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Sunday Night Journal, October 14, 2018

A few years ago I picked up two of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s spy novels from a giveaway table at the library. I've never been a big fan of Buckley's writing as such, but I like the genre, and was curious as to how Buckley handled it. Recently, having begun to look at the overflowing bookshelves in this house with an eye toward culling the stock, I put these two in "read it or get rid of it" status. I picked one of them, The Story of Henri Tod, to sample.

Henri Toddweiss and his beloved sister Clementa are the children of a wealthy German Jewish family. They are in their teens when the Nazi nightmare takes hold. When the Gestapo come for their parents the children are spirited away to live with and be protected by a farm family. (The background of this arrangement is not made clear but I think the family had no previous connection with them, but rather are members of a resistance group.) When he approaches draft age Henri is sent to school in England, and he and Clementa are separated for the first time in their lives, swearing that they will be re-united.

Before that can happen the Nazis learn that Clementa is Jewish. I will leave out the details of how this comes about because they are extremely important to the story. The couple who have been protecting them are shot on the spot, and Clementa is sent to Auschwitz. 

The above events are seen in retrospect; the novel takes place in 1961. In Berlin. In August. If you are a better student of history than I am, you will see that it probably involves the erection of the Berlin Wall, and you will be right. Henri Toddweiss is now Henri Tod--"Tod" means "death" in German. He is the head of an underground organization known simply as the Bruderschaft, the Brotherhood, fighting the Communists. Why is he fighting the erstwhile enemies of Nazism? He believes that

What Nazism and Communism had in common was that both systems sanctioned the killing and torturing of innocent people, and if one saw that, all else that was sayable about the nice ideological differences of the two systems was, well, trivial.

Which I pretty much agree with.

Berlin is full of uneasiness about what the Russians may do to get control of their problem, which consists mainly of the fact that people are leaving East Berlin for the West in droves. Buckley's spy protagonist, Blackford Oakes, enters this situation as an agent charged with figuring out what the Russians may actually do, so that the American government and its allies can decide what they will do in response. Oakes is put in touch with Tod. 

What happens from here also involves a resourceful young man who happens to be the nephew and secretary of Walter Ulbricht, the East German ruler, his girlfriend, and Hitler's private railroad car, which has been sitting unnoticed in a garage with hundreds of other similar ones. It also involves Clementa; here again I'll say no more, for fear of spoiling the story. And it involves John F. Kennedy, not just off-stage in his role as the American president but in chapters which give us Buckley's notions of what Kennedy might have been thinking. 

It's a heartbreaking story, but I don't think Buckley quite does it justice. He is competent, but not brilliant. His approach could be described as understated, but it could also be described as flat. Or, if that's not really fair, let's just say it's lighter than the story calls for. Still, I'm haunted by certain aspects of it. In John Le Carre's hands this basic story would have been devastating, perhaps one of the best of his novels--and I say that as one who thinks Le Carre one of the better novelists working in our time. 

I might add that the Americans don't come off very well in this. That's not surprising, I guess, given Buckley's strong anti-communism. I surmise from the story that he thought we should have made an effort to stop the closing of East Berlin. There's an amusing moment in the book where Oakes reads (and agrees with) an article on the subject--by William F. Buckley writing in National Review. I'd be surprised if that article isn't real. 

And I'll note in passing that the book contains a really cringe-making sex scene. It involves Oakes and a woman he meets on a train. The incident adds nothing to the book except to give Oakes a bit of James-Bond-ish glamour by making him irresistible to women. It needn't have been there at all, and it needn't have been described. It's not explicit, it's just...I'm having trouble thinking of a word to describe it, and the only one that comes to mind is "corny," in a romance-novel sort of way, male version. I don't think "corny" is used very much now. "Cheesy" is a more recent similar usage. 

I do plan to read the other Buckley novel I have, High Jinx. I doubt that I'll keep them, though. 

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Actually I lean toward the view that it's almost impossible to write effectively in any detail at all about sex. It usually just seems a little silly and somehow embarrassing, unless it's actually meant to be pornography, and in that case the effectiveness is a bad thing. I can't think offhand of any such effort that I thought worked well. Best to just close the bedroom door, making sure, if you think it necessary, that the reader knows it's happening, then leave it behind that door. 

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I mentioned the term "resistance" above in reference to resistance against the Nazis. It strikes me as ridiculous and a little disgusting that those who object vehemently to Donald Trump and all his works have described themselves as "The Resistance," as if marching, screaming at politicians, and griping on the Internet, all with complete impunity, were in any way comparable to risking torture and death. 

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I live on the Gulf Coast, 150 miles or so from where Hurricane Michael hit, but I can't tell you anything more about it than you can learn from the news. You probably know it was possibly the most devastating storm ever to hit the Florida panhandle. All we had here was a somewhat windy and cloudy day, not even any rain. I don't think I'd have known that a hurricane was anywhere near, though perhaps someone more weather-wise would have been suspicious of the wind and the rapid and steady movement of the high clouds. Hurricanes of course are a fact of life here. You just have to live with the risk, and sometimes your area is the one that's hit. This one was particularly disturbing, though, because we usually don't get bad ones past the end of September, and it strengthened so much so quickly. When it first developed in the Caribbean and seemed likely to come this way, everybody thought "Oh, even if it does hit here, it won't be that big a deal." And then just a couple of days later it was looking bad, then worse.

I have no big conclusion to draw from this, just a sense of awe. And, I admit, relief that it didn't come here. I always feel a little guilty about that. 

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When your mailbox comes loose from the post and you don't have time to fix it, you improvise.

Mailbox


Sunday Night Journal, December 10, 2017

Somehow or other I've become Facebook friends with half a dozen or so people who know a lot of theology. Some are professional theologians (i.e. they are theology professors) or just have studied it extensively. Several of them seem to be very excited about René Girard. I'd never read anything by him and really only vaguely recalled having heard of him, so I decided to read one of his books. I chose I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, I think on the recommendation of one of those Facebook people. 

I finished it a few days ago and...well, I'm not sure what I think, though I can certainly say it was interesting. One of the blurbs is from the late Fr. Richard Neuhaus, who advises the reader to "prepare to be changed" by this book. My reaction to  that was, approximately, Yeah right. But having read the book, I could almost say the same thing. Only almost--I'm not exactly a disciple, but I think the book is going to stick with me, and Girard does show us a way of looking at things unlike anything else I've ever encountered in the theological line. That of course isn't saying a whole lot, as I haven't read very much theology, but a number of people who have seem to think it's true. 

There's an overview of his life and thought in his Wikipedia entry. Sometimes those are questionable, of course, but having read this book I'll vouch for the accuracy of this description:

Girard's fundamental ideas, which he had developed throughout his career and provided the foundation for his thinking, were that desire is mimetic (i.e. all of our desires are borrowed from other people), that all conflict originates in mimetic desire (mimetic rivalry), that the scapegoat mechanism is the origin of sacrifice and the foundation of human culture, and religion was necessary in human evolution to control the violence that can come from mimetic rivalry, and that the Bible reveals these ideas and denounces the scapegoat mechanism.

Girard's thought seems to have puzzled some readers, not only in the sense of being puzzled by his ideas but of being puzzled as to what exactly those ideas are. For that reason, I assume, the translator of this book (originally published in French)  provides a foreword in which he these ideas explicitly in a numbered list (1-10). (Not a "forward" (!) as I see more and more often in discussions of books.)

That first idea, that all our desires are borrowed from other people--we want what others want, and learn those wants from  models, beginning with our parents--seems so obviously wrong, so obviously at best a partial truth, that I keep thinking I misunderstand it. All these very intelligent, very knowledgeable people who esteem Girard so highly seem to understand and accept it; if I don't, it must be my error. Or at least there's a good chance that it's my error. Note that these are all people whom I have reason to respect intellectually; that is, it's not just their academic credentials that I respect, as those lost their association with good sense in my mind a long, long time ago.

Obviously this mimetic desire operates in some cases: we only want the blue ribbon in a contest because we want the prestige it symbolizes, and we absorb the whole idea of prestige, and attach value to it, by the influence and example of others. We learn manners and to a great extent virtues and vices from others, and rivalries involving them can easily arise. But surely there are many desires that are not mimetic, and Girard does not seem to limit his claim very much. The translator seems to say that Gerard asserts this for all desires except the instinctive, but he doesn't go into much detail. So perhaps the range of desires which he counts as instinctive is much greater than I think. 

Take the desire of a child for ice cream, for instance. Most of us learn this desire the moment we taste the marvelous substance. No one has to tell us that it's something we should like. We don't have to observe our parents enjoying it in order to desire it for ourselves. I could multiply instances of this sort a great length, and so could you. Men don't desire beautiful women primarily because other men do, but because they are beautiful, and a man's immediate spontaneous reaction to the sight of them is to desire them. That desire begins with instinct, certainly, but goes well beyond it. 

And "mimetic rivalry"? Yes, certainly, rivalry for a desired woman (to continue the last example) can certainly produce conflict, and envy and prestige play a part in increasing the conflict. But they aren't its root. I would think that in a great many cases, including both my examples, scarcity is at least as much a contributor to conflict as rivalry. Ice cream usually has to be shared, and every bite that my siblings eat is one that I don't get. Not all women are beautiful, and any one beautiful woman is desired by more than one man; they can't all have her. Or consider the desire for wealth: it is in part a means toward the satisfaction of desires that are thwarted more by scarcity than by rivalry as such. 

So before I'd read a single word of Girard himself, I seemed to disagree with him. I'm going to stick with "seemed" there because I'm still allowing for the possibility that I'm misunderstanding. Like I said, the objections seem to me so obvious that they must not apply to what Girard actually means. Perhaps the examples of desire I've given are ones which he would count as instinctive, and therefore outside his sweeping assertion. If so, it would help if he made that clear. And perhaps he does in other books. (And if any Girardians read this and can straighten me out, please do so.)

Why, then, do I say that Neuhaus's prediction of the book's effect might be true for me? Why did I proceed from skepticism to excitement about the book? Because, having mentally registered my objection to at least part of Girard's premise, having placed some limits on its applicable scope, I found that it does shed a great deal of useful light on the relationship of Judeo-Christian religion to human culture. The "Judeo" part of that is not a formality, as Girard very explicitly includes both the Old and New testaments in his analysis. Let me see if I can briefly sum up this relationship:

Human culture, Girard believes, is produced by the efforts of a community to mitigate the effect of intra-group violence caused by mimetic rivalry. Conflict intensifies and if not somehow resolved and dissipated will destroy the community. The mechanism for doing this is the scapegoat: the community unites in blaming one person, kills him or her, and is restored, at least for a time. The cycle repeats itself. The release of collective violence against a single victim makes the continuation of a culture possible, i.e. prevents its self-destruction. Often the victim is, after the fact, accorded a god or god-like status by the (unconscious?) conviction of the community that the sacrifice of the victim is the direct cause of the restoration. 

In order for this mechanism to work, the community has to believe, at the time of the killing, that the victim is in fact guilty and deserves to die. The victim must truly be, in the eyes of the group, responsible for the trouble which it is experiencing. This conviction is the work of Satan, who was also responsible for the trouble in the first place. By the victim/scapegoat mechanism, Satan casts out Satan. But the casting-out is temporary. It is based on a lie about the victim, and the violence of mimetic rivalry sooner or later returns. 

What Judeo-Christian religion does--uniquely, according to Girard--is to unmask this cycle, to reveal the actual innocence of the victim, and thus to expose the Satanic power of the scapegoating mechanism. And to expose it is to end its power.

Girard elaborates all this in some detail, though perhaps still not enough, which may cause me to read more of his work. Is he really accurate, for instance, when he grounds all of non-Judeo-Christian mythology in the single-victim process? I'm not knowledgeable enough either to agree or disagree with this.

Through most of the book I tended to applaud Girard's passing observations more than his principal thesis. It is in the latter part that he really makes his mark on me. He winds up his story with an explication of the place of the victim in contemporary secular culture, and it was there that I most often found myself getting excited, saying Yes!, and marking passages. I just counted and I've placed thirteen book darts (what?) in this book. That's a good many for a relatively short book (193 pages).  One of them marks the entirety of Chapter 13, "The Modern Concern for Victims." Here he makes the case that such a concern is almost unheard of in pre-Christian cultures (I think in fact he would remove the "almost.") 

This is, as usual, going on a bit too long for a blog post. I'm skimming Chapter 13 in search of a quote that will serve as an example of Girard's insight. It's hard to isolate one bit, but I'll make do with this:

There is just one rubric that gathers together everything I am summarizing in no particular order and without concern for completeness: the concern for victims. This concern sometimes is so exaggerated and in a fashion so subject to caricature that it arouses laughter, but we should guard against seeing it as only one thing, as nothing but twaddle that's always ineffective. It is more than a hypocritical comedy. Through the ages it has created a society incomparable to all the others. It is unifying the world for the first time in history.

To some extent this is a variation on the oft-made point that our society is living on the moral capital of Christianity. Girard seems to be a little hopeful that universal concern for victims is a sign that Christianity is still very much alive and well. But he also wonders (I think) how this will play out when separated from its foundation. At any rate I wonder that. Right now I'd say that the signs are not encouraging, that the secularized community of concern for victims is now characterized by mimetic rivalry in victimhood, is tearing at itself, is therefore in search of a scapegoat, and is looking toward Christianity as a candidate for that role. 

It's probably inaccurate to classify this book as theology. It's more a species of anthropology--religious anthropology, maybe. Whatever it is, it's worth reading. If the list of things I really, really want to read were not so long I think I'd immediately re-read it.

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This afternoon I went Christmas shopping with my wife at the local Barnes and Noble store. I had not been in one of those for a long time, some years at least. Browsing the shelves there made me actively question the notion that reading is in itself a good thing. What a lot of drivel, some harmless and some not at all harmless, is on display there. You would be better occupied in staring at a tree then reading most of it. 

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It's almost the end of the year. Does anybody want to do 52 Things next year? I think we considered 52 Poems. I would be willing to do that. However: as I've said before in this context, if I say it's going to be 52 Things, I want it really to be 52. It will really bother me to miss a week. I know I can't count on other people delivering something every single week, so I have to be prepared to do it, and I'm finding that to be more of a distraction that I can really afford (my book is not going well at all). It shouldn't be, but I have trouble concentrating under the best conditions. So if we do something this year it will have to be something for which I can do a post without actually writing anything. Poems would work, as I could just copy-paste the poem into a post, or link to it, without necessarily writing any commentary beyond "Here's one I like." 

If we should decide to do poems, I would have some specifications for how they're submitted to me. Nothing too complicated, but formatting poems for the web can be time-consuming, so I'd like to have them in a form where they can just be copied and pasted. Details if we decide to do it. 

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This picture was taken a few minutes before 11pm Friday night. I was on my way to Christ the King church in Daphne for my hour of Adoration. Yes, it was taken from the driver's seat of a car in motion. No, I should not have done it. But snow is so very, very rare here that I wanted to capture the image. It was really much thicker than this. I guess a lot of it just wasn't bright enough for the camera to catch.

SnowWhileDriving

I've been living in this general area since 1990, and I think this is only the third time that there's been enough snow to leave a visible accumulation, though only for a few hours. This is midnight at Christ the King.

SnowAtChristTheKing


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. 

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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:

Patio

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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.

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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.

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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. 

AfterNate

 


Sunday Night Journal, May 28, 2017

It's pretty obvious that there is some significant number of people on the left who simply don't believe in freedom of speech anymore. There have been a number of incidents lately that make the point. There were the attack on Charles Murray, the conflict at Duke Divinity School, the simultaneously hilarious and disturbing fight at the feminist journal Hypatia. In the latter case, fury was directed at a feminist author, and the magazine that published her, for considering the possibility that a person could be "transracial" in the same way that current academic orthodoxy believes one can be "transgender." That controversy is so demented that it's funny, but the attackers are deadly serious, and I have no doubt that if they could they would deprive the offender of her job, and will try to find ways to punish her.

The most recent one is the case of a biology professor who refused to go along with a racial-consciousness event that asked (ordered?) white people to stay off campus for a day.  Threats of violence prevented Ann Coulter from speaking at Berkley, and a parade in Portland was reportedly canceled when leftists promised to disrupt it because a Republican group was going to be part of it. 

There's a lot to be said about this that pertains to our politics and the rule of law, especially that last one. If its implications are not immediately obvious to you, consider what the reaction would be if the KKK attempted something similar against Democrats. But stepping back from the current situation a little, and trying to view it somewhat dispassionately, I think this may be one of several indications that the Enlightenment/liberal consensus about speech and ideas is falling apart. A week or two ago I got into a discussion of the Catholic Church and science on Facebook (Galileo!), which led into the general topic of forbidden ideas and speech, which led me to say this:

A further thought on censorship and the suppression of ideas in general: I suspect that our ideal of completely free speech and thought are somewhat anomalous historically, not only with respect to the past but maybe also with respect to the future. There are signs that it isn't going to last. A lot of progressives, especially young ones and especially in academia, apparently just don't believe in it anymore, and that could have a big impact over the next fifty years or so. It's a natural thing that a society would try to suppress ideas that pose a threat to its very existence, or offend its sense of what is sacred. I'm not saying that's good or bad, but it's natural, and we may be going in that direction again. The classical liberal, John Stuart Mill style ideal of totally free and open debate may be on its way out. Like classical liberalism in general. 

One possible positive result of this might be a bit of understanding and sympathy for the medieval Church and society.

Possible. Not probable.

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Last weekend I went to the wedding of a niece, daughter of one of my sisters. I'm not keen on attending weddings anymore, because I've seen far too many marriages end. But I went. The ceremony was supposed to take place at 5:30 Saturday afternoon on the big front porch of our old family home in north Alabama. A lot of rented white plastic folding chairs were set up on the front lawn for the guests. Planning an outside event is always a gamble in a climate and at a time of year when rain is fairly frequent. An hour or so before the appointed time I was putting gas in my car and noticed big dark clouds moving in from the southwest. They kept getting bigger and darker until they were a little scary, with a touch of that slight greenish hue that always suggests "possible tornado" to me. A few minutes before 5:30 the wind began to pick up until it was fierce, and soon I could see a mix of dust and rain coming across the fields. At almost exactly the minute the ceremony was supposed to begin, the cloudburst came. 

I think the rain plan was more or less "improvise." All the many guests crowded into the house, overflowing the front hall and all the nearby rooms and crowding the stairs. The minister and attendants took up their positions just inside the front doors, which were open. From where I was standing I could see a really potent storm going on: the rain was horizontal, and so heavy that I couldn't see the end of the driveway several hundred feet away. The worst of it was over fairly soon, and though the rain continued well into the night, it didn't seem to lower anyone's spirits. 

I'm sure there was some cynical "Well, this is a bad sign" joking about the rain, especially the way the beginning of the downpour was timed almost to the minute with the ceremony. But this is farm country, and the rain was badly needed. The forecast had been showing an increasing chance of rain for two or three days, and I had heard several people say "We sure need the rain, but I hope it holds off till tomorrow." My brother and I decided it was not a bad sign at all. Just the opposite: it may have been a sign of blessing. I hope so.

 WeddingRain

...and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing.

--Ezekiel 34:36

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I find lately that I feel more pity than envy when I contemplate young people. There's such a long road ahead for them. I even fear for them a little--there's such a strong chance for varieties of grief and pain that they can't foresee. Nevertheless, life is good.

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From a piece about Hogarth in the April issue of The New Criterion:

Hogarth is a wonderful character—self-made and self-mocking, candidly ambitious and patriotic, easily slighted and angered. His life is a grand tour through the social and moral microcosm of Georgian London. His satires abound in easy English pleasures—lechery, drink, gambling, mockery, sanctimony, slapstick, cruelty to animals, and abuse of the French.

That's not relevant to anything. I just thought it was funny. 

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We were talking about Roger Scruton last week. Here's an interesting review of one of his books at Craig Burrell's blog. The topic is education and its role in the transmission of culture. What happens when education is suborned to the repudiation and destruction of a traditional culture?

I begin to see the appeal of the individualized, even fractured model of education and culture (or, “culture”), for in troubled times it would, ironically, at least permit one to promote and pursue the traditional aims of education.


Ravages of Climate Change

I found this poor creature, apparently some terribly malformed waterfowl, perhaps an infant, washed up on the beach a few days ago. It couldn't have lived very long, having apparently no internal organs at all. And of course I  immediately thought: Climate change!

GWaCCVictim

I'm not completely inventing this fear, either.

I've always described myself as agnostic on the question, but I lean more and more toward skepticism. I suspect this alarmism is going to be laughed at fifty or a hundred years from now. It's not that I don't believe that there has been a warming trend since 1880; if the people who study such things say that's what the measurements show, they're probably right, though I wonder if we really can attribute that much precision to measurements which purport to tell us temperature across the entire surface of the world. I'm willing to believe that human activity is at least partly responsible for it. 

But we're talking about less than one Celsius degrees, less than one and a half Fahrenheit degrees. The attribution of all manner of calamities to that amount of change is simply implausible on its face, and the manifestly emotional-religious fervor of the climate change activists, as well as the fact that their proposed responses happen to match what they wanted to do anyway, suggests that skepticism is warranted. It's not a good sign that they now respond to doubters by branding them as Very Bad People, possibly cut from the same cloth as Holocaust deniers, which in turn puts one only a step away from being a Nazi.

I wonder, too, if anyone really believes we can fine-tune the global climate in the way that seems implied by the clamor for action. Suppose we took some drastic action, and it lowered the global temperature. What if we didn't get it exactly right, and the temperature dropped by .8C from its apparently optimal 1880 level? Wouldn't that be a crisis, too?


Of Course

I saw this headline on Google News yesterday:

Huge New Holes In Siberia Have Scientists Calling For Urgent Investigation Of The Mysterious Craters

and immediately thought "Someone will blame it on global warming/climate change."

I clicked on it and read the story, at the Huffington Post. Sure enough: 

The leading theory is that the holes were created by gas explosions triggered by underground heat or by rising air temperatures associated with climate change, the Siberian Times reported last December.

 


The Thaw

It's a bright sunny day, the temperature is a few degrees above freezing, and I'm hearing something I've only heard a few times in my life. The sound of the thaw: water running off the eaves, dripping from the trees, and here and there a more substantial sound as a bit of ice crumbles and falls. Apart from the last of these, it sounds more or less like the aftermath of an ordinary rain, but the cold makes it feel much different. I'd forgotten what a pleasure it is; a bit of compensation for those who live in colder places.


Winter Storm 2014

I know this is nothing by the standards of any part of the country north of Tennessee or so, but it's hard to communicate just how freakish it is here. Normally the most severe wintry weather we get is a few days here and there slightly below freezing. Once, ca. 1996, there was enough snow in Mobile to cover the ground and stick for most of a day,  and against the stern instructions of the authorities, I drove several of my children over to see it. Now and then we get a bit of sleet or freezing rain. But I've been living in this area for 23 years and haven't seen anything remotely like this.

This was the view out the front door this morning. That looks like snow, but it's actually mostly sleet. It fell along with a little rain, so it was a bit slushy, and then it all froze hard overnight. Footprints don't show on it. The stepping stones are clear because I swept the sleet off last night while it was still falling, before it had a chance to harden. I did the same on the steps, and my wife found a box of ice cream salt which worked wonderfully for keeping the steps clear.

FrozenFrontYard

But the big news, and the sad news, in this picture is the dead leaves on that tree overhanging the front steps. That is our lemon tree. It should be green even in winter. The damage you see is from the similar cold snap of a couple of weeks ago, which involved no precipitation. We'll know in six weeks or so how bad the damage really is. But I think there are going to be no lemons this year. This is how it looked only six weeks or so ago.

OurLemons

[sniffle]

The beach is covered with ice, too. 

IcyBeach

On a slight slope, I could take a couple of running steps and have a nice slide, which was not very smart for a guy with a bad back, but fun.

I looked for ice along the edges of the water, because I wanted very much to be able to say that Mobile Bay is beginning to freeze over. But apart from a bit of frozen foam there really wasn't any. There was, however, some fresh frozen mullet.

FreshFrozenMullet

 

We watched the weather report on one of the local TV stations last night, which we rarely do, and it was very funny. Roving correspondents all over the area, trying to think of variations on "Look at the ice on that highway. Gosh, there's a lot of ice! Ice is slippery, don't drive on it. Look at all that ice!" And there was a funny scene of kids from quite young to college age "sledding" on plastic storage-bin lids and anything else they could find that was flat and big enough to sit on.

Oh, and my wife and I, like almost everyone else in the area, got an unexpected two days off work, which is why I have time to do this.


It's even cold here--I mean, not what natives consider cold, but something that people who live in actual cold places might admit is somewhat chilly, if they were out in the wind and not wearing heavy parkas and such.

But don't you love that phrase "polar vortex"?