sheriff and his deputies, and members of the National Guards, are under the direction and authority of this court. This court intends to protect these prisoners and any other persons engaged in this trial. Any man or group of men that attempts to take charge outside of the law are not only disobedient to the law but are citizens unworthy of the protection of the State of Alabama, and unworthy of the citizenship which they enjoy. I say this much, that the man who would engage in anything that would cause the death of any of these prisoners is not only a murderer, but a cowardly murderer, and a man whom we should look down upon with all the contempt in our being; and I am going to say further that the soldiers here and the Sheriffs here are expected to defend with their lives these prisoners and if they must do it, listen gentlemen, you have the authority of this court, and this court is speaking with authority, the man who attempts it may expect that his own life be forfeited or the guards that guard them must forfeit their lives. If I were in command, and I will be there if I know it, I will not hesitate to give the order to protect with their lives these prisoners against any such attempt.

I am speaking with feeling and I know it because I am feeling it. I absolutely have no patience with mob spirit and that spirit that would charge the guilt or innocence of any being without knowing of their guilt or innocence. Your very civilization depends upon the carrying out of your laws in an orderly manner. I am here listening to this case trying to sift the truth or not the truth of it and I am going to strengthen that guard if necessary and I am going to let everyone know that any attempt, and I believe these boys understand, that you have got to kill them before you get these prisoners. That is understood and they have told me they would, and they will do it. Those are the instructions and orders given to the guards.

I absolutely have no patience with mob spirit. I could never have been a lawyer, but I did inherit enough of my grandfather's spirit to put me in absolute agreement, intellectual and emotional, with him. I am speaking with feeling and I know it.

That was my initial reaction to the Covington Boys vs. Progressive Opinion affair, though not my initial reaction to the incident that sparked the conflict. In that reaction I'm happy to say that I passed the Covington Catholic test, as described in The Atlantic by Julie Zimmerman. That is, when I first read of the incident I thought Hmm, that looks bad, but there's probably more to the story. And I waited to see what facts would emerge when the dust settled. One lesson that we all ought to have learned in recent years is that sensational stories in the media often prove to be far less sensational when more light is shed on them.

Of course there was a great deal more to the story, so much so that the original "narrative" was shown to be largely false. I know there are still holdouts for that view, but I don't think it's tenable. As an assessment of the facts these two pieces speak for me:

Andrew Sullivan, in New York magazine: "The Abyss of Hate vs. Hate." 

Caitlin Flanagan, in The Atlantic: "The Media Botched the Covington Catholic Story." 

Note that neither of these is a conservative publication, and neither of the writers is a Trump supporter; quite the contrary. I'm not sure what Sullivan's views in general are these days, but I don't think he can be described as a conservative. I had pretty much given up on him a while back and only saw this piece because someone linked to it. Flanagan is, as far as I can tell, more or less a conventional liberal, but clear-eyed and not an ideologue. She's one of the few writers currently at The Atlantic whom I'll take time to read.

For me this was something of a Young Goodman Brown moment. Brown is the protagonist of the Hawthorne short story which bears his name. In brief, it describes the crisis of a young Massachusetts Puritan man who discovers that all the respectable people of his town are participants in a rite of devil-worship held at night deep in the woods. Nothing ever looks the same to him afterwards. (You can read the story here.)

The initial reaction to the Covington story among journalists, various celebrities, and the left in general was the work of a mob in every respect except that of physical violence, and that was vehemently threatened (which put me in mind of Yeats's line "had they but courage equal to desire"). It disgusted me. On a visceral level I was sickened by the mindlessness of it, by the way a mob joyfully discards all constraints on its ugly passion. A mob is an entity in itself, something bigger, more stupid, and more wicked than the individuals who constitute it. 

But internet mob actions happen fairly often. What made this one so disturbing to me was similar to what disturbed Goodman Brown: not that there were devil worshipers in the woods, but that the respectable people were among them, as excited and happy to be there as any witch. Usually these mobs are made up of anonymous people with no power apart from whatever they can collectively exercise as a mob. But the mob attacking the Covington boys was led by institutions and people who have a great deal of cultural influence: The New York Times; The Washington Post. CNN. Pundits and entertainers. One of the first of these I saw, after the initial story appeared, was from Michael Green, one of the screenwriters for Blade Runner 2049. Green said (on Twitter, naturally) of the now-famous boy in the MAGA hat :

A face like that never changes. This image will define his life. No one need ever forgive him.

My interest in seeing BR 2049 again died a quick death when I saw that.

There were worse, of course, including the Beauty and the Beast co-producer who thought the boys should be fed head-first into a wood-chipper. Some of the attackers deleted and apologized for some of their most offensive and violent comments.  The press backtracked to a degree, but at least from what I saw most went no further than to admit that the situation was more complex than they had initially said.

I don't know whether any of them have ever admitted that their story was just plain false in every important respect. At worst the boys were guilty of bad manners and "disrespect" (an odd complaint to make in 21st century America)--unless you believe that a MAGA hat is only and always a symbol of white supremacy, and anyone wearing it a white supremacist, morally equivalent to a Klan member. Or that the silly "tomahawk chop" gesture, used by fans of every sports team with an Indian name, is the moral equivalent of burning a cross. It's one thing to say that the hat and the gesture are offensive and insensitive, combative where reconciliation is needed. I would largely agree. But it's quite another to say that they are threats of violence, even a species of violence, and only used by racist monsters. I know there are people who believe these things, just as there are people who believe Obama is a secret Muslim. Reason is powerless in such cases. 

Part of the secret power of a mob is a truth of human nature that we would all prefer not to see: it feels good to hate. Really good. There's a kind of ecstasy in surrendering to it. There is a lot of hate in our politics now. There is plenty of it on the right, but there is at least as much on the left. And many or most of those on the left are unable to see it, even when, in cases like this, it is on striking public display.

To a degree this is to be expected as the normal human tendency to be blind to one's own faults while having a keen eye for those of others. But part of it is that progressives have defined themselves particularly and explicitly as we who do not hate, we who are not those who hate. By definition, then, hate is something that other people, their enemies, do. It's the very essence of their opposition to the right, which they see precisely as the party of hate. Therefore whatever indignation they feel and express is not hate. If you see something in them that you might be inclined to call hate or malice, it is their righteous anger. It is an aspect of their virtue, so of course they aren't ashamed of it.

Empathy, openness, and fairness are also among the qualities on which the left prides itself, and ones which were nowhere to be seen in this affair. How was it that thousands, at least, of presumably sane people were able to focus so much hatred on one teenage boy, caught in a strange situation which he did not create, with a look on his face which they deemed arrogant, and moreover symbolic of the world's greatest evils? (Of personal grievances as well--some commentators were enraged because the picture reminded them of someone they hated in high school. If I felt that way about someone I would not expect anyone else to take it seriously.) In matters like this the left is absolutely unwilling and/or unable to consider the possibility that legitimate disagreement can exist, that anyone can see the matter other than they do and not be an evil person. In this view it's simply not possible that anyone could have reasons for supporting Trump that are not evil or at the very least hopelessly and culpably stupid, and in any case beyond respect, dialog, or simple courtesy. (I'm speaking generally; there are individual exceptions.)

All this has been under way for a long time, but it's reached a dangerous pitch now. There are a couple of remarks that I see frequently on conservative web sites: "This is how we got Trump" and "This will not end well." Both are applicable to this situation.

Flanagan and Sullivan are worth quoting in confirmation of those two observations. Flanagan, on how we got Trump, and may get him again: 

I am prompted to issue my own ethics reminders for The New York Times. Here they are: You were partly responsible for the election of Trump because you are the most influential newspaper in the country, and you are not fair or impartial. Millions of Americans believe you hate them and that you will casually harm them. Two years ago, they fought back against you, and they won. If Trump wins again, you will once again have played a small but important role in that victory.

Sullivan, on the bad end toward which we seem headed:

A campaign slogan for a candidate who won the votes of 46 percent of the country in 2016 is to be seen as indistinguishable from the Confederate flag. This is not the language of politics. It is a language of civil war.

I can understand this impulse emotionally as a response to Trump’s hatefulness. But I fear it morally or politically. It’s a vortex that can lead to nothing but the raw imposition of power by one tribe over another....

This is the abyss of hate versus hate, tribe versus tribe. This is a moment when we can look at ourselves in the mirror of social media and see what we have become. Liberal democracy is being dismantled before our eyes — by all of us. This process is greater than one president. It is bottom-up as well as top-down. Tyranny, as Damon Linker reminded us this week, is not just political but psychological, and the tyrannical impulse, ratcheted up by social media, is in all of us. It infects the soul of the entire body politic. It destroys good people. It slowly strangles liberal democracy. This is the ongoing extinction level event.

And a commenter at Rod Dreher's blog offered this warning: 

We are driving through the caution lights because we trust our civilization, our safety, our wealth, our technology, to be secure against self-destruction. It’s never safe to ignore the caution lights. C. S. Lewis wrote that “pain is God’s megaphone.” We would be fools to ignore the signals.

One lesson that a mob teaches us is that the restraints of civilization can be more easily broken and discarded than we like to think. And this recent incident teaches us, if we were so naive as not to know it already, that education (or "education") is no guarantee of resistance to the impulse.

I absolutely have no patience with mob spirit. I am speaking with feeling, and I know it.

Sunday Night Journal, December 2, 2018

I find that I'm unable to stick with the intention of only reading one book at a time, so I try to limit myself to two, one fiction and one non-fiction. But I've just broken that, too, by starting Phillip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle before finishing Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men. (The non-fiction is Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise.) I had looked for Man in the High Castle at the library a month or so ago after watching the third series in the Amazon adaptation, but it was checked out. Yesterday my wife happened to be going to the library, so I asked her to see if the book was back on the shelf. It was, she got it for me, and now I have to finish it within two weeks, because it's on her card. As King's Men is pretty long and I'm only halfway through it, I thought I'd better go ahead and get started on High Castle

I'm only a few chapters in so have no opinion yet beyond the fact that it's interesting, but I was struck by this exchange between a Nazi artist and a Swedish businessman. (For those who don't know, the book is set in approximately 1960 in an alternate universe where the Germans and the Japanese won the Second World War.) 

"Afraid I do not care for modern art," [the Swede] said. "I like the old prewar cubists and abstractionists. I like a picture to mean something, not merely to represent the idea." He turned away.

"But that's the task of art," [the artist] said. "To advance the spirituality of man, over the sensual. Your abstract art represented a period of spiritual decadence, of spiritual chaos, due to the disintegration of society, the old plutocracy."

As a skeptic toward the religion of High Art, I enjoyed this. The notion that art is always on the way toward something ever more antagonistic to the ordinary and human has been a harmful one, and accounts for some of the pathologies, especially in the current visual arts scene. To have cubists and the like put in the position of being the old fogies is amusing. But of course in this picture the cure is considerably worse than the disease. If you don't know what Nazi art was like, see this Wikipedia article.

Nazi art resembles Communist art, for reasons that should be obvious, and which I will leave you to figure out for yourself if you don't think they're obvious. Art driven by ideology is generally bad, and if it succeeds it's in spite of the ideology, not because of it. And art driven by totalitarian ideology is some of the worst.

This got me to thinking of a topic that comes up now and again among conservatives: someone asks "Why aren't there more conservative artists?" and that's often followed by a list of books and music and movies that are either produced by conservatives or have a conservative message. (Of course there have plenty of artists who could broadly be described as "conservative," though not necessarily in the contemporary sense. T.S. Eliot, for instance.)

The subject came up on Rod Dreher's blog one day last week, and I responded with a comment which I can't find now but which was something along the lines of "The term 'conservative art' nauseates me." It makes me think first of Ayn Rand's awful fiction (she wasn't a conservative, but she was right-wing), and then of those lists. I can sum up the way the lists tend to go by saying that the Beatles' "Taxman" is always on them. It's a good song, or rather a good track, because while I like the music the words are not very interesting. Is griping about taxes really a very important aspect of conservatism?

Such discussions and such lists always make me think that if there were somewhere a master list of conservatives and my name was on it, I would take it off. After an initial period of resistance ca. 1980, I long ago acquiesced to the fact that "conservative" is a more or less accurate description of my political views. But as someone said once the term is descriptive, not prescriptive, and sometimes it's much more less than more, especially when I see the term defined with some such formula as "free markets and strong defense." Russell Kirk always insisted that conservatism is the negation of ideology. 

Well, few things are duller to me now than an attempt to define The Nature of True Conservatism, so I won't go off on that path. Almost as dull is the discussion of how Liberal and Conservative Are Inadequate Descriptions Of Contemporary Political Reality, so I won't go off on that path, either. But that one's dull for a very different reason: it's so plainly true that discussing it seems to be unnecessary. The gap between anything that the terms can reasonably be said to mean, and the beliefs and behavior of the parties to which the labels are still attached, is so great that they serve no purpose except for distinguishing two things that are, whatever you call them, still pretty different from each other in principle, and very different with respect to what they want.

Also last week...or was it the week before?...someone on Facebook linked to this piece at The Week (which by the way seems to be a somewhat balanced publication, socio-politically speaking). It's about the possibility of splitting the U.S. into separate nations as a way of dealing with our deep and seemingly intractable divisions. In discussing that, I found myself discarding "left," "right," "liberal," "conservative," and the like in favor of the conceptually empty but politically and culturally significant Red and Blue. I think I'm going to continue that. The terms are functionally intelligible, and they allow one to discuss the division without getting bogged down in definitions.

Of course as I'm always saying we don't actually need to split the country. We only need to accept its diversity and quit attempting to impose uniform national rules in matters where there is deep disagreement. But--and I think I said this in the Red-Blue comment I just mentioned--I think Red would be willing to accept that (though unhappily), but Blue wouldn't, because of its quasi-religious sense of mission. (I think I'll refrain from following that line of thought at the moment, because I want to finish this post fairly quickly.)

In any case it does seem to me that the great American experiment in republican government is coming to an end. There are many reasons, but the one that makes the situation seem hopeless is that the number of citizens who really want it to continue is diminishing. I suspect that human nature makes human government tend more or less automatically toward the monarchical and autocratic. There are many, many signs that both Red and Blue are going this way, knowing little and caring less about the scheme of government defined in our constitution. Red's enthusiasm for Donald Trump is one such. I mock those who think Trump is a Nazi, but that doesn't mean that he wouldn't be a dictator if he could; it's just that Nazism is far (far, far) more than that. And Blue has been for a long time now plainly longing for a king-messiah, and thought it had found one in Barack Obama, which is why Trump's occupation of the throne is simply intolerable to those on that side.

And then there's the outcry against the Electoral College. And, very strangely, the notion that if Blue (i.e. Democrats) gets more votes, in nationwide total, in congressional elections than Red (i.e. Republicans), then Blue ought by rights to have control, and that if it does not an injustice has been done. It's hard to overstate how bizarre that is when considered in light of our actual form of government. Kevin Williamson said it well:

The Democrats don’t seem to understand what it is they are really fighting, which, in no small part, is not the Republicans but the constitutional architecture of the United States. The United States is, as the name suggests, a union of states, which have interests, powers, and characters of their own. They are not administrative subdivisions of the federal government. All that talk about winning x percent of the “national House vote” or the “national Senate vote” — neither of which, you know, exists — is a backhanded way of getting at the fact that they do not like how our governments are organized, and that they would prefer a more unitary national government under which the states are so subordinated as to be effectively inconsequential. They complain that, under President Trump, “the Constitution is hanging by a thread” — but they don’t really much care for the actual order established by that Constitution, and certainly not for the limitations it puts on government power through the Bill of Rights and other impediments to étatism.

A simple nationwide democracy might or might not be a good idea (I think not, but for the sake of argument can admit that it might not). But it is not the system we have. I don't know what will replace the republic. We probably won't really feel the difference for a long time. It won't even necessarily be bad, or all bad, but it won't be the "constitutional architecture," as Williamson calls it.


All the King's Men is great, by the way, and I'm sure I will have something to say about it when I've finished it, presumably by next week.


Also by the way: I am almost certainly going to end the Sunday Night Journal at the end of the year. I'm finding it too burdensome to devote several hours every Sunday to it. I'm considering ending the blog altogether, but I probably won't do that. Most likely I'll keep it going, but revert to posting whenever I have something I want to say, and the emphasis will be on books and music and film/tv. That will probably reduce the readership, which is not that high anyway: as best I can tell from the site stats, there are somewhere between 100 and 200 people who read the blog regularly. That's minuscule in comparison to very popular blogs. But to increase that number would probably require posting much more often and about more controversial topics, and I don't want to do that.


Usually the photos I post here are recent, but this one is from 2009. Yesterday on the way to Mass we passed a gingko tree in full autumn glow. I didn't have time to take a picture of it, but I remembered a set I had taken at Spring Hill College. 


It was windy today, and on the way back from church it seemed to me that there were many fewer leaves on the gingko than there had been several hours earlier. A girl who looked to be about thirteen or so was taking a picture of her companion who was stretched out on the golden carpet.

Sunday Night Journal, November 11, 2018

This is the 100th anniversary of what used to be known as Armistice Day. God help us, what a century of slaughter that war began. What do we make of the fact that the modern era has seen both a greater awareness of and sensitivity to injustice and suffering of all sorts, not to mention a supposed flowering of reason via the sciences, and killing on a scale never before seen in history? We can say that the body count of the wars has been so high only because we have such wonderful technology for accomplishing it, and that may be true. But that doesn't account for the killing that was mass murder by any definition, planned and executed with modern organizational and technological methods, for the specific purpose of eliminating whole populations in the name of one of the big totalitarian ideals. I think of C.S. Lewis's observation that both good and evil seem to advance simultaneously in history.

Nobody much wanted to listen to Pope Benedict XV at the time, but he looks pretty good in retrospect. As does Blessed Karl of Austria. I am sure he is in many ways an unacceptable figure to the contemporary mind, but a bit of very casual reading about him from secular sources (e.g. Wikipedia) seems to support the idea that he was a ruler who genuinely sought the common good, in particular the end of that terrible war.

It was not the end of civilization, but it was the end of a civilization. What followed has yet to find an order that seems likely to last. Our most widely agreed-upon principles, foremost of which is individual freedom, do not tend toward stability. I used to say, back before the fall of the Soviet Union, that we were heading for either 1984 or Brave New World. The former doesn't have nearly the constituency it used to. But something like the latter is even more now the logical end point of Western consumerism, hedonism, and technocracy.


So FilmStruck, the artsy/classic movie streaming service, will be no more after the 29th of this month. I have an absurd feeling of slight guilt about that, because although I subscribe I haven't used it very much at all. I know that makes no sense. 

I was excited when it appeared, and immediately subscribed. But I was disappointed to find that a basic subscription didn't include access to the Criterion Collection, which was the big attraction. That was part of the reason we didn't use it very much; the other and probably more significant part was a heavy diet of the mystery/crime dramas available on Netflix and Amazon. And when I did look at FilmStruck, it seemed that everything I wanted required the upgraded subscription.

I finally took that step a few weeks ago, just in time to hear that it's shutting down. So I'm trying to make time to watch some things I had put on my watchlist. To wit:

The Asphalt Jungle. This is a film noir classic, according to a wonderful book my wife gave me a few years ago, Into the Dark. (Unfortunately most of the movies listed in the book aren't available on either FilmStruck or Netflix.) Made in 1950, this was John Huston's fourth film. He already had several classics to his credit and while I wouldn't rate this one quite up there with, say, The Maltese Falcon, it's a very good one, and anyone who likes noir will probably like it. It's a "caper" story--about the planning and execution of a complex theft, which of course does not go as planned. 

Summer Interlude. Early Bergman, though "early" in this case means his tenth film. I had never heard of it before. I agree with FilmStruck's description:

Touching on many of the themes that would define the rest of his legendary career—isolation, performance, the inescapability of the past—Ingmar Bergman’s tenth film was a gentle drift toward true mastery. In one of the director’s great early female roles, Maj-Britt Nilsson beguiles as an accomplished ballet dancer haunted by her tragic youthful affair with a shy, handsome student (Birger Malmsten). Her memories of the sunny, rocky shores of Stockholm’s outer archipelago mingle with scenes from her gloomy present, most of them set in the dark backstage environs of the theater where she works. A film that the director considered a creative turning point, Summer Interlude (Sommarlek) is a reverie about life and death that unites Bergman’s love of theater and cinema.

 It's definitely worth seeing, even if you're not especially a Bergman fan. Those sunny summer scenes are very beautiful and worth it by themselves. I'll watch it again.

From the Life of the Marionettes. Also Bergman. I had seen references to it and was under the mistaken impression that it was another early one, but it isn't. It's from 1980, which makes it actually quite late. In 1976 Bergman got into trouble with the Swedish government over some tax-related matter. I say "into trouble"--he was actually arrested, and though the charges were dropped he left the country and lived mostly in Germany until 1984. This movie was made in Germany, with German actors speaking German, which is a little disconcerting to this fan: Bergman's people are supposed to speak Swedish.

It is an extremely dark story about a man who murders a prostitute for reasons having to do with his very unhappy marriage.  As the title suggests, the general theme is that people are puppets in the hands of forces they can neither control nor understand. I didn't much care for it, not because of the darkness but because it doesn't seem to me to be all that well executed. The acting is excellent, but the cinematography, which is so often such a big part of the appeal of Bergman's work to me, is dim and fuzzy. I assumed as I watched it that Sven Nykvist, Bergman's usual cinematographer, was not involved, but I was wrong. According to Wikipedia (plot spoilers at that link) it was originally made for television, so maybe that's the problem. I speculate also that Bergman was just not at his best at this time in his life.

It's not worthless by any means. There are some good moments, moments when the Bergman gift for putting profound philosophical and psychological  insights into the mouths of his characters emerges. One that especially struck me comes from a psychologist who is counseling the man who commits the murder. He suggests that the notion of a soul is a problem, and that one should simply get rid of the whole idea. "No soul, no fear" is the way the subtitles translate his rationale, but my bit of German enables me to say that it's better in that language: "Keine seele, keine angst." Maybe that will be the motto of that still-forming new order that I mentioned earlier.

I was going to say that I won't watch it again, but as I think about it more I think maybe I will, though I would recommend it only to dedicated Bergman fans. It's very fixated on sex, and I should warn you that one scene, in a peep show (I guess that's what you'd call it) where the murderer meets the prostitute, is pretty much pornographic.


I don't know the name of this plant. The way a few of its leaves turn bright red while the others remain green is interesting.



Sunday Night Journal, October 7, 2018

So Kavanaugh has been confirmed. As I fully expected would be the case, the result is not peace but mutual declarations of war. There isn't going to be any post-game handshake and congratulation here. Rather, many or most on both sides are saying "Our enemies now stand revealed as the devils we always knew they were, and must be destroyed." Few seem to grasp or care about the possibility that playing with matches and gasoline could result in a fire.

Some Democrats have already announced that they will attempt to impeach Kavanaugh. I said last week, and have said before, that all political victories are Pyrrhic now, because they only serve to inflame the other side. That's certainly the case here. Chances look pretty good to me that we just passed the point of no return in this conflict, though what lies at the end of it is not clear. We may be seeing the unfolding of a great historical tragedy, the self-destruction of a great nation.

As is usually the case in war, neutrality becomes difficult and eventually impossible. I personally refused to take a side in the question of whether Kavanaugh was guilty of the charge made by Christine Ford, on the grounds that there was not enough evidence to support it. But I'm assured that failure to believe Ford wholeheartedly makes me something of a monster; anyone who doubts that what she says is true is a misogynist and an apologist for sexual assault and rape. This is pretty much self-evidently false (not to mention irrational) and it distresses me that anyone would think this of me. But I have to either accept that, or say that I believe what I don't believe, so there really isn't a choice.

In fact I'm more in doubt about Ford's accusation today than I was a week ago. I assumed at first that she was at least telling the truth as she saw it, but in light of various pieces of information that have come out since then (such as the report issued by the attorney who questioned Ford at the hearing) I'm not so sure that she isn't lying outright, though the truth is still unknown and will most likely remain so.  


As far back as I can remember there was a copy of Nelson Algren's novel The Man With the Golden Arm on my parents' bookshelf. I don't think I ever attempted to read it but the title intrigued me. A few years ago...well, probably at least ten and maybe fifteen years ago, when they were moving into a smaller house, I brought the book home with me, and now at last have read it.

It won the National Book Award for fiction in 1950, so I expected it to be at least pretty good. And it is--but not great. It's a novel of low life in Chicago just after the end of the Second World War. All the characters are poor, mostly first or second-generation immigrants from Poland, and live in a sort of shifting middle ground between the lower end of the working class and criminality. The protagonist, the man of the title, is Frankie Machine, and the "golden arm" refers to his skill as a card-dealer and gambler. But it takes on a different connotation as we learn that he's also a heroin addict, having picked up a morphine habit while recovering from wounds in the army. 

It's a story of more or less uninterrupted misery. Frankie's wife, Sophie, is in a wheel chair, as a result of a drunk-driving accident in which Frankie was at the wheel, and their relationship now consists mostly of mutual torment, of guilt and anger on Frankie's part, anger and despair on Sophie's. Most of the few bright spots involve memories of the past, of a brief youth when better things seemed possible. By this point in Frankie's life, though he's still pretty young, perhaps not out of his twenties, it's clear that the future offers nothing for him or for anybody around him. His doom, which involves his heroin habit and various crimes, is worked out in a narrative that often reveals, stylistically, the limits of dialect and slang in fiction.  A dialog between Frankie and the man who's come to get him and his friend Sparrow out of jail:

"I don't even ask how come you're in," Schwiefka complained. "I just come to spring you--what's the big squawk?"

"You know all right why we're in, that's the big squawk," Frankie let Schwiefka know. "Every time you duck Kvorka for his double sawzie he cruises down Division till he spots me or the punk 'n' pulls us in on general principles. This time he caught us together. The next time it happens you're payin' me off 'n' the punk too."

I think what's being said here is that Schwiefka failed to pay protection money to a cop named Kvorka. "Big squawk" and "double sawzie" probably sounded authentic and up-to-the-minute at the time, but nothing sounds as outdated as slang that failed to make it into the language permanently. (Why is "cool" still cool but "groovy" is not?) That kind of late '40s urban slang in particular is unavoidably associated with movies of the time which are often difficult for us to enjoy without irony. 

But there are lyrical passages, often despairing, that are very effective. A scene late one night in the bar where Frankie deals poker:

Thus in the narrowing hours of night the play became faster and steeper and an air of despair, like a sickroom odor where one lies who never can be well again, moved across the light green baize, touched each player ever so lightly and settled down in a tiny whiff of cigar smoke about the dealer's hands.

Now dealer and players alike united in an unspoken conspiracy to stave off morning forever. Each bet as if the loss of a hand meant death in prison or disease and when it was lost hurried the dealer on. "Cards, cards." For the cars kept the everlasting darkness off, the cards lent everlasting hope. The cards meant any man in the world might win back his long-lost life, gone somewhere far away.

I often thought of Allen Ginsberg's Howl while reading this book. It even includes the phrase "the Negro streets," which made me wonder if Ginsberg had borrowed it (Howl was published in 1956.) And also of some of Tom Waits's characters. I wonder if he's read it.

This adds up, I guess, to a recommendation, but not a very enthusiastic one. 



Sunday Night Journal, September 30, 2018

I can't remember whether it was before or after the Ford accusations became public, but at some point a couple of weeks ago I said of the Kavanaugh hearings that their one absolutely certain effect would be a net increase in the amount of hate in this country. Rod Dreher put it a bit more strongly: "When this is over we will all hate each other even more." (At least that's what I think he said. I can't find that exact quote now.)

Well, those prophecies have certainly proved true. No matter what the result of this fiasco is, a huge number of people are going to be enraged and will stay that way. And it's not only those on the losing side: the winners will also feel that their fear and loathing of the others--the Other--will have been fully justified, and that the effort to crush them must not flag. As I said some time ago, all political victories are Pyrrhic now, because they serve to inflame the other side.

I cannot understand how people can fail to see where this is leading. Perhaps it won't be violence, but if it isn't it won't be for lack of hatred to fuel the flames. We are surely destroying the foundations of our system of law and government, which depend on some basic elemental presumptions, such as that we are fellow citizens of one country, and that we have something close to a shared understanding of its principles. We, at least those of us who are most politically engaged, don't seem to have those anymore. 

I have a constitutional reluctance to take a stand on questions of material fact where I have no direct knowledge and there's a lot of room for doubt. So I reserve judgment on whether Brett Kavanaugh is guilty of the assault with which he's been charged. But I loathe mob passions and mob behavior, always have done, and am very disturbed by the degree to which they are active now. There's a widespread willingness to say "We know he did it because people like him do things like that." And "people like him" refers to his class, sex, and race. Do people not see where that leads? 

Another direction in which this whole mess leads is to the diminishment of the Me Too movement. I've been very much in sympathy with its stated aims, if not its feminist ideological framework. But this dishonestly-handled business tends to discredit it. As Alexandra DeSanctis of National Review wrote:  

This debacle is teaching onlookers to take the stories of victims with a grain of salt. How can the average person be expected to care about seeking justice when so many in the public square seem to care more about advancing an agenda than about discerning who has actually been mistreated or abused?

The Me Too movement has gained immense influence over the last year precisely because it has encouraged us to acknowledge the reality of sexual abuse and follow the truth wherever it leads. Now, the question of whether the accusations against Kavanaugh are true has been subjugated to a political endgame. That promises to destroy the cultural power of the Me Too movement.

Surely no reasonable person can believe that Christine Ford's unprovable accusation, whether true or false, was not uncovered and deployed primarily as a weapon to block the confirmation of a justice who would (probably) tip the balance of the Supreme Court decisively rightward. And why? I think everyone knows, though Kavanaugh's opponents in the Senate don't want to say it, that this is above all about Roe v. Wade. I think everyone knows, even if they won't admit it even to themselves, that if Kavanaugh had the endorsement of Planned Parenthood we would never have heard of Christine Ford. A few centuries from now when reasonably dispassionate historians are writing about the dissolution of the United States, that arrogant and imprudent decision will be seen to have been a major factor. 

Oh, and by the way: completely lost in this war is the small number of principled conservatives who have serious reservations about Kavanaugh because they think he is far too indulgent of executive power. See this. Few care much about anything except the "social issues" which should not be settled in Washington in the first place.


Switching topics rather abruptly: we watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri last night. For the first hour or so (of its nearly two) I was impatient with it. Well done, yes--extremely so, especially the acting. But I'm really pretty sick of the Small-Town White Hick stereotype in movies and TV. In the end, though, it won me over, partly by cleverly undermining the stereotypes. It's not an easy story to watch, its events being rooted in violence, hatred, and revenge. But those don't get quite the last word. 

In the comments where we were discussing this a week or two ago, several people mentioned being seriously put off by the language. I'm a little surprised at that, as it didn't seem any worse in that respect than the average movie. It was a bit shocking that the sheriff talked that way in front of his children. But other than that....


Something I've been meaning to mention for several weeks: also in recent comments, there was a mention of Eric Clapton. I said I would have more to say about that later. Well, what I meant to say was that anyone who is interested in the sort of flash guitar (I don't know where I got that term but I guess it's reasonably clear) that Clapton represents really should check out Jeff Beck Live at Ronnie Scott's. It's available as an audio CD, but I really recommend that you watch it on DVD. There's more music on the DVD, and watching Beck and his three bandmates (bass, drums, keyboards) is terrific. Here's an example, in which you get to see bass prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld at work. She looks like she's about fourteen but actually she was twenty-one when this was recorded in 2008.

I do wish Beck had not worn that sleeveless shirt and given the audience so many glimpses of his armpits. And does anybody know who that woman in the audience at the very end is? She seems familiar. I did recognize several people in the audience, including Jimmy Page (not in this clip), and there were several others on whom the camera focused, leading me to believe that I was supposed to recognize them.

Rock fans (at least those of a certain age) have a tendency to argue about which of the three former Yardbirds guitarists--Clapton, Beck, and Page--is the greatest. Well, if that discussion is limited to the music of the '60s and '70s, it could go on forever. But if the question is who's the most interesting now--well, in my opinion it's clearly Beck. Clapton himself said once that "When he's on, there's nobody better." Agreed. 

This concert has a guest appearance by Clapton, by the way. Also Joss Stone and Imogen Heap. The DVD includes some interviews which I found quite interesting. One gives the impression that the old rivalries of the Yardbirds days still have a bit of life in them, at least in Beck's mind.

It looks like the entire concert is available on YouTube at the moment. Not an official page so it may not be there indefinitely.


A building somewhere in Belfast. I just liked the image.


Sunday Night Journal, June 24, 2018

First it was "the personal is the political." Now it's "the political is the personal." The politicization of everything, as this National Review writer describes it, is bad. But it's not mysterious. Consider these items from that piece:

I fear that we shall go the way of The Nation’s Liza Featherstone, who recently warned an advice-seeker against dating a man who may be (egad!) a conservative and (perish the thought!) a fan of Jordan Peterson....

In 2012, David Graham, writing in The Atlantic, noted a study that showed that a growing number of Americans would be displeased if their children married someone of the other party. 

That sounds bad. It is bad. But if you change the "liberal" and "conservative" categories to "fervent atheist" and "fervent Christian," it makes sense. Even without actual animosity, two people with such seriously opposing views on such fundamental matters ought to think twice, at least, about getting involved in love and marriage with each other.

More disturbing than such views about romance are the instances I've seen of liberals not wanting to live in the same neighborhood as conservatives. Maybe the same thing happens in the other direction, but I haven't encountered it.

Once again I assert that the culture war is actually a religious conflict. I say this not for the purpose of inflaming the situation but of understanding what is actually happening. It's possible--only possible--that if people on both sides were more aware of this they might make more of an effort to tamp down their anger. Or then again it might make things worse, if people recognize that there are irreconcilable differences over first principles, not just policies. Well, even so, I prefer to have a clear understanding, even if that means recognizing that a situation is more dire than I had hoped.


In that long Facebook argument (381 comments!) I mentioned a few weeks ago in which I was taken to task for my comments about toxic femininity, I was criticized for "attempt[ing] to be reasonable" when the other person thought (apparently) that I should be emotional. I almost took this as a compliment, because I think reasonableness is in pretty short supply these days where political-cultural matters are concerned. That was certainly on display this past week in the matter of parents and children being separated when families enter the country illegally.

As I always take pains to say whenever I discuss anything having to do with Donald Trump, I did not support him, and the best I can say about his presidency is that it hasn't been as bad as I feared. But the open crusade waged by the media, the entertainment industry et.al. is so disproportionate to what he is actually doing that when some "Oh my God did you hear what Trump just did?!?" story hits the news, which it does at least once a week, I automatically assume that it's exaggerated. I wait several days before even bothering to check it out, because the chances are very good that it will turn out to be either not as bad or not as significant as reported, and sometimes that it's not entirely true. It often seems that the anti-Trump forces never heard the old fable of the boy who cried wolf. Or didn't understand its lesson, and thought that the problem was that the boy didn't scream loudly enough.

The family separations were  (are?) a harsh and unjust practice and well worth objecting to. And so, the thing in question being in fact bad, nothing apparently would do but to ratchet up the emoting even further, and to ignore the legal and practical complexities that led to it. As usual, the only place left to go when you're stretching for a way of describing your enemy as the Ultimate Evil is the Nazi comparison. This requires equating the temporary incarceration of people who have entered a country without permission with slaughtering them. Even aside from the moral blindness of the comparison, its sheer stupidity ought to have kept anyone but Trump-deranged fanatics from making it. Yet a former director of the CIA made it, very publicly, and then defended it. I think Neo-neocon's rejoinder is worth quoting:

So: no, there is nothing familiar, not even vaguely, to the Holocaust, and it is a disgrace to suggest that there is.

I’m not going to go into a long post describing the Holocaust, but it is clear to all who study history that the death camps and even work camps were not refugee detention centers, and the people in them (Jews and others) were not illegal immigrants asking for asylum or seeking to become German citizens (or Polish citizens for that matter, the country where the Germans located most of the death camps).

In Nazi work camps, many people (if relatively able-bodied to begin with) were set to “work” to be starved, tortured both psychologically and physically, and killed in droves by disease and exhaustion because of the terrible conditions. In Nazi death camps they were killed at the outset, although a very small percentage were spared briefly to help with the cleanup of the mass killing in exchange for a few more months of life, or to work at certain other tasks for a while under conditions that would ordinarily kill them rather quickly (within months as a rule). The object was to eliminate them as a group from the face of the earth, and certainly from Europe.

That was the stark reality, and it is obscene to make the comparison so many people are making.

If you want to read some exasperatingly reasonable discussion of the complex immigration situation, try Damon Linker or David Frum. I'm usually not much of a fan of Frum, but I think he's on target here. Damon Linker is often interesting. He seems to consider himself on the left--"center-left" I think is the term he uses--but is willing to take conservative and/or populist concerns seriously and to characterize them fairly, which is unusual to put it mildly.

Well, I didn't intend to write that much about politics. Now I've run out of time for the music-related post I had planned. Next week.


For more than ten years we had a Meyer lemon tree growing beside our front steps. In many of those years it bore more lemons than we knew what to do with. This is a how it looked in its glory days, a picture of a few branches of a tree that was eight feet or so tall. 

image from lightondarkwater.typepad.com

When life gives you this many lemons, limoncello, not lemonade, is the appropriate response. Several years ago my wife made a big batch of it, several quarts at least, stored in Mason jars. It's delicious and very potent, made with a base of Everclear. I've been using this neat little bottle to dispense it. LimonCelloIt originally contained two different and delicious liqueurs, brought from Europe (France, I think) by one of our children. I liked the bottle(s) so much that I didn't want to throw it (them) away, and have been using it for limoncello for a while now. A few days ago I poured the last of the limoncello into it and took this memorial photo.  

I call it a memorial because this not just the last of that big batch: it's the last ever from our lovely lemon tree. Several years ago we had an unusually cold winter which had the tree covered in ice for several days. It lost all its leaves and we thought it might be dead, but it recovered, partially, and gave us a few lemons the next year. Then the year after we had another cold spell, not quite as bad as the earlier one but enough to kill back all the leaves, and that was pretty much the end of the tree. This spring only a few living branches were left and we finally cut it down. I'll spare you the sad sight of the stump.

Sunday Night Journal, October 29, 2017

Tonight I'm bringing in a guest speaker: Ryszard Legutko, author of The Demon In Democracy, which I've just read and which I think is a very important book. Off and on for a few years now I've published the occasional post categorized as "What Is Actually Happening." The tag refers to a remark by the late Kenneth Minogue (Australian political scholar) which was a sort of variant of Orwell's observation that "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." Minogue said 

The basic question in life is "What is actually going on?" and it often requires a great deal of time to pass before one can find the answers.

I changed "going on" to "happening" just because I think it sounds better. Minogue seems to have been referring to events, to the course of history, not what I would call the basic question in life, which would be something along the lines of "What's it all about?" But it's a pretty important one, especially in a time of great change. You could consider it as part of the task recommended in Matthew 16:3: to read the signs of the times.

Legutko is a Pole, about my age, who grew up under communism, then experienced the end of communism and its replacement by...what? Well, that's what the book is about. Over the years he had noticed certain disquieting similarities between the communist and liberal-democratic ideologies. And after the fall of communism he noticed how easily and successfully its former functionaries assumed a role in running the government. In an overly-condensed and simplified nutshell, he asserts that the liberal-democratic system has been transformed from a theoretically neutral mechanism for implementing government by the people into a utopian ideology. 

I'll let the quotations which follow explicate that observation. 

In this view, today also consciously or unconsciously professed by millions, the political system should permeate every section of public and private life, analogously to the view of the erstwhile accoucheurs of the communist system. Not only should the state and the economy be liberal, democratic, or liberal-democratic, but the entire society as well, including ethics and mores, family, churches, schools, universities, community organizations, culture, and even human sentiments and aspirations. The people, structures, thoughts that exist outside the liberal-democratic pattern are deemed outdated, backward-looking, useless, but at the same time extremely dangerous as preserving the remnants of old authoritarianisms. Some may still be tolerated for some time, but as anyone with a minimum of intelligence is believed to know, sooner or later they will end up in the dustbin of history. Their continued existence will most likely threaten the liberal-democratic progress and therefore they should be treated with the harshness they deserve....

I should note right away that the "harshness" he describes is not in the form of violence, prisons, and concentration camps, but rather in exclusion, silencing, and social, economic, and legal pressures which limit or deny any public role or presence to the outdated, useless, and dangerous. The liberal-democratic ideologue sees himself as "a vigorous youngster transforming the world." He  

...feels like a part of a powerful global machine of transformation. He not only understands the process of change better than others and knows how to organize the world, but also...can easily diagnose which phenomena, communities, and institutions will disappear and, when resisting, will have to be eliminated for the sake of the future. Therefore he reacts with indignant pity toward anyone who wants to stop the unstoppable. He indulges in a favorite occupation of the youngster: to criticize what is in the name of what will be, but what a large part of humanity, less perceptive and less intelligent than himself, fails to see.

Legutko pauses here to make it clear that he is not denying the achievements of liberal democracy, or the brutality of communism, then continues:

This youngster, however, fails to notice that at some point this system, or rather the arrangement of systems covering many variants, became haughty, dogmatic, and dedicated not so much to the resolution of political conflicts as to transforming society and human nature. It lost its prior restraint and caution, created powerful tools to influence every aspect of life, and set in motion institutions and laws, frequently yielding to the temptation to conduct ideological warfare against disobedient citizens and groups. Falling into a trap of increasing self-glorification, the system began to define itself more and more against its supposed opposition, i.e., all sorts of nonliberal and nondemocratic enemies whose elimination was considered a necessary condition to achieve the next level of ideological purity. The multiparty system was gradually losing its pluralistic character, parliamentarianism was becoming a vehicle of tyranny in the hands of the ideologically constituted majority, and the rule of law was changing into judicial arbitrariness.

The "youngster" is transforming the system into something it was not and was never intended to be. He 

...infuses the old political institutions with new energy and injects them with new ideological content while remaining notoriously unaware that under new circumstances, these new institutions are no longer what they once were and that they serve a new purpose.

When I read those passages, the "youngster" immediately acquired a face: that of Barack Obama. His many idolizers will never see it, but to those who did not fall under his spell (I once likened him to Saruman), Obama exuded exactly the sort of arrogance Legutko describes. He was not malicious, or not very; he didn't want to exterminate or imprison those who resisted his wisdom. He was only serenely certain that he was right, and that anyone who disagreed with him either was malicious or just didn't understand. He would have preferred that they understand and obey. But if they didn't, he would roll right over them if he possibly could. And his followers, already of like mind, and infatuated with his rhetoric and his racial cachet, agreed: no one could decently oppose Obama, or the measures he proposed for "fundamentally transforming" the United States. Those who did so were indecent, not just mistaken: either out-and-out racial bigots, or bigots-at-large, generally reprehensible people, and of course quite stupid. At very best, they were fools who didn't know what was good for them ("cling[ing] to guns or religion," as Obama so famously put it, in words that clearly showed his disdain for at least half the people he wanted to govern).

The contraception mandate included in the mountain of regulations implementing Obamacare was a perfect case study in the process described by Legutko. He (not him directly, but his administration) needn't have done it; he could have left things as they were for the small number of employers who were affected by it, and made other arrangements for the very small number of employees who might have been inconvenienced. But the administration chose to force the issue. The Catholic Church and other Christian communions are, in the eyes of committed progressives, precisely the "institutions [which] will disappear." The "arc of history" will inevitably see to that; in the meantime, a shove may be needed here and there. The mandate seemed to be a situation where the administration wished to exact obedience, to establish the principle that such decisions were for it and it alone to make. As James Capretta says, it was "an unnecessary fight that backfired," and it probably had some influence in giving us President Trump.

Legutko, I should note, is to a great extent talking about the European Union, and he notes somewhere that the United States is a little different. What he describes as the liberal-democratic ideology is generally called just "liberalism" here, or "progressivism," or "the left." But it's very similar. The biggest difference in our situation seems to be that there is more, and more intense, opposition to the program here, as the contraception fight indicates--not necessarily coherent or wise opposition, of course and unfortunately.

The passages I've quoted are from the opening pages of the book. Now I'll jump ahead to the end, in which Legutko considers the situation of Christianity:

If the old communists lived long enough to see the world of today, they would be devastated by the contrast between how little they themselves had managed to achieve in their antireligious war and how successful the liberal democrats have been. All the objectives the communists set for themselves, and which they pursued with savage brutality, were achieved by the liberal democrats who, almost without any effort and simply by allowing people to drift along with the flow of modernity, succeeded in converting churches into museums, restaurants, and public buildings, secularizing entire societies, making secularism the militant ideology, pushing religion to the sidelines, pressing the clergy into docility, and inspiring powerful mass culture with a strong anti-religious bias in which a priest must be either a liberal challenging the Church or a disgusting villain. 

The triumph of anti-Christianity seems to favor [a] conciliatory approach.... The only option left for Christians to maintain some respectability in a new world was to join the great progressive camp so that occasionally they would have an opportunity to smuggle in something that could pass for a religious message.

But this conciliatory attitude on the part of Christians is certainly wrong if it is motivated by the conviction that the current hostility to religion is a result of misunderstanding, social contingencies, unfortunate errors committed by the Christians, or some minor ailments of modern society. The truth is that all these phenomena, as well as other anti-Christian developments, are the genuine consequences of the spirit of modernity on which the liberal democracy was founded. Modernity and anti-Christianity cannot be separated because they stem from the same root and since the beginning have been intertwined. There is nothing and has never been anything in this branch of the European tradition that would make it favorably disposed to Christianity.....

Therefore, whoever advocates the conciliatory strategy today fails or refuses to see the conditions in which Christians have been living. It is utterly mistaken to take the position that many do: namely that the Church should take over some liberal-democratic ingredients, open up to modern ideas and preferences, and then, after having modernized herself, manage to overcome hostility and reach people with Christian teachings. One can see why this plan has gained considerable popularity, but whatever its merits, it cannot succeed. 

There follows a brief discussion of the conciliatory path followed by Vatican II and since. But

All these changes, however, did not blunt the anti-Christian prejudices that the liberal democratic spirit had been feeding on. nor did they entice more people to enter the Church to strengthen the already-decimated army of the faithful. The good things that were expected to happen did not happen. They did not--let me say it again--because they could not. An aversion to Christianity runs so deep in the culture of modernity that no blandishment or fawning on the part of the Church can change it. 

I'll leave you with this amusing picture of those who attempt the conciliatory path, the "open Catholics":

Cardinal Wyszynski, being under an enormous pressure, was yielding to communists, but finally said Non possumus ["We cannot," according to Google Translate]. Looking at the open Catholics, it is hard to imagine that they would ever be able to utter such words, let alone think about them, no matter how far liberal democracy pushes its anti-Christian campaign. One should rather think of the open Catholics as a group of cheerleaders with funny pom-poms, similar to those that one can see at games in American, encouraging their favorites to fight for progress.

Actually I don't think it's quite that bad; I think a lot of bishops would in fact say "Non possumus," at least right now.

I don't intend this post as any sort of call to arms, except in the spiritual realm. These trends are not going to be stopped or reversed by political work. Nor, it shouldn't really need to be said, will denouncing and defaming the opposition, who are, in general and in my experience, very decent people sincerely "working for a better world" (a phrase which provokes so much cynicism in me that I have to remind myself that it is in fact a desirable thing, and that it's only disagreement about the definition of "better" that makes me cynical.) And I certainly don't mean to encourage the paranoia and excessive alarm which is all too present in Christian circles these days. I just think it's important to understand the situation, to see things as they really are. It's part of being wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 

I won't go quite as far as to say that everyone should read this book. I'll narrow it down a little: if you have enough interest in the general topic to read an entire book about it, you really should read this one. It's not that long, by the way, a little under 200 pages. And it's full of sharply illuminating observations. I must have marked fifty passages in it.

Rod Dreher has discussed Legutko often, and solicited some email comments from him soon after Trump's election. His remarks are very perceptive, I think. You can read them here, starting at the paragraph which opens "After the U.S. election."


There's one thing I would add to Legutko's appraisal: the religious nature of what he calls the liberal-democratic ideology; he suggests this only in passing, but I think it's very important. As people who read this blog regularly have heard me say many times, contemporary progressivism is for practical purposes a religion. What we are and have been witnessing is a struggle between two religions, the replacement of one predominant way of looking at the world and at man by another. Mankind will always form a culture, and a culture necessarily has a unifying vision, and by definition it can only have one. (The supposedly "multicultural" model requires a single master culture which encompasses and governs all the sub-cultures, and which happens to be the liberal-democratic culture.) If things continue to move in their current direction, what is actually happening now will eventually be recognized as a transition like that in which Christianity became the religion of the Middle East and of Europe. This is hardly a new observation, having been made by many thinkers for well over a hundred years now. 

Sunday Night Journal, October 22, 2017

Last week I spent a couple of days in Athens, Alabama, for the dedication of a statue of my grandfather, Judge James E. Horton. He was the judge in one episode of the long-running and shameful Scottsboro Boys case: a notable episode, because he set aside a jury verdict which he believed to be a miscarriage of justice. I think most people have heard at least the broad outlines of the case: in 1931, nine black youths were accused and convicted of raping two white women. If you don't know about it, here is the Wikpedia account. As the article says, it was and is "widely considered a miscarriage of justice," and my grandfather has long been honored for his resistance to it. 

You can read about the statue and the ceremony here. In the photo gallery there are several shots just before and after the unveiling. The people gathered around are all my family; I'm the guy in the dark coat and sunglasses just to the left of the statue. It was a very beautiful day, though a little hot for late October even in north Alabama. That's my sister giving the speech; she did a great job. There were several speeches, all good, none overly long. 


For me this is an old family story, and as I suppose sometimes happens its very familiarity has preserved for me a surprising level of ignorance. I discover this whenever someone asks me certain fairly obvious questions about it: for instance, exactly how is it that a judge can overrule a jury verdict? Under what circumstances can this happen? Well, I'm not exactly sure. I have owned for many years a book which I think is considered the definitive account of the case, Scottsboro: A Tragedy of the American South, by Dan Carter. But I have never read it, and I really should.

One of the main movers of the statue project was retired Judge James Woodroof of Athens. He's six or seven years younger than I am, which makes the "retired" part of that a little shocking to me. His parents and mine were friends, so I knew him slightly growing up, and ran into him a few times around the University of Alabama in the '70s. Those are my images of him, and I still haven't quite adjusted to the fact that he is not only grown up and then some, but in a position of prominence and grave responsibility, far more responsibility than I've ever had. He has a great regard for the statement my grandfather made, and that touches me. 

Some people seem to regard what my grandfather did as first and foremost a blow struck against racial oppression, and it certainly was that. But I'm fairly certain that he didn't see it primarily in that way. For him it was the discharge of a sacred duty: to apply the rule of law in a sternly impartial way, without concession to popular sentiment, much less to mob sentiment, without consideration of race, status, or anything else apart from the law and the facts of the case. I do not have any at all of the talents that make for a good lawyer or a good judge, but that ideal moves me deeply. And I'm gratified that it still resounds in the legal profession. I sometimes think it has little place there nowadays, and maybe it isn't as widely revered as it should be, but it isn't dead. A sitting judge from neighboring Morgan County came up to me after the ceremony to tell me how much my grandfather's example means to him.

It's an odd sensation to be the descendant of such an admired figure. Most of us, the descendants, were at the ceremony. Of his eight or so grandchildren and roughly twice that many great-grandchildren (none of the very young great-great-grandchildren were there), only one, the daughter of one of my brothers, has made the law her career. There is thus no direct way in which the rest of us can think of ourselves as carrying on his legacy. Nevertheless it's difficult not to feel that we--well, I suppose I should speak only for myself--that I have some sort of share in his virtue. I don't. I know that. And yet I'm proud to be his grandson, to be a part of the same elemental community, the family, which produced him. And since I do not and can not and would not deny that my family were also part of the system of oppression which began with slavery, his deed is a reminder that there was always nobility in that culture alongside the evil: the good crop and the weeds existing together, mysteriously, as they always do. 

I didn't grow up in Athens, exactly. My parents did, but we lived out in the country, and I went to school there. We visited in Athens frequently, but only for the three years of high school was it really a major part of my life. For thirty years or so after high school I rarely went there and mostly lost touch with the people I'd gone to school with. In 2000, not long before my father's death in 2001, my parents moved into town, and so since then visits home have been visits to Athens. I feel closer to it than I think I ever did as a teenager, and very much enjoy seeing old acquaintances. I find that the older I get the more I value these precisely because they are old, because they go so far back into youth and in some cases childhood. It is a community of memory. 


This appeared in the September issue of Magnificat. It's by Fr. Donald Haggerty, whom I know nothing about beyond what's given in the magazine, that he's a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, currently serving at St. Patrick's Cathedral. I like it so much that I'm going to the trouble of typing the whole thing into this post.

For some people, the intensity of their belief in God is matched by an inclination to ask questions of God. The correlation is not a sign of disrespect or of doubt. They would not ask questions in this manner except for a conviction that God can be addressed in an utterly personal manner. In fact, their questions, which often begin with a "why is it" or "how can it be," tend to summon a deeper act of faith from their souls. Inasmuch as their questions are not answered so readily, as usually they are not, these questions plunge their souls much more blindly into the mystery of God. The unanswered question demands a surrender to God and a greater offering. The surrender can only be made with a conviction that God has heard the request for some light and accepted the offering of one's soul for others. If no clarity is forthcoming, the soul can still remain at peace, certain that God has been listening and will extend grace to others.

Logical labors of thought that seem to provide clear answers and explanations are usually false solutions in the realm of sacred mystery. Only in waiting and in darkness do quiet spiritual insights come upon us, and when they do so, they are like the light slowly emerging at dawn. And often they have to do with our need to offer ourselves more fully in love for others. 

I realized recently that in a sense it no longer matters to me whether a prayer is answered, the sense being that the lack of the hoped-for result, or even of some sense of response, does not disturb "the conviction that God has heard...and accepted...."


This afternoon I went to pick up our dog and cat at the office of the vet where they have to be boarded when we go out of town. While waiting my turn, I saw the cover of a cat-lover's magazine which announced an article called 5 New Litter Trends! 

Sunday Night Journal, October 8, 2017

Contrary to my usual practice, I'm writing this on Friday afternoon. Maybe not the post as it will eventually appear, but a start on it, because we are expecting Hurricane Nate to arrive here on Sunday, and who knows whether I'll even have internet access then. I'm not terribly worried, as it isn't expected to be a bad one, just barely over the wind speed that serves as the somewhat arbitrary point where a tropical storm officially becomes a hurricane. Quite possibly it won't even be a hurricane by the time it gets to this latitude. Or it may get stronger, or it may change direction and go somewhere else. There's a peculiar suspense about waiting for a hurricane, especially of course if it's a bad one. 

A few weeks ago, when it looked possible that Hurricane Irma might end up coming this way, my wife noticed a dead tree among the many live ones on the bluff behind our house. I don't know why we had never noticed it before, as it's obviously a danger to the house, even without a hurricane. We agreed to call a tree company "soon" and get it taken down, but we haven't done it. So that's my point of greatest unease about this storm, as that tree looks as if it wouldn't take much to bring it down. I'm going to set myself a reminder on my computer or my phone for June 1, 2018: get ready for hurricane season (which officially runs from June through November). The serious ones generally occur in late August and throughout September. This October one is a little unusual.

It occurs to me that for some days now I've seen no news stories about the situation in Puerto Rico. I'm sure they're there, but they aren't appearing on the headline-aggregating web sites where I most often get my general news. I've seen a number of snarky Facebook posts about Trump's behavior regarding Puerto Rico, but I don't pay any attention to those. And that pretty much goes for the mainstream news, too. As I seem to say here at least every other week, I'm no fan of Trump. But the media have gone so far overboard in their open desire to destroy him that I don't pay much attention to their attacks, either. I figure they're usually based on some kernel of fact, but that the reporting will exaggerate, distort, and select to make Trump look as bad as possible. And unless it's a hugely important question, it's not worth the bother of trying to dig out the truth. In a day or two they'll be baying about something else anyway.

There are millions of people who look at the "mainstream media" that way, or with even more skepticism and hostility. This is a bad situation, for journalism and for the country. Institutions like the Washington Post and New York Times and the major TV networks still do very good work where their political interest isn't invested. But where it is, they simply aren't trustworthy. They want to be regarded as impartial judges, like referees in a football game, but they openly favor one team over the other, and rule accordingly. I'm sure they are sincere in their belief that it is their moral duty to work for progressive policies, but in so doing they have destroyed the respect which should have been their most effective tool. (This piece at National Review is a good treatment of the whole syndrome.)

On the left end of the political spectrum, invective inflation has set in, and I hear more people saying that they just don't have words to express their hatred and disgust for Trump. That's not surprising. They've been calling everyone who disagrees with them a Nazi for 40 years and more now. If Nixon was Hitler, and Reagan was Hitler, and Bush (2) was Hitler, and Trump is vastly worse than all of those, what can you say about him? Maybe a howl of rage is the only thing left.

I just did a quick search for news on Puerto Rico's situation. Most of the stories that turned up were much more about Trump  than about the situation on the island. The media clearly want this to be "Trump's Katrina". So far it isn't. But then "Bush's Katrina" wasn't Bush's Katrina, either. If the same thing had happened in the Clinton or Obama administrations, the disaster wouldn't have been hung around their necks in the same way. 


If you're ever in the path of a hurricane and want to extract the maximum possible anticipatory dread from the waiting, I recommend reading Isaac's Storm, a vivid account of the 1900 hurricane that destroyed Galveston, Texas. I think I read it in 2005, not long before Hurricane Katrina, though it could have been the previous year, when we had Hurricane Ivan, which was bad enough. Here's my Sunday Night Journal from September 4, 2005, a few days after Katrina: "Uneasy in the Aftermath". I mention in that post that the water was lapping against the side of my house. This is what it looked like:



When a hurricane is churning up the sea, somewhere below the surface there is still calm. I don't know how far down the turbulence extends, but I have the impression that it isn't so very far. That thought has been on my mind frequently of late, with hurricanes in the news, and a hurricane of sorts raging in the Church. I'm referring mainly to the controversy about Amoris Laetitia, but also the general prevalence of factional conflict.

I was sick at heart when it became clear that such conflict was going to be one of the most immediate and striking characteristic of Francis's papacy. I really had thought that the worst of that was behind us, but obviously I was wrong. I think the level of animosity is actually higher than it was thirty years ago; perhaps the internet has a lot to do with that. Or probably. In this respect it mirrors our political culture.

We could argue all day about who is most to blame for the situation, but no matter what one thinks about that, the situation is there. I decided a while back that I would not participate. Occasionally I do let myself get drawn in, but not very far. For the most part I'm able not only to stay out of the fights but to avoid following them in much detail. I avoid the web sites and the Facebook posts where they are conducted. There is nothing I can do to resolve the debates, and they have nothing immediately to do with my own spiritual life. The moral questions involved are not ones that affect me directly and I have no theological qualifications enabling me to pass judgment on the abstract questions. No one is looking to me for guidance and counsel. I trust that the Holy Spirit will eventually straighten it out, but that won't be in my lifetime. And I'm grateful to God and Pope Benedict for the Ordinariate.

I pray, I go to Mass, I receive communion, now and then I go to confession. I read and think. I'm swimming below the surface now, and I don't feel the effects of the storm above very strongly. The analogy breaks down in one way, though: as you go deeper into the sea, it gets darker, but down here there more light, not less.


If you're thinking "He should treat politics the same way he treats the Church's quarrels," well, so am I. It's harder to get away from that stuff, though. And it does have a more direct influence on my life.


Sunday evening

As you've probably heard, the hurricane ended up being a pretty mild affair. I'm not sure it was even a hurricane when it made landfall sixty or seventy miles west of here. The wind we got wasn't much stronger than a big thunderstorm can muster, though it lasted a lot longer. And we had a lot of rain, six inches or so, though I've seen more in the same amount of time (roughly twenty-four hours) from more or less ordinary storms. There was quite a storm surge in the bay, though, The water came up at least four feet higher than its usual high-tide level, washing a great deal of sand and debris into the woods. A lot of piers were damaged; when the waves start pushing on the cross-pieces from below, they come loose pretty quickly. Much of the debris consisted of boards torn loose from piers and other shoreline structures in just such events. I spent an hour or two this afternoon hauling pieces of lumber, some of them quite large and heavy, from the shore and the woods up to the place where the city will pick them up. I'm grateful that I'm still able to do that kind of work.

This is what I saw around 8 this morning. There's not supposed to be water where I'm standing. The beach should start about where that wave is breaking beyond the trees. 



Sunday Night Journal, October 1, 2017

Literally anything that one considers to be good can be called "pro-life." And any apparent contradiction can be reconciled with the addition of the word "truly." Almost by definition, any conception of what is good for people is aimed at saving or enhancing their lives, and can therefore be called "pro-life" by those who hold it. Both free-marketers and socialists can insist that their favored policies make more people better off, and so are pro-life. The fact that the term was first applied to themselves by people opposing abortion, and still is generally associated with that cause before others, doesn't mean that those who disagree have accepted it. Even advocates of abortion and euthanasia can claim that even though their immediate aim is to cause a death (though that is generally not admitted in the first case), their broader intention is to reduce suffering and to relieve people of burdens they can't or won't bear, and so they are "truly pro-life."

For these reasons I've thought for a long time that it was a mistake for the anti-abortion movement to adopt the label "pro-life" for itself. It's not that I think it's inaccurate. I understand the reasons for it, especially as its application was broadened a little to include euthanasia and assisted suicide. I have always supposed that part of the motive for using it was to make it appear a positive thing. The abortion rights movement presented itself from the beginning as a vehicle for liberation, a movement for women's rights. In the American context especially, and especially since the late '60s, any movement to restrict a right is almost always going to fare more poorly than one to expand a right. This is especially true if the right is favored by the upper crust of society and by journalism and entertainment, but even the movement to restrict gun rights, which very much has their support, has not been very successful, and part of the reason surely is that it is trying to stop people from doing something they want to do; maybe not the biggest part, but a part. So it probably seemed preferable to advertise opposition to abortion as being "pro-life" rather than "anti-abortion." 

But on the face of it, it's a vague term, and the price of that vagueness is an endless argument about "what it means to be truly pro-life." And, worse, that argument creates an opening for dividing and undermining the movement by making opposition to abortion only one part of a bigger political package, one that is "truly pro-life." I don't mean that the dividing and undermining are necessarily intentional. It's unarguable that Christians in general and Catholics in particular should have a coherent set of political principles that are aimed at the good of each and every human person. It's hardly necessary to say that Catholic ethics--in particular the social teachings of the Church--should guide Catholics, and that we should always seek to apply them as thoroughly and consistently as possible. But it's probably always going to be the case that we disagree about how those principles are to be actualized. To proclaim that one and only one approach to politics is "truly pro-life" is just a recipe for division.

For various reasons, starting with the takeover of the Democratic Party by abortion supporters, and the welcoming of abortion opponents by the Republican Party, the latter has been for a long time the only home of the anti-abortion movement in electoral politics. This has had some very bad effects. Abortion opponents tended to adopt the entire Republicans political package as their own, and to regard its enemies as their own. Correspondingly, abortion opponents who were otherwise ideologically disposed toward the Democrats had to choose between opposing abortion and supporting other causes favored by the Democrats but opposed by the Republicans. There really are some left-wingers who are serious opponents of abortion, and they've found this situation to be intolerable, especially over the past fifteen years or so as Republicans initiated an apparently endless state of war in the Middle East, and domestic conditions deteriorated in ways that, to them, cried out for the sorts of more or less socialistic interventions favored by the Democrats.

In recent years some of these people have become as vociferously hostile to the pro-life movement, as it has existed for the past few decades, as any secular left-wingers, over and over again making the long-standing charge that pro-lifers only care about people before they're born, and probably only white people at that, etc.; that they hate women, etc. And that the pro-life movement is not truly pro-life because it supports war-mongers, etc. etc. Some of these attacks have some justification, some don't. But I don't want to argue about those. The point I want to make is that it's the use of the term "pro-life" that justifies the attacks and gives at least some of them some weight. 

So now there is something called the New Pro-Life Movement (sometimes called the "whole life" movement) which is attempting to make opposition to abortion part of a package that includes various policies favored by liberals: for instance, a call for "universal health care," which seems to be the so-called "single-payer" plan, a British-style National Health Service for the U.S. Maybe that's a good idea. Maybe it's not (personally I don't think so). But from the Catholic point of view it's perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, it's not mandatory; other views are also perfectly acceptable. What the NPLM does is put together a package of "truly pro-life" policies, implicitly declaring disagreement not truly pro-life. In short, it inverts the identification of the pro-life movement with "conservative" causes and identifies it with "liberal" causes. You can read a statement of their basic principles here.

If there must be a package deal, if opposition to abortion can only be discussed in inextricable linkage to various other proposals, it's just as well that there be a left-wing package as well as a right-wing one. But it shouldn't have to be that way. People who are opposed to abortion should be able to unite and work together on that issue even if they disagree on others. It seems to me that it would be better if anti-abortion people simply called themselves anti-abortion rather than using the ill-defined and endlessly debatable "pro-life."

The package deal approach almost guarantees that proponents of each will be at each other's throats a good deal of the time. This is especially true now that our politics have in general become so viciously polarized. And it has to be said that Donald Trump is a pretty horrible horse for the right-wing pro-life movement to hitch its wagon to; I can't really blame left-wingers opposed to abortion for wanting to make it crystal clear that they are not on his side.

And going for each other's throats is exactly what has happened. Rebecca Bratten Weiss (the link is to her blog) is one of the leaders of the NPLM. I've seen enough of her views to know that I disagree with her about a lot of things, but have not seen any reason to think her expressed opposition to abortion is insincere. She was the subject of a really vicious personal attack from LifeSiteNews, which I'm not linking to because I don't want to give it any more oxygen. And that set in motion an Internet war between her opponents and her supporters. From what I saw it was one of the nastiest intra-Catholic fights I've seen, and that, unfortunately, is saying a lot. One observer was moved to say that it resembled the state of things described by Flannery O'Connor's "Misfit": "no pleasure but meanness." 

The Human Life Review recently had a symposium called Whole Life vs. Pro-life? that includes a number of views on the question. The first and last contributions pretty well reflect my opinion. As several of the writers say there, we shouldn't be ashamed to say that we're anti-abortion. I'll quote the last one, written by Matthew Schmitz of First Things:

Earlier this year, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, told the Washington Post that she considers herself anti-abortion rather than pro-life. “We’re against abortion. I think it’s much simpler. It gets across what we’re about in a faster way . . . To say you’re against it is okay. I am anti-smoking. I’m anti-sex trafficking. I’m anti-drunk driving. And yes, I’m anti-abortion.”

Debates about whether we should be consistent life, whole life, or plain old pro life ought to remind us of the virtues of precision. From first to last, we are anti-abortion. All else distracts.

All that being said, there are some limits, pretty obvious ones, to what can be accomplished in this matter by political action. Whatever political approach one favors, none of them prevent the offering of direct help to pregnant women in need. Anyone who thinks abortion is a tragedy can support those efforts. 


I've just finished reading God or Nothing, a collection of interviews with Cardinal Sarah. The title had me expecting something a bit different, something focused on the elemental struggle between belief and unbelief. Instead it's, first, a sort of autobiography (maybe the first third or so of the book), and second, a very wide-ranging commentary on Christian life, the state of the world, and the state of the Church. The autobiographical part was the most interesting to me: he has had an extraordinary life, beginning with his childhood in a rural village in Guinea. One thing that struck me was the influence he ascribes to the French missionaries of the Holy Ghost Fathers (Lefebvre's order!) who converted his parents and catechized him. Throughout the book he returns to the power of their example.

The rest of the book has its more and less interesting parts, but on the whole is--I hesitate to use this word, because it sounds dull, but it's accurate, and not dull--inspiring. Here are a few passages I marked.

I think this is the best definition of freedom I've ever read:

...God..created us free so that, by the reasonable exercise of our freedom, we might go beyond our wild impulses and tame all our instincts by taking full responsibility for our life and growth.

On the apparent religious indifference of the West:

Man wishes for what is exceptional, which is God, but he has never really encountered him. In our time of religious indifference, the search is even more vital. For temporal things are in league with eternity. Although the aridity of the era seems frightening, we must not forget that the divine source is still more present than ever. Man may search without knowing why, or he may even reject the path toward God; but his quest exists in the depth of his soul... I think that man will never be indifferent toward God. He can try to forget him, by following fashions or by an ideological mind-set. But this timid withdrawal is merely circumstantial.

On Christian doubt:

[The words of Jesus on the cross are] not a cry of rebellion, but a filial lament. Today too, when we are lost, like the witnesses of the crucifixion, our doubt is still a hope. If we call out to God, it is because we have confidence. Christian doubt is not a moment of despair but another declaration of love.

On affluence and materialism:

A society that takes material development as its only guide inevitably drifts toward slavery and oppression. Man is not born to manage his bank account; he is born to find God and to love his neighbor.

And the best definition of holiness I've ever read:

God deeply desires that we might resemble him by being saints. Charity is love, and holiness is a sublime manifestation of the ability to love.


About to get in my car after buying a few groceries, I looked back and saw this. My house is only a couple of miles away, to the south, and I expected a downpour to be in progress by the time I got there. But surprisingly, the storm never arrived here. This picture is facing east, and the storm was apparently moving southwest, but more south than west, which is unusual.


Sunday Night Journal, September 17, 2017

Yesterday I finally started working on a project that's years overdue: going through old notebooks and throwing away everything that doesn't seem worth keeping. The eventual goal of this is to get my office or study or whatever you want to call it into some kind of order, and to clean out one of the two desks there and turn it over to my wife. 

(Wait--no, you can't call it whatever you want to. You are forbidden to call it a "man cave.")

The first notebook I took up was a little three-ring binder with roughly 5"x7" paper which I remember using in the late '70s. The contents reveal that it was not long after my conversion/reversion to Christianity, so it was 1978-79; not later than '79, because I remember the little house in Tuscaloosa where we lived at the time, and we moved later in that year. I was 29-30 years old, and an Episcopalian. It would be two or three years before I became Catholic. Here are some notes and excerpts from an essay I was writing:

The contradiction between Christianity and capitalism

The necessity for the Christian not to consider socialism or communism as the alternative to capitalism, but rather Christianity itself

Liberal-socialist and conservative-nationalist Christianity are both submission of the Church to the world. 

...the ideas (if such notions can be dignified with that term) which govern the day-to-day behavior as well as the long-term aspirations of most of us are pagan through and through. What are these notions, and where do they come from? They are a wild mixture, having in common only the firm principle that one should be occupied mostly in pleasing oneself, and they come from almost everywhere, from liberal psychologists to conservative capitalists. The psychologist talks of fulfilling one's potential, the capitalist of economic incentives, but in both cases the message is that you have a right to whatever you can get, that the universe in some way owes you a continual increase of goodies. A Christian, I think, is bound to reply that we are owed nothing, that even our very existence puts us in the debt of Another, a debt we can never hope to repay, and that furthermore we continually increase that debt by our wickedness....

It is almost impossible to accumulate wealth without becoming more interested in wealth than anything else. This may apply to a nation as well as to an individual, and I think our own nation is an excellent example--as a nation, we are almost incapable of seeing life in other than economic terms--and when we do, we are often simply resorting to euphemisms, as in the phrase "quality of life," which was once used by social critics in reference to intangibles like the sense of community but which has increasingly come to refer to the number of gadgets and goodies a person or nation can afford to buy, or to the number of hours one has free for the pursuit of pleasure. And if one is devoting more [I guess I meant "most", or "too much"] of one's energy to maintaining and increasing one's wealth, one is disobeying Christ's commandment to love the Lord with all one's heart. We cannot serve two masters--it is as simple and as hopeless as that.

The essay was unfinished, and I don't think much of it is worth preserving. It's all fairly obvious stuff. But it brought home to me why I have to stifle a yawn whenever some Christian discovers, and tells us with great excitement, that American culture, especially in its economic aspects, is in many ways at odds with Christianity. This is often accompanied by the news that the Republican Party is not the Church, and that its program is not a program for advancing the kingdom of God, and may even at times be opposed to it. 

This kind of thing usually comes from someone who has been pretty wrapped up in right-wing politics, at least to the extent of thinking that conservative politics is a necessary part of being Christian, and that right-wing policies, including a pretty uncritical support of "capitalism" (not a very well-defined term) are in general Christian ones, and the Republican Party is the vehicle for putting those policies into practice. 

As the excerpts above show, I didn't believe that in 1978. I didn't come to believe it afterward, even as the battle lines of the culture war were drawn clearly and starkly. It was therefore never an idea that I needed to get past, as it was for Excited Christian above.

It happens that I am in fact a political conservative (for lack of a better word) and think that in the American context conservatism (for lack of a better word) is preferable to liberalism (for lack of a better word), and that conservatism is more congenial to Christianity than liberalism as both currently work. But I think I can say truthfully that never for a moment have I believed that any political program or party, that any conceivable political reform, was the path to the deep renewal of human life that we long for. It might be able to improve conditions and even ameliorate serious evils, but it could never turn us into good people. It might provide some of the conditions for happiness, but it could never make us happy. Even at the height of my investment in the counter-culture of the 1960s I never saw that revolution as primarily a political one, but rather as a sort of religious movement. 

And so when somebody announces as if it were a new discovery that no political party can be conflated with the Church, I agree, but I wonder why they are bothering to say it. It's as if they've just discovered that circles don't have corners and want to tell everybody about it. I want to say "Well sure, obviously. But now what?"

The thing I miss, of course, is that a lot of people apparently do make the mistake that Excited Christian is trying to correct. It really does come as a shock to them that Republican orthodoxy and Christian orthodoxy are not only not the same thing but may be in contradiction. A good number of them, I suspect, are young people who have grown up amid the culture wars and have been hearing since childhood that Republicans Are Good and Democrats Are Bad, and now as adults are seeing things less simplistically, which probably became easier when so many Christians supported Trump so unreservedly. The past year certainly indicates that there are a lot more people who don't fully see the distinction between Republicanism and Christianity, or who are blinded to it by some kind of tribal loyalty, than I had realized.

The left tries to do the same sort of thing, the same sort of conflation of their program with Christianity, but they aren't as convincing, in part because if they are any sort of Christian at all they tend to be nominal or heterodox. 


There was also this in my notebook:

How mistaken to associate virtue, wisdom, intelligence with what we ordinarily call the intellectual faculty or with aesthetic sensibility. I've known too many semi-literate people who were wise and gentle, too many literary persons who brought to their studies the philosophy and ethics of a mugger.

When I wrote this down I was probably thinking, among other things, of something that had happened at the clinic where I was working part-time as a programmer. (I know I've told this story here at least once, so please bear with me if you remember it.) My desk was in a trailer out back, and I often worked odd hours. Sometimes I was there when the two cleaning women came in. They were past-middle-age black women--I'm sure I would have called them "old" at the time, but now I'd guess they were probably in their late 50s, not young but not exactly elderly. Sometimes they would sit for a bit and we would chat. One night we were talking about the state of the world, which we agreed was declining. "Everything gettin' so high," one of them said, meaning prices--this was the period of high inflation. We listed other signs of trouble. One of them sighed and said "I reckon the Lord'll take care of us. He know we all crazy."

I think that is the single wisest thing I have ever heard anyone say in actual conversation, in my presence (as opposed to something I've read in a book). I suppose hardly a week has gone by since that night that I haven't thought of it. It sums up our situation pretty neatly.

This reminds me of another gem heard many years ago, from a black preacher I heard on the radio: "Folks is not yo' enemy. The devil is yo' enemy." I have heard some great stuff from black preachers on the radio, stuff I very much wish I could have recorded. 


More nostalgia from that 1958 Life magazine. 


My parents subscribed to Life. I learned a lot from it. I remember a long and horrifying but morbidly fascinating piece they did in the mid-196os about heroin addicts in New York. Oh my goodness, here it is, at least the photos. February 1965. I was a junior in high school. I remember some of those pictures. I never thought heroin addiction would come to little towns in Alabama.

Sunday Night Journal, August 27, 2017

The Sunday Night Journal is now a bit different from its earlier version, the one that appeared for most of the years from 2004 through 2012. Many of those earlier ones (not all by any means) were worked on for much of the week before they appeared. Not necessarily written, but much thought about, and perhaps written in a partial and/or rough draft. By Sunday I generally knew pretty much exactly what I was going to say, and put a good bit of effort into the attempt to say it well.

That's no longer the case, as regular readers (all two dozen of you) may remember: when I decided to revive the journal this year I meant for it to be a more casual thing, in great part an outlet for my unstompable urge to comment on this or that thing that has nothing directly to do with the book project that's getting whatever attention I can manage for writing during the week. I actually do sit down Sunday afternoon or evening with no more than a mental list of one or two or three or four things I want to mention. And so much of what comes out is more or less off the top of my head. I may just be thinking out loud. 

Such was the case last week, when I wrote what amounted to a prolonged grumble about various parties who have been trying to bully everyone who is remotely associated with the political right into denouncing Nazis and Klansmen. I really had only intended to write a paragraph or so, but I kept banging on. I am naturally, and no doubt too cynically, a little suspicious of public expressions of deep emotion about events that the expresser is not personally involved in, and much more so about the species of it for which the useful phrase"virtue signaling" has been coined. I think there's been a whole lot of virtue signaling going on. And the demand had pushed my contrariness button. 

Anyway: that's all by way of saying that there's a provisional quality about what I write  here now, and I may have second thoughts, which I may or may not voice later on. Last week someone privately brought up a more substantial reason--more substantial than virtue signaling--for making the denunciation loud and clear. Among other things, this person pointed out that Trump's presidency has from the beginning had the potential to destroy the conservative movement, and that this has been the reason why so many principled and thoughtful conservatives appropriated the label NeverTrump for themselves (yes, that's supposed to have a Twitter "hashtag" but I refuse to cooperate, as Twitter seems to be an important vehicle for fulfilling the worst possibilities of the Internet). 

I more or less agreed with their basic position although I never claimed the label (like I said, I'm contrary). But the reason was more straightforward: I couldn't see Trump as a competent president. I really didn't give a whole lot of thought to the farther-reaching implications and possibilities. 

From the period in the late '70s and early '80s when I began the process of admitting that I was in fact some sort of conservative, I've tended to keep the movement at arm's length. That was mainly because I always had significant disagreements with it and am anyway not much of a movement-joiner. Worse, the vehicle for the expression of more-or-less-conservative ideas in practical politics was and is the Republican Party, and a pretty poor vehicle it is. I've more than once said that I don't care at all about the fortunes of the Republican Party, and I haven't really changed my mind. But more than one person on both sides of the Democrat-Republican divide have speculated that Trump's ascendancy could destroy the Republican party.

A lot of Trump's supporters would say that would be a good thing. But that would depend entirely on what replaced it. Being a pessimist, I am always ready to point out the folly of thinking that things can't get worse. What might replace the Republican Party? Trumpism? Well, what is that? I honestly don't know. I've mocked those who call him a fascist, because fascism is an ideology, and if there is anything that Trump is not, it's an ideologue. If he can be compared to any dictatorial type, it's to what we used to call tin-pot dictators: the ones who have tended to rise to the top in some countries where the balance between authoritarianism and anarchy is difficult to find. These men are typically motivated mainly by wealth and power, not the desire to impose an abstract system, which is the essence of both fascism and communism. 

At any rate I have never seen any evidence that Trump is a conservative in any meaningful sense of the word. I've often made a distinction between "conservative" and "right-wing," and I think it applies to him. He may (or may not, depending on his mood) be right-wing, but he's not conservative. That doesn't mean that he won't do things that conservatives applaud, and if he gets to nominate one more conservative Supreme Court justice his presidency could turn out to be more good than bad for conservatism. But because he is more or less on the right, his association with nasty forces could produce such animosity that it would cripple anything resembling conservatism as a political force. (I started to say "taint", but that's not strong enough; liberals have believed that conservatives are racist fascist etc for fifty years and nothing is going to change that.)

A lot of conservative Christians, mainly evangelicals but a fair number of Catholics as well, see Trump as a sort of warrior who will stop and maybe turn back the revolution of militant secular progressivism that seems determined to force Christians into a choice between capitulating to anti-Christian doctrine (error has no rights!) or being expelled from legitimate society. But any victories for Christians in this situation could well turn out to be Pyrrhic. 

Seems to me there are two possible outcomes. One: Trump and Trumpism turn out to be flukes, and after one term (or perhaps an uncompleted term), national politics returns to the old Democrats-vs.-Republicans pattern more or less as if nothing had happened. Two: Trumpism splits the right, broadly construed, into the factions that I've called conservative and right-wing, with conservatism a minority. It's not far-fetched to imagine that progressivism would be both the cultural and political beneficiary of that.

And why should we care? What does it matter whether conservatism is conserved? The whole question of what conservatism can mean in a fundamentally liberal order has also bothered me from the beginning, and of course conservative thinkers have chewed away on it for a long time. The question of what is left to preserve seems more challenging every year. Still: the liberal order had Christian roots and respected Christian belief and institutions, and it produced a pretty decent society, all the obvious evils notwithstanding. What is likely to replace it is the intolerant and totalizing progressive religion that is currently flourishing all over the place. 

There was a striking comment on one of Rod Dreher's posts a few days ago. As I write this I don't have the link handy but will try to find it and post it in a comment. The topic was, well, all this stuff. As you know I find Dreher's high level of agitation a bit much and don't read him that often, but have been doing so recently, and he has been saying some useful and interesting (if sometimes overwrought) things about the current controversies. Anyway, this commenter observed that some Christians see Trump as a Constantine figure, one who will (re-)establish Christian faith as the dominant political force in the U.S. (Impossible by that means, I think.) But he suggested that they might have it wrong: perhaps the actual Constantine was Obama, and Trump is Julian the Apostate.


A whole lot of pixels over the past week or two have been generated by arguments over whether the fascists or the anti-fascists are worse. It seems a moot point to me. What strikes me as more important, and more worrisome, is the thought of two very nasty factions battling in our streets. That, more than Trump himself, seems to me to conjure 1920s Germany. 

The evil of the "fascists" is obvious. (I put the word in quotes because I have the impression that they haven't fully adopted (or maybe even understood) the ideology, but are acting out some bit of theater.) I hear people saying that it's more important to condemn them than to condemn their violent opponents. I don't know about that. I know that the only two people I've ever heard explicitly state their intention to kill their political enemies were on the left. One was a young man who had been part of the protests in Seattle in 1999. This was at my parents' house at Christmas, probably of the same year. He was an in-law of an in-law who was only there the one time, and I don't remember his name. He sat across from me in a comfortable chair and calmly spoke of the necessity for the revolution to kill all the Christians. I didn't take him all that seriously, but still, it was disturbing. 

The other is a guy whose bloodthirsty hopes I've seen on Facebook via his comments on other people's posts. I don't know how seriously to take him, either. But on my personal scorecard of threats, that's anti-fascists 2, fascists 0. 

Oh yeah, and there was the guy I knew in the '60s, whose ex-wife I discovered lived down the street from us in the 1980s. I asked about him and she said he had gone far into hard leftism (she herself was still an unreconstructed hippie), and that the last time she'd seen him he'd been talking about the necessity of killing not only the bourgeoisie, but their children, so that there wouldn't be anyone left to seek vengeance.

At any rate I don't see why we should have to declare ourselves less unfavorably disposed toward the one than the other.


Changing the subject (at last!): I noticed a week or two ago that there are new episodes of the British mystery series Hinterland on Netflix. I liked the previous episodes pretty well, though not as much as some similar productions. I like this series better than the others. I'm not altogether sure why. Partly it was the plot (or plots--there are per-episode stories and a continuing one). Also, it seems to me that the cinematography is exceptional. And the sound track, a subdued minimalist combination of piano and electronica, is very good. 

Fans of the previous series will be relieved to know that the red parka is still there.

There are also new episodes of Shetland. I don't know how long they'd been there. Here, again, I liked this series even better than the earlier ones. 

And there is a new series of Endeavour in progress. Which I also think is better. Maybe I just always think the most recent one is the best. But no, that's not true. I could give instances that went the other way. House of Cards, for one.

[A Monday morning addendum: I had only seen the first episode of Endeavour when I wrote the paragraph above. Later last night I watched the second one. It was fairly terrible. Aside from the fact that it featured a walking cliche of a nasty Christian as a major character, seeing to it that she was humiliated even though she really didn't have that much to do with the main plot, the main plot was a mess that almost became nonsensical. The only thing good about it was a pretty good portrayal of a rock band of the time (ca. 1967), though even there I think it got some things wrong: an English rock band in the late '60s afraid of taking LSD?]

Sunday Night Journal, August 13, 2017

Some time back, maybe two years or so, I saw a "meme" on Facebook which contrasted the educational backgrounds of left-wing and right-wing TV-radio controversialists, much to the disadvantage of the right-wingers, at least in the eyes of whoever constructed the "meme."  (I'm sorry, I cannot resign myself to the unqualified acceptance of that silly term.) For the left, it was people like Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow, who have degrees from prestigious schools (the only one I remember now was William and Mary). For the right, it was people like Rush Limbaugh, who have little or no education past high school. (This required some cherry-picking, excluding, for instance, George Will, Ph.D, Princeton, but then he is more a print than a television presence. If the comparison were made entirely within the realm of print, conservatives would certainly hold their own, though they would be outnumbered.)

I reposted the "meme" with some sort of derisive comment about people who place excessive value on educational credentials. I don't remember exactly what I said, and although it's presumably still available on Facebook it would take a while to find it. In any case I apparently did not express my meaning very clearly, because I immediately got several responses from people making remarks along the lines of "If you needed a lawyer, wouldn't you want one who went to a good law school?" and, if I remember correctly, at least suggesting that I might be anti-intellectual.

The episode distressed me, because I hate being misconstrued. I don't mind disagreement at all, but I want the disagreement to be about what I said--or, if I said it badly, what I meant to say--not about something I did not intend to say. (The most unpleasant interchange I've ever had on Facebook involved someone misinterpreting my assertion that white people cannot fix what is wrong in poor black communities as meaning that the condition of those communities is unrelated to white racism. Or something like that. Not sure it ever got cleared up.)

In the remark about education I meant to be saying two things: first, that formal education in itself is hardly a requirement for engaging in combat journalism on television and radio, which is essentially a branch of the entertainment industry. Any reasonably intelligent person can gather up rocks to throw at his political enemies. But very few can mount their attacks convincingly and entertainingly on television or radio. That takes a good deal of natural talent and no doubt a good deal of practice. It's not a skill I much admire, but it is both rare and lucrative, and those few people who do it really well make a great deal of money.

It does not, however, require any specific type of formal education, or very much of it. Nor does it make much use of the breadth and depth of mind which are supposed to be acquired through higher education. Excessive care for the disinterested pursuit of truth would in fact be a handicap for it.

Second, I meant that in general to make formal education a primary indicator of the respect due to the person is a serious mistake. I meant that first in relation to wisdom and virtue; I have known a great many educated and uneducated people and have never seen any indication that either is generally superior to the other in those qualities. Moreover, in our time (maybe in all times) there are special forms of foolishness that are far more likely to be found in those who have had a great deal of schooling, and therefore are pervasive today in our educated class. Much of it falls broadly under the condemnation of the adage: "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you do know that ain't so." (See this for attribution of the remark.)

I meant it in more down-to-earth terms as well. Many occupations--law, medicine, plumbing--require specialized "KSAs", as personnel managers call them: Knowledge, Skills, and Ability. In some cases the K and S are best acquired through formal training. But in the end it is the A that matters most, and in many occupations a combination of natural aptitude and hands-on work in the field can be as likely as formal training to impart it. I would think performing on television and radio would be among those. 


Why is this old conversation on my mind? It was a train of thought that began with this, a "tweet" (another term I can't bring myself to use as if it were a real word except in the context of birdsong):

Difference between Nazi and Communist is when you say how horrible Nazis have been, they don’t say “Well, real Nazism has never been tried.”

I saw it at Neo-neocon's blog, and thought it was pretty funny. Reading the comments, I came across a reference to the Nazi's "Einsatzgruppen." Consulting Wikipedia, I learned that these were essentially death squads charged with carrying out massacres of certain categories of civilians considered to be enemies of the Reich. And I found this:

Many Einsatzgruppe leaders were highly educated; for example, nine of seventeen leaders of Einsatzgruppe A held doctorate degrees. Three Einsatzgruppen were commanded by holders of doctorates, one of whom (SS-Gruppenführer Otto Rasch) held a double doctorate.

Franz Jägerstätter, on the other hand, was a farmer with "little formal education."


Maybe technology has too much of a hold on me. No, not "maybe", "definitely." A little earlier today I was looking for a magazine that I have mislaid. I found myself thinking for an instant that I could just call it on my phone, as many of us have done using someone else's phone to locate ours.


Regarding the incident in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend: haven't I been saying that many in this country have been sowing the wind, and can expect to reap the whirlwind?


Although it's only mid-August, summer is in a sense over for me. As I've mentioned before, two of my grandsons, ages five and seven, have been spending three or four days a week with us, and since it's now my wife who goes out to work every day, and I who stay at home, more than half of that time is spent with me. But school starts tomorrow, and Friday was their last day here. It's bittersweet. I've gotten almost no work done on my book, and I want to get back to it, and for that matter I've done little work of any kind at all that wasn't directly related to caring for them. But it's been good in many ways. We settled into a comfortable routine and I think it has not been an unpleasant experience for them.

One thing we've done every day unless the weather prevents us is spend a while splashing around in the bay. Happily, Friday morning was sunny and almost windless. After they'd gotten tired of playing in the water, I suggested that we walk up to the public beach and park, a quarter-mile or so away, just for a change. There are ponds there with ducks and geese and we hadn't taken that walk for a while. Depending on the water level, it can involve a lot of clambering over fallen trees or wading around stumps.

A few days before we had been playing with a tennis ball that had washed up on shore (they float and are fun to throw around in the water). But we'd forgotten to take it back to the house with us, and apparently it had washed back out with the tide. We had not gotten very far toward the park, just a few hundred feet, when they found what appeared to be the same bright green tennis ball. The boys were a bit ahead of me, as usual, and Lucas, the five-year-old, ran back and gave me the ball, in that funny way that children have: "Here"--and they hand you the pizza crust or the apple core that they don't want, or the ball that they do want but do not want to bother with at this moment. 

Well, I wanted to have my hands free to deal with obstacles, and a tennis ball is too big for the pockets of the old cut-off pants I was wearing. So I said I would walk back to "our" beach and put it with our things--the bag containing towels and sun-screen and fruit juice and pretzels. "Okay," said Lucas, and he started to go and catch up with his brother. But then he stopped, apparently a little uneasy about going too far without me, hesitated for a moment, and said "But you'll be right behind us, right?"

"Yes, I will."

Yes, God willing, now and always.


Sunday Night Journal, July 30, 2017

I am beginning to accept the fact that there are simply too many books for me to read and too many recordings for me to hear in the amount of time I have left to live, even stretching my potential longevity as far as it can be stretched. I'm finding this surprisingly difficult. It was always true, and would have been true even if I had continued to pursue both at something like the rate I was doing it before I devoted the better part of forty years to job and family. But I had in the back of my mind that when I retired I would finally be able to do all the writing and reading and listening that I'd been putting off.

Well, even apart from the fact that I'm only about two-thirds retired, it isn't working out that way. Life still makes a number of demands that I hadn't really considered. I don't mean to sound whiny, because I am thankful every day that I don't have to go off to a job that will, including the commute, occupy at least ten hours of the day. Still, a reckoning with reality must be made, priorities must be set.

I'm saying all this as preface to an admission. I have just done something which as far as I can remember I have never done before, and of which I am somewhat ashamed. I have chosen to skim a book that I chose to read. I suppose I have skimmed a book before--my freshman biology textbook in college, for instance, when I was desperately trying to absorb enough information to avoid failing a final exam. But I don't think I've ever done it with what I am tempted to call a real book, and one that I wanted to read. Now I have.

The book is William F. Buckley's God and Man at Yale. As anyone who's ever been anywhere near the conservative movement knows, this was Buckley's first book, written when he was a recent graduate of Yale. I've always had the impression that it's considered a conservative classic. It's been sitting on my shelf for some years, and I decided to check it off my list.

It's a disappointment. If it were not by the man whose initials all conservatives and many liberals recognize, it would probably have been mostly forgotten, and of mainly historical interest. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the book is more specifically about Yale at that moment (the late 1940s) than I anticipated. It's a case study of the state of instruction on religion and economics at Yale--or rather, I should say, the process of secularization and liberalization (in the political sense) at Yale, because that's what Buckley is describing. As such, much of it is far too detailed to be of much interest to me. It includes a discussion of specific instructors, textbooks, events, speeches, and controversies which I would think only a historian or very dedicated Yale alumnus would care about. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone not specifically interested in Buckley or Yale or both.

That said, I am struck by how familiar Buckley's complaints sound. The process by which we arrived at the almost complete domination of leftist thought in the academy was well advanced by 1950. Buckley chastises Yale for pretending to be engaged in a disinterested search for truth but actually having an orthodoxy favoring secularism and statism. By our standards it was relatively conservative, giving lip service to Christianity and opposing communism. Buckley wanted Yale to dispense with the pose of neutrality and to openly favor what I will very loosely call Americanism (not that he puts it that way). Well, he certainly got part of that wish: the pose of neutrality is not fooling much of anyone these days. I wonder if even those who preach it belligerently on their own behalf really believe it. When cant words like "diversity" are part of the mission statement, and institutions insist fervently on their dedication to them, everyone knows what is meant. And every day brings us a new story of some notable incident involving the enforcement of this orthodoxy.

I will say of God and Man at Yale that it is well-written and well-argued, and in general pretty impressive for a 25-year-old. But it's a period piece now.


I referred back there at the start of this little piece to reading and listening. I used two different words for two different things. It might have been handy to have one word. But not at the cost of resorting to a construct I see often, sometimes used by people who I think should know better. I mean the word "consuming," as in "consuming art" in reference to multiple arts.   How can anyone write or read that without a shudder? It makes me think of this character, the vacuum monster, from Yellow Submarine, which I had not thought of since I saw the movie ca. 1970. 


When I think of something being consumed, I think of it being gone, chewed up and swallowed or otherwise used up. Years ago I read some technology writer predicting the ways--the devices and the media--by which we would "consume infotainment." The phrase comes close to physically nauseating me.


Last week, writing about the film Mother and Child, I meant to mention Annette Benning's performance as Karen, which was one of the best of several excellent performances in the film. And it made me think about acting in general. For much of my life I really didn't have a great deal of regard for the art of acting, for the gifts required to do it well. I just took it for granted that some people had a knack for pretending to be other people, or for creating an appealing screen persona (e.g. John Wayne), and in fact for pretending in general.

I just spent an hour looking for a remark, which I was sure was by Samuel Johnson, which disparages acting. What I recall is that he said it needed only "great plasticity of features" and...something else...I can't remember what.

Well, if Johnson said that, I don't know where. I must have read it somewhere, because I don't think I would have invented that phrase. I've searched an online version of Boswell's Life without finding it, and done a number of Google searches for the phrase and variations of it, with no luck. At the moment I'm suspecting that it wasn't Johnson who said it, but someone else of roughly the same period, and that I read it in The Oxford Book of Literary Quotations. But if so it'll take me a while to find it.

Anyway: when I first read it, I knew, of course, that it was hyperbole, but came close enough to agreeing that I thought it was pretty sharp. At at some point, maybe fifteen or so years ago, I began to appreciate just how difficult good acting must be. The thought crossed my mind during several scenes in Mother and Child when the camera is on Karen's face: for instance, the moment when she is combing her mother's hair and chatting about her day at work. She mentions that a new guy has started there, and that he seems nice. 

"Karen, don't get your hopes up," is her mother's response. Karen says nothing, and there is not a great deal visible in her face, but it's enough to say everything about Karen's relationship with her mother and indeed about her life in general.

"Plasticity of features," indeed. Yes, that's required, just as an unusually high level of manual dexterity is required for playing a musical instrument well. But that's just the minimal requirement.

Of course the writer, who was also the director, must get credit for creating the exchange. He's the composer, the two women are the performers who bring it to life.


I'd like to know how these roses came to be here, stuck in a log on the beach. Was it a sad story or a happy one? There were several others here and there, one some distance away as if perhaps it had been tossed.


Sunday Night Journal, May 21, 2017

The new Twin Peaks started tonight on the ShowTime network. I'm not sure when I'll get to see it, as I don't get ShowTime. I guess it will be available online somehow sometime. It's a little late for me to be making this recommendation, but if you're a fan of the show, you should read this book as soon as you can, because I feel pretty sure it will shed some interesting light on the new series:


It's a sort of novel, written by Mark Frost, the co-creator of the series. It provides a great deal of fascinating background for the story by means of a wonderfully entertaining mixture of truth and fantasy. You learn a lot about people and events from the series, but you also get some history and context that are not even suggested by the series. For instance, the book opens with some odd incidents in the life, and odd circumstances about the death, of Meriwether Lewis, and works forward in time until shortly after the time of the original story, with a link to the present day. I'm expecting that link to be present in the new series; we'll see.

Frost obviously had a good time doing this, connecting the strange events in the town of Twin Peaks with all manner of conspiracy theories and popular lore about unexplained phenomena--UFOs, occultism. It made me think of some  of the more interesting aspects of The X-Files, which in turn was (I hear) influenced by Twin Peaks. Frost weaves the secret history into real history very smoothly--the Lewis stories, for instance. Before I'd gotten very far into it I began checking references to any person or event presented as being known to real history, but unknown to me, and every one was genuine. (Shall I give you an instance? Would it be giving away too much? Well, here's one.) 

And I had a very good time reading it. The premise is that in the present day a cache of documents relating to the town of Twin Peaks, its inhabitants, and certain events that occurred in the late 1980s, has been "recovered on 7-20-2016 from a crime scene." Deputy Director Gordon Cole has given it to an agent identified only by the initials T.P. for "comprehensive analysis, cataloging and cross-referencing.... We need to learn and verify the person or persons responsible for compiling this dossier...."

The book then consists of "documents" assembled by that unknown person, who refers to him or herself as "the archivist," typewritten annotations by him/her, and marginal notes from TP. It's a very elaborate physical production, and you can easily pretend that it's all genuine history, or at least I could. I noticed the other day that an audio version is available. Don't. That would at best be like reading a script instead of watching a film.

Obviously I don't want to give away anything important, but I can't resist a few remarks:

  • I always did like Major Briggs a lot.
  • Doug Milford is full of surprises.
  • The Log Lady's attachment to her companion is eccentric but not crazy. 

My wife gave me the book for Christmas last year. I started reading it, but when it reached the point in time where characters from the series began to appear, I realized that my recollection of the series was pretty spotty. So I stopped reading and over a period of weeks we watched the series again, and then the "prequel," and then I went back to the book.

I ended up being very impressed all over again with the series. Even the latter part of the second season, generally thought of as a mess and a letdown, seemed better than I remembered.  I now feel fully prepared to watch the new series and hope it won't be a disappointment.

I deliberately refrained from reading any reviews or commentary on The Secret History because I didn't want to be prejudiced, or to learn anything that might have reduced the pleasure of reading it. And I still haven't read any. But I can imagine that some readers might be disappointed that it really does not answer a lot of questions that the series left open, questions about the specific events portrayed. I didn't feel that way, but others might. It's not about those events, and really only touches on them; it is, as the title says, about the history of the place, the forces at work there, and certain of the people; many characters from the series do not appear at all. And in what it does tell it not only leaves a lot of earlier questions unanswered, but raises new ones without answering them. It wouldn't really be true to Twin Peaks if it didn't. 

And in one important respect the book is not Twin Peaks: it's not really very Lynchian, which is to say it's not seriously weird. It doesn't have the depth or mystery of the series, even though it's about mysterious things. But then the whole premise is that it's a strictly factual dossier. 


In response to the related phenomena of Brexit and Donald Trump's rise, The New Criterion has been running a series of essays on populism (which naturally includes an effort to define the term, which is used pretty loosely). The seventh one, appearing in the March issue, is by Roger Scruton and is called "Representation and the People". The title refers to the tension between representative government and the direct, immediate wishes of the people. I won't try to summarize it, as it's long and fairly complex. But as part of his analysis Scruton illuminates an aspect of the Brexit and Trump movements which I think is very important. I'm going to excerpt it at length:

...democracies are held together by something stronger than politics. There is a “first person plural,” a pre-political loyalty, which causes neighbors who voted in opposing ways to treat each other as fellow citizens, for whom the government is not “mine” or “yours” but “ours,” whether or not we approve of it. Many are the flaws in this system of government, but one feature gives it an insuperable advantage over all others so far devised, which is that it makes those who exercise power accountable to those who did not vote for them. This kind of accountability is possible only if the electorate is bound together as a “we.” Only if this “we” is in place can the people trust the politicians to look after their interests....

But what happens when that trust disintegrates? In particular, what happens when the issues closest to people’s hearts are neither discussed nor mentioned by their representatives, and when these issues are precisely issues of identity—of “who we are” and “what unites us”? This, it seems to me, is where we have got to in Western democracies—in the United States just as much as in Europe. And recent events on both continents would be less surprising if the media and the politicians had woken up earlier to the fact that Western democracies—all of them without exception—are suffering from a crisis of identity. The “we” that is the foundation of trust and the sine qua non of representative government, has been jeopardized not only by the global economy and the rapid decline of indigenous ways of life, but also by the mass immigration of people with other languages, other customs, other religions, other ways of life, and other and competing loyalties. Worse than this is the fact that ordinary people have been forbidden to mention this, forbidden to complain about it publicly, forbidden even to begin the process of coming to terms with it by discussing what the costs and benefits might be.

Of course they have not been forbidden to discuss immigration in the way that Muslims are forbidden to discuss the origins of the Koran. Nor have they been forbidden by some express government decree. If they say the wrong things, they are not arrested and imprisoned—not yet, at least. They are silenced by labels—“racism,” “xenophobia,” “hate speech”—designed to associate them with the worst of recent crimes.... Hillary Clinton made the point in her election campaign, with her notorious reference to the “deplorables”—in other words, the people who bear the costs of liberal policies and respond to them with predictable resentments....

And when the pre-political “we” has, for whatever reason, been jeopardized, it is too late for the political process to deal with it. Emerging from behind the politics there then appears another and deeper question, the question who we are.

There's considerably more to the essay than this, and I think the whole thing is available online to non-subscribers, so I suggest you read it. But the deterioration of that 'pre-political "we"' is part of the reason that Trump was elected, and no doubt part of the reason for Brexit. And both those events have damaged it even further. Do committed Hillary voters feel that committed Trump voters have anything much in common with themselves? When left and right say "we" do they intend to include the other? Not that I can see. We're at a point in the U.S. where a presidential election is seen by one side as a sort of coup by the other, with dire consequences expected for the latter. I'm inclined to think the breach is irreparable, but maybe that's too pessimistic. Scruton himself proposes some attempts at repair.


We were discussing drinks last week. I seem to have invented one which I like very much. I more or less stumbled on it last summer one day when I wanted a martini.  I was out of gin, and I don't consider vodka martinis to be martinis. So I messed around and ended up with vodka, vermouth (dry), lime slice (squeezed), and club soda. I make it roughly half-and-half alcohol and soda, but obviously that would be a matter of taste. It's really good if you like non-sweet drinks. There is no trace of sweetness in it at all.

As far as I've been able to determine by asking people and searching the web, it's not a known species. So I think I get to give it a name. I immediately thought of something related to moonlight. I wanted Half Moon, because that's the phase of the moon I enjoy most, when the moon is over the bay at the time I'm typically there. But Half Moon is already in use, as is Full Moon.

Bay Moon? Silvery Moon? Silver Moon? Feel free to vote and/or make suggestions. And fix yourself one, if you think it sounds good.


Sunday Night Journal, April 30, 2017

When First Things appeared in the 1990s (I think), I read it occasionally but never subscribed. That was mainly because a fairly large portion  of the articles were too specialized and academic for me.It seemed, for instance, that there were a lot of long commentaries on contemporary intellectual figures whom I had not (and have not) read. Moreover, I often found its neo-conservative orientation tiresome, even though much of the time I didn't fundamentally disagree with it. And anyway, I had very little free time for reading and didn't want to spend it on that. Over the years I read it occasionally in the library, or a friend sent me something photocopied from it, and once the web became a big thing I read some of what they published there. But in spite of its prominence--and, I assume, influence--in the world of religious-political journalism, it mostly passed me by. I expect I missed a lot of good work.

Recently, though, reading articles on the web, I began to get the impression that they were publishing more stuff that was more interesting to me than had been the case, so I decided to risk $25 or so on a digital subscription. (My wife bought a used iPad a couple of years ago, and reading on it is really pretty comfortable.) I'm glad I did. Traveling over the Easter weekend, I read pretty much the entire April issue on the plane, and I thought every single thing in it was excellent. I don't expect every issue to meet that standard--I've already skipped one lengthy article in the May issue. But for now I'm very much enjoying and benefiting from the magazine. 

For instance, the first piece in the April issue, "Moral Minority," by Patrick Deneen, is an excellent overview of three books that have been very much in the Christian news recently for their analyses of the situation of Christians in an increasingly anti-Christian culture: Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option, Archbishop Charles Chaput's Strangers In a Strange Land, and Anthony Esolen's Out of the Ashes. It is as much Deneen's own perceptive view of the subject as it is a review of the books. One of his points is one I've often made: that the Christian right, as exemplified by Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority, was already, in the late '70s and early '80s, mistaken in the belief that America was a fundamentally Christian nation that only needed to be awakened to the threat against it. I don't think I'll try to summarize it. I think it's available on the web to non-subscribers--try clicking on the title above. 


A few weeks ago here I was scoffing at the people who think the inauguration of Donald Trump was also the inauguration of a police state along the lines of 1984. These people seriously misconstrued either the book (if they've read it--many are probably just repeating something a journalist said) or the present political moment. The whole point of the suppression of truth by the government in 1984 is that dissent is not just forbidden but suppressed to a point where it hardly exists, and that this is most effectively done by making it psychologically difficult or impossible. And the last weapon, the one brought to bear in very stubborn cases, is to crush the dissenter so thoroughly that he will be at first afraid to speak, and eventually unable to conceive, of truth as existing apart from whatever the government says. One does not learn the true solution to the equation 2+2=x by mathematical reasoning or even by counting fingers, but by listening to Big Brother. 

Now, anybody who genuinely believes that this is a description of current conditions in the U.S. under the Trump administration  is simply out of touch with reality. I don't think many people are actually that deluded; most likely it's just a form of hysteria, or the thrill of reading a ghost story or watching a horror movie (for those who consider the latter a thrill--I don't). Trump can't open his mouth without someone calling him a liar, suffering no harm for the deed and probably getting some applause. Most of the news media attack him relentlessly, and do not suffer for it. And that's as it should be in a free society.

But there is at least one place in the world where the methods of the state in 1984 are practiced. That is China. The experience of it is described in a piece in that April First Things, "Struggle Against the Gods," an excerpt from the memoir of Chinese dissident Gao Zhisheng:

Once a guard of mine described an experience he’d had as a new recruit. He went to an “inaugural meeting,” a ritual that was an old Communist Army practice. After roll call, the squad leader pointed to a soldier next to the classroom’s shiny white wall and asked, “What color is that wall?” When the soldier answered that it was white, he was thrashed. After five soldiers in a row were beaten for giving the same answer, the sixth one replied, “It’s whatever color the squad leader says it is.” The squad leader praised the soldier and once again asked the soldiers who had been beaten what color the wall was. They all replied, “It’s whatever color the squad leader says it is.”

That is what Orwell was talking about. The enemy is not a blowhard who doesn't care about the truth, who will say anything that seems expedient at the moment and doesn't care whether you believe it or not, but very intelligent people who care very much about both and are determined to control them. Very intelligent and very effective. 


Another interesting item from First Things...well, "interesting" is not the most apt word--interesting and disturbing: in the February issue, "The Devil and Hilary Mantel," by Patricia Snow. I decided several years ago when I read a review by the late Christopher Hitchens of Mantel's novel Wolf Hall that I was not interested in reading the book. The review was, naturally, strongly anti-Catholic, and according to Hitchens so is the novel. Why bother? I thought, though I had the impression it was a well-crafted novel. That was also my reaction when a BBC dramatization of the novel began to appear on PBS. 

Anti-Catholicism in contemporary literary life is a pretty predictable business, so I was just barely interested enough to start reading Snow's piece. And...wow. Let's just say that the other person named in the title is not a rhetorical device. As I said, it's disturbing. No, make that frightening. You should be able to read it by clicking on the title above. If you want to.


I didn't set out to collect discouraging things to write about this week, but there's so very much of it around. And I keep saying that this thing and that thing are "interesting," and they are, even if disheartening. I saved the URL for this piece last week-before-last with a note to myself: "most interesting thing I've read this week," but then didn't use it last Sunday. It's a very sad story about a young woman who grew up as a fundamentalist Christian, lost her faith, then found another in "transhumanism," the techno-faith that we will fairly soon be able to make ourselves immortal by some technological means or other.

I am fairly certain that none of these will ever happen. In particular the idea that we can somehow transfer our consciousness, that is to say our selves, that is to say our souls, from our brains, seen by materialists as a species of computer, into digital computers, and become immortal that way, is almost certainly no more than a fantasy. Even if you think it's possible, the practical difficulties and potential problems involved are rather staggering. But I'm all but certain that it's not even theoretically possible. The whole idea rests on the assumption that our souls--to use a word that the transhumanists probably don't--are some sort of by-product of our brains. That assumption is not only unproven but unfounded. It's simply asserted as an article of materialist faith, as if it were self-evident. Even if it were true, there is no reason to think that this whatever-it-is that constitutes one's consciousness could somehow be encoded as a sequence of ones and zeros, which it would have to be in order to be stored by computers as we know them. 

Anyway, here is the story, lengthy but very much worth reading. It's in The Guardian. Left-wing though it is, I find myself reading it fairly often, usually via someone else's link to a piece there (I think this was a Facebook post). The political stuff is not of much interest to me, but a lot of the rest is. I wonder if I should give them a donation, like they keep asking me to.


Once a week or so I read an article about the menace of artificial intelligence predicting that machines will soon become conscious, becoming super-intelligent almost immediately when they reach a certain point in "evolution," then either turning on us or making us obsolete. If you read these, too, and are alarmed, don't be. I am not a scientist or a philosopher but I know how computers work. Do you think the lights in your house are intelligent because they know to shine when you turn them on? If not, don't worry about artificial intelligence taking over the world. 

There is, on the other hand, plenty of reason to worry about software taking over more and more functions that used to be performed by people, and thereby continuing to make jobs obsolete. This is not a new problem. It's just a new wrinkle in the general trend toward automation that began with the industrial revolution. But it's significant. And we don't know how to deal with it. 


The misty upper part of this picture is not fog but rain. We had some violent thunderstorms yesterday evening and this was taken as they were moving in. Five minutes earlier I had been able to see far out into the bay, though not all the way across as I can when the air is clear. There is a sailboat anchored a couple of hundred yards out. This bank of rain approached as a white mass, moving fairly quickly, hiding the boat in a matter of seconds. I like the way rain falling on the water looks, but this picture, taken with my phone, doesn't really show it. I have an actual camera. I guess I should start carrying it around more.


Sunday Night Journal, April 9, 2017

One of the books I've been reading as background for the book I'm writing is Theodore Roszak's The Making of a Counter-culture. Roszak may have been the one who coined that term. If he didn't, he certainly contributed to its widespread use. The book came out in 1969 and I recall reading it at the time and thinking it was pretty good, but I also was a bit dismissive or patronizing toward it, as the work of a liberal who didn't really understand the radicals he was analyzing. And when I started re-reading it a week or two ago I didn't expect much: platitudes, maybe, or naively optimistic and idealized impressions.

Well, I seem to have been wrong. It is a really fine book, and still very much worth reading in spite of the fact that much of it is specific to its time. I got about halfway through it earlier this week, then various other things got in the way and have prevented me from finishing it. I'm writing about it now because the coming week, being Holy Week, is going to be even busier, and I don't want to wait for two weeks because the book is really exciting.

Roszak is erudite, very intelligent, and very perceptive, or at least he was in this book. It's not just that he does in fact have a pretty good idea of what was going on with the hippie-radical youth culture of the '60s, but that he scoped out, correctly, that it was in essence a religious movement. 

He is, unfortunately, wrong about the potential of the movement he describes to bring about the spiritual renewal which he very astutely sees as the fundamental problem of modern technocratic civilization. The movement proved to be just a sort of sect within what we broadly and clumsily call progressivism, secular humanism, and the like. I expect I'll have more to say about it in a couple of weeks.


I've also been reading a book called Turning the Tide by Earl H. Tilford. It's a history of the political changes at the University of Alabama during the 1950s and 1960s. Much of it is about the response of the university to the civil rights movement, and it's quite an interesting picture, revealing that the university administration was mostly on the side of desegregation, but had to navigate very carefully the sentiment of the state at large and Governor George Wallace in particular. I'm reading it because the last few chapters concern the student leftist movement of the late '60s and I wanted to refresh my memory about the events of 1969-70. There are some  photos of student demonstrations. As far as I can tell I'm not in any of them, but I remember a couple of the occasions. In one photo, students hold signs proclaiming the imminence of fascism. Almost fifty years on, and student radicals, and many of those who were student radicals in my day, keep telling us it's coming, indeed here. It never arrives, and meanwhile many of the ideas they espouse, especially those having to do with sex, drive more and more of the machinery of society. Don't think for a moment that Donald Trump's weird presidency means the reversal of that trend.


I'm amused every time I hear an anti-Trump demonstrator say something along the lines of "We won't let him divide us." Way too late for that. Way too late.


Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours watching two of my grandsons, ages 5 and almost 7,  play on the bay shore with two little girls of their same age, daughters of a friend of their mother. It was a beautiful day, bright but not hot. The water is still too chilly for me to want to get in, but after a little hesitation the children went in and apparently got used to it. It was an almost idyllic afternoon, unmarred by any of the quarrels that often break out among children. 

Their relatively innocent happiness is always beautiful to see, but it seems so fragile and vulnerable that, gloomy soul that I am, I can't help seeing a shadow from their future over them. I say relatively innocent because of course only someone who has never been around children can believe that they are not sometimes brutally selfish, dishonest, etc.--sinful, in short, often in ways so simple and transparent that they seem funny to adults better schooled in wickedness. This afternoon my wife and I were playing a game with the boys that involved putting a number of small items on a tray covered with a towel, taking away the towel and giving everybody a thirty-second look at the things, then covering them again and having everyone write down as many as they could remember. The younger boy looked under the towel before he was supposed to.

"Lucas, you're not supposed to see what's under there yet," I said.

"I didn't."

"Right. You just lifted the towel and looked under it, but you didn't see anything?"


They may live fairly happy lives--I certainly hope and pray that they will--but even at best they are most likely going to suffer blows that they can't even imagine right now. I want desperately to protect them, but of course I can't. I found myself wondering, as I sometimes do, why God allows the world to go on and on with every child coming into the world bound, one way or another, to suffer a fair amount of pain, and in many cases an enormous amount of it. Is the sweetness of days like this worth it--whatever "worth it" might mean: how could we ever make that calculation? I found myself thinking of Ecclesiastes:

So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter.

Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive.

Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.

But that is a form of weakness. Either God (assuming he exists) is the cruel deity some make him out to be, or he is both more tender and more strong than we can imagine, and is teaching us strength, among many other things--to be like him in that way as in others. So while the children ran back and forth across the beach, in and out of the water, I prayed the Divine Mercy litany, counting the prayers on my fingers since I didn't have my rosary in my pocket, as I generally do. I had left it at the house because I figured I would end up in the water at some point, which I did, wading out with the littlest girl, who wanted to go in but was afraid to without a grown-up hand to hold.

It is worth it. I suppose I've had about the average amount of pain in my life, and I certainly would not want not to have lived. 


I couldn't remember exactly where that sentiment from Ecclesiastes was found, so I Googled "better not to have been born." Among other things I found a book called Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence. It's apparently a quite serious case for the minimization of harm as a rationale for the human race to voluntarily cease existing. 

David Benatar argues that coming into existence is always a serious harm. Although the good things in one's life make one's life go better than it otherwise would have gone, one could not have been deprived by their absence if one had not existed. Those who never exist cannot be deprived. However, by coming into existence one does suffer quite serious harms that could not have befallen one had one not come into existence.... The author then argues for the 'anti-natal' view---that it is always wrong to have children---and he shows that combining the anti-natal view with common pro-choice views about foetal moral status yield a "pro-death" view about abortion (at the earlier stages of gestation). Anti-natalism also implies that it would be better if humanity became extinct. Although counter-intuitive for many, that implication is defended, not least by showing that it solves many conundrums of moral theory about population.

Nothing like that sort of thing to snap me out of my morose thinking. There are some ideas that should just be rejected on contact, spat out as soon as tasted, or rejected without being tasted because they stink. David Benatar is "currently Senior Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at the University of Cape Town, South Africa," according to the book's entry on Amazon. 


Amid all the talk of the "Benedict Option," it occurs to me that even more fundamentally what many, even many Christians, require right now is the Puddleglum Option. You remember Puddleglum, the gloomy but faithful marsh-dweller in C.S. Lewis's The Silver Chair? In order to keep himself, Eustace, and Lucy from falling completely under the spell of the Queen of Underland who is convincing them that the outside world does not exist, Puddleglum stamps on her enchanted fire with his bare foot, and the pain helps to break the spell. It is becoming an act of deliberate resistance in our culture to insist on certain fundamental realities. 


Cath stat

I always like--well, maybe like is the wrong word--I always find very meaningful the reading of the Passion narratives on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, because the congregation is usually assigned the words of the crowd. None of us can be sure that we would not have been among those crying "Crucify him!"

Sunday Night Journal, February 12, 2017

For most of my adult life, until I was getting near fifty or so, I spent a lot of time thinking about What Was Wrong with Society and what Society ought to be like. I tended to assume that Society was fundamentally messed up and therefore must be fundamentally changed. When I was twenty this change was supposed to be in the direction of some sort of leftist dream, more or less utopian. When I was forty it was Chestertonian-distributist-agrarian. The magazine Caelum et Terra, in which I was heavily involved in the early-to-mid-1990s, was devoted in large part to that basic idea.

I always felt a little dishonest and hypocritical about that, though, because in my heart I didn't really have a great desire to move to the country, much less to attempt subsistence farming, and I didn't really think it was something that should be expected of most people. I had seen farming up close and didn't fall for the romantic picture held by a lot of Catholic intellectuals. I could have come into my family's medium-sized cattle-and-crops farm if I had wanted to, and sometimes I think I should have, but it would not have been a life that either Chesterton or Belloc would have much admired. An acquaintance who grew up on a family farm, asked why he hadn't stayed there, said "it was too much like work." 

I was thinking about that recently when I read an essay by Joseph Epstein, "The Big O: the Reputation of George Orwell." It was published in The New Criterion in 1990, and, as a subscriber, I was made aware of it by an occasional email the magazine sends recommending things from its archives. The essay is excellent, but unfortunately is available only to subscribers. Anyway, this remark of Orwell's really struck me:

“All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries are at bottom a sham,” he wrote in his essay “Rudyard Kipling” (1942), “because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy.”

I'm afraid that is all too shrewdly accurate an assessment not only of left-wingers but of those Catholics who tend to idealize and romanticize Catholic cultures of the past. Let's face it: most of us have fairly easy and well-provisioned lives compared to almost all the people who have ever lived, and as much as we might see and deplore the various ills (spiritual, material, and psychological) that have accompanied it--life never gives us any gain without some countering loss--we don't really want to give up things like central heat and indoor plumbing and underground sewer systems. Not to mention a plentiful and reliable food supply. Not to mention a previously unknown degree of personal freedom. And window screens, something I often think of in this context, since I live in a very hot and buggy place.

By the time I started this blog in 2004 I had pretty much given up thinking about those What's Wrong With Society And How Do We Fix It questions. Yes, things are messed up. Yes, arguably the messed-up-ness stems directly from philosophical wrong turns taken several hundred years ago. And if you want to spend time analyzing that, by all means do so. If you want to spend time thinking about, for instance, how a Christian society ought to handle property ownership, or the question of lending money at interest, by all means do so. But I don't care anymore, not in a personal way, not in any sense that suggests the ills can be done away with and right order established in my lifetime or even my grandchildren's lifetimes. It's academic, in the dismissive sense: a matter of only abstract interest and no immediate import. 

You might reply that this was once true of the abstruse philosophical errors that got us where we are, and that in the long run, they had a great deal of practical effect. Yes, that's true, and it's good that intelligent people are working on the problem. But it's like engineers on the Titanic discussing the flaws of its design, and how they might be corrected in future vessels, while the ship is filling with water. 

Conservatives are often asked what they want to conserve. I myself, in a Caelum et Terra piece published some twenty-five years ago, wondered at what point a conservative would become so out of step with his society as to be a de facto revolutionary. I thought the time might be coming fairly soon. Well, things have gotten considerably worse, but I find that I have not only not become a revolutionary but am a rather desperate conservative.

What do I want to conserve? In a word, civilization. In a few more words, Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian Civilization. And more specifically, right here and right now, I want to preserve the Anglo-American system of constitutional government, which for a long time has been under suspicion and sometimes attack from the left. Now it's also being endangered--not really deliberately attacked, but threatened by foolish reactions--from the right as well. And the conflict between the two seems to be producing something like a national nervous breakdown.

The "fundamental transformation" promised and pursued by Obama produced a reaction, and put into the White House a man unqualified for and unsuited to the position. Now the reaction to that has some significant portion of the country in a state which can fairly be called hysteria. Fear and hate are at some kind of fever pitch in the opposition to Trump, and as always when that happens principles of abstract law begin to look like intolerable obstacles. A day or two after Trump's executive order on immigration was struck down by a court, in a conversation with a Trump opponent, I was talking about the danger of whipping up fear and hysteria. She replied that the order might not have been overturned if not for "what you refer to as 'whipping up hysteria'".

The implication there, that judges ought to respond to the popular passions of the moment, is shocking. But I'm afraid that a very large number of our citizens (if that word still has meaning) see the whole constitutional system that way. The vague view seems to be something like "The Constitution exists to promote good things. Therefore what is good is constitutional, and what is bad is unconstitutional. And my party decides what is good and bad."

I don't think about building a new society anymore. I only want to prevent the destruction of the foundations of the one we have. Fortunately there is a lot of inertia in the system.


Yeah, I know I need to avoid being hysterical about the hysteria. 


Well, I'd like to think about something more pleasant now. Also from The New Criterion, the December '16 issue: Kyle Smith, reviewing a new musical which is a sort of rewrite of Holiday Inn, the 1942 Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire movie, writes:

When I say Holiday Inn is a musical feast for the family, I don’t mean bring small children: whether they’d be bored by such all-around excellence I have no idea, but I do know they can be entertained for a lot less than it costs to see a Broadway show. No, I mean bring the parents, even bring the in-laws, bring anyone who is wise enough to appreciate 1940s Hollywood stardust.

I rejoiced at that last bit, because I've come in my latter years to a great appreciation and affection for Hollywood stardust. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, for instance. Neo-neocon had a post last week about them, a bit of cheer-up in the midst of the political strife. As she says, they "generated more human happiness than many do-gooders." In case you don't want to click over and read her post--go ahead, it's short, but in case you don't--here's the video she chose to make her point. 

 I know there's no accounting for tastes and all, but I don't see how that can fail to make you smile. 


It's Septuagesima Sunday. Here's Janet Cupo's post from last year on the occasion. I usually don't look forward to Lent. Ok, to be honest I usually have a slight dread of Lent. But this year for some reason I'm looking forward to it. I feel a greater than usual need for some kind of purification. My own sinfulness (actual and potential) is not noticeably greater or less than usual, but it feels like some kind of spiritual corruption in the environment is clinging to me, and I want to wash it off.


He wants you to serve him without joy, without feeling, with repugnance and revulsion of spirit. Such service gives you no satisfaction, but it pleases him; it is not according to your liking, but according to his.

Imagine that you are never going to be delivered of your anguish: what would you do? You would say to God: I am yours; if my miseries are agreeable to you, give me more and let them last longer. I have confidence in our Lord that this is what you would say; then you would stop thinking about the matter, at least you would stop struggling.

Well, do this now, and make friends with your trial, as though the two of you were always to live together. You will see that when you have stopped taking thought for your deliverance, God will think of it, and when you stop worrying, God will come swiftly to your help.

--St. Francis de Sales, via the January issue of Magnificat


Meanwhile, Mardi Gras parades have started. Friday we went with daughter and grandsons to see the Conde Cavaliers.