Sunday, May 28, 2023

Artists like cats?

 "Artists, like cats, communicate abstractly, at a remove. This is why artists hate to be asked what their work means. Even if what they make is a picture of a landscape, or a race riot, it's not 'about' only those things. It's about much more -- including itself, its materials and how they were used, and how the artist sees the world."

"As for art itself, that's much more like a dog: never quite behaving, making a mess, costing a lot, always making you get supplies, but paying you back in wonder and delight."

-- Jerry Saltz, in his book "How to Be An Artist"

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Shot and chaser (culture wars)

Note the delta on the Rotten Tomatoes move review aggregator site between audience scores for the movie "Nefarious" and professional critics' reaction to it.

Then ponder this essay by John Daniel Davidson for The Federalist.

Davidson's point (not coincidentally hinted at by the wildly different reaction to "Nefarious" from average moviegoers and film critics) is this: "When one side stakes its claim to political power on offering abortion up until birth and transgender operations for 8-year-olds, and holds out these policies as proof of its moral authority, we're way past arguing over how to get the economy back on track." Moreover, "Tucker Carlson hit on this at the end of his big speech at Heritage recently. He compared the values of the political left to the values of the Aztecs, who sacrificed children to their bloodthirsty gods -- and he wasn't wrong." 

Several commentators have since said that Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch fired Tucker Carlson over that speech, because Murdoch has peculiar notions of what "extremist" thinking is. Tucker probably saw that coming, joking even at the time that prayer is always a good strategy when you're engaged in spiritual warfare, even if the guy recommending that is -- like Carlson himself -- a mild-mannered Episcopalian.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Remembering Gerard Vanderleun

Gerard Vanderleun was a blogger whom I never met, but admired in spite of the sketchy job (editing Penthouse magazine) that he'd once had. He left us on January 27 of this year, at age 77 after a short illness. 

Gerard had a sharp mind and a generous spirit. His influential blog lives on for awhile, thanks to the good graces of his much-loved companion Jean Kaufman, who herself runs a fine blog under the nom-de-plume The New Neo.

"Judas: A Saint for Our Seasons" is re-posted here as a tribute to Mr. Vanderleun. I first read this essay when Gerard published it on April 18, 2014, but it may have been a re-posting of his own work from 2006 even then. Whether this essay appeared once or several times, it was originally on his own blog, American Digest

In some ways, Gerard Vanderleun was the blogging's answer to singer/songwriter John Prine, who has also gone recently to his reward. 

Like almost everything else Gerard wrote, this searing meditation on cultural failure and its implications holds up well. 

All of the following words are his, re-presented here because they deserve to be remembered.

Judas: A Saint for Our Seasons

If we betray the people who love us, what's to stop us from betraying the country that makes us possible?

Did you ever break a promise?
Did you ever break a vow?
Have you traded love for money,
And are you happy now?

Did you kiss him in the garden
And then abandon him to fate?
Is your final sin forgiven,
Or is it far too late?

WHEN IT COMES TO DISCOVERING new ways to cheapen the human soul, the "professional intellectuals" of our society have cornered the market. So it was in 2006 when, timed carefully to cash in on the Easter holiday, the "serious" editors of National Geographic chose to release their gleanings from a sheaf of rags and call them "The Gospel of Judas."

Having risen through the echo chamber of "higher" education and survived the ruthless but quiet vetting process of their "profession," these editors knew full well that what they were putting out into the world was not a "gospel." They also knew that calling it a "gospel" would ensure greater attention and greater sales. Beyond that, the editors, secular cultists all, also got a quiet little tingle by having, in their minds, "stuck it" to the Christian church once again. As usual, such secularists love to stick it to Christianity. Addicts of auto-erotic spiritual asphyxiation, their onanistic pleasure in these deeds is only enhanced if they can be performed during the most holy days of the Christian calendar. Only then can maximum profit and pleasure be assured.

This dark thrill of denigration has the immediate benefit of pleasingly confirming them in their own Church of Zero, and the secondary benefit of being much, much safer than, say, sticking it to Islam, a faith that enforces its demands for respect with bombs and beheadings, and whose central message to all cowards is "Don't mess with Muhammad." The sad fact of our modern era is that if you denigrate Islam, you often have to bag up body parts and hose down the sidewalk, but when you denigrate Christianity the most you need to clean up after yourself is a warm washcloth.

Your gedankenexperiment for today is to ask yourself, regardless of your religious beliefs, if the editors of National Geographic, being given an ancient manuscript that "proved" the Koran was nothing more than the blatherings of some ergot-besotted Bedouin who had munched one too many hallucinogenic plants while hanging out in a cave near Mecca, would have published the same "proof" as loudly and as broadly? Would they have done so, or would they have issued a Press Release citing concerns for the "provenance" of the manuscript and their employees' safety? Regardless of your religious beliefs, you know the shameful answer.

But beyond these considerations, the publication of the "Gospel" of Judas has another, deeper and more lasting benefit to our neophytes of nihilism. It puts one of the final elements of their anti-morality play at center stage. It seeks to sanctify treason.

It was never a question of "if," but only a question of "when" our contemporary society would discover an avatar who would make treason acceptable. It only codifies the realities of their secular belief system. Treason against others or one's country has long been as common as adultery in this country. Like adultery the rate of treason is on the rise because, like adultery and similar forms of personal betrayal, it no longer has any consequences at all.

It is true that the federal crime of treason is not easily established and is rarely if ever charged. But the formal crime of treason is not what I am discussing here. Rather the more common, garden variety of treason as understood by plain people -- the rabid and unremitting hatred, expressed in word or deed, of the country that gives you the freedom express your hatred. It is the treason of the ingrate, the soul-dead, the politically perverted, and the bitter; it is, as Roger Kimball at The New Criterion discusses, the treason of intellectuals and "the undoing of thought."

It's a fact of our self-centered contemporary existence that betrayal has become one of the common forces that shape our lives. For when our own desires ride us like a drunken demon lodged on our shoulders, betrayal is the first order of the day when others seek to thwart our desires, or even when others become a mere inconvenience to our wants and whims.

We've long permitted greater and greater levels of betrayal in our society. We've codified them as law, policy and custom as far as the wishes of the individual are concerned. It is no longer sophisticated or fashionable to speak of selfishness as betrayal. That word is so harsh when, after all, we are only speaking of "differing needs," aren't we. When the betrayal of others is glossed over with phrases such as "I needed to be me," or "I needed my space," or "I needed more money," or "We were just on different paths," then the elevation of this disease of the soul from the betrayal of another into the larger realm of treason against all is only a question of degree.

The problem is that shame, a vestigial thing in many shrunken souls, persists, and shame must be driven out of the soul if the secular is to thrive. Both betrayal and treason are still weighted down by a lingering sense of shame within at the same time they are made safe from the onus of blame without. Both are permitted by our cults of personal freedom and "sensible" selfishness, but both are formed of dark matter and not easily expunged from one's soul no matter how reduced it may have become.

There was, perhaps, only one moment in history when humans "knew not what they did." In all other times we know, at the deepest level, exactly what we do when we betray another, or others, or ourselves, or our country. We know it clearly and so we bury the ugly deed deeply. Still it persists, remains and rots in the tomb of our souls. A wiser culture called this "sin" and sought to have it confessed and forgiven as meaningless in the shadow of the greatest sacrifice. Our therapeutic culture calls it "guilt" and seeks to palliate and expunge it so that we may live a guilt-free life regardless of our acts. More and more of us live in the latter culture and seek a life forever free from sin, from guilt, from the consequences of our betrayals. And yet this final freedom eludes us.

What is needed, in this secular age of self-intoxication, is a Saint who will remit our sins of betrayal; who will by his very existence sanctify treason. And who better fits this role than the man who betrayed the greatest love for the smallest change, Judas?

The worshipers of the Church of the Self need Judas today more than they need Christ, and they need Christ more than they can know. They need Him so much that they are compelled to reject Him utterly lest their shabby Church be seen as it is, a hovel made of mud and wattle, of empty objects, shabby dreams and promises broken. A statue of Judas would blend right into the niche above their television; a household god whose only requirement is an offering of silver, from time to time, or a shopping spree at the mall to secure his love and blessing; our "Saint Judas of Perpetual Extortion."

Betrayal is a common catechism in the Church of the Self. Hymns to Me are the hosannas it hurls at an empty heaven. The politics of such a church require as First Things a rejection of all things not of, by, and for the self. A religion or a country of the people, by the people, and for the people is high on the list of things to be abhorred since it requires an allegiance that is other than to the self. The Church of the Self effectively mandates treason, and we see it now manifested daily in the bright robes of "unstiffled dissent" which shroud an increasingly vicious anti-Americanism that has its roots, not in reasoned criticism, but in unreasoned hate. We hear the hate but what we have not been allowed to see is the treason behind it.

That is now "changed, changed utterly."

Now our traitors to God and Country have found a sheaf of rags that "prove" that the greatest treason was really "all good;" that Judas was really the greatest friend Jesus ever had and was, with a kiss, doing him the greatest favor ever done.

Treason, done with the kiss of "my personal freedom," proves that you do not really hate your country, you love it. You are, in the final analysis, your country's best friend. In these "new" old tales about Jesus we read that Judas betrayed the Son of God because Jesus told him to do it. Really? Or did his betrayal come, not from any request that may or may not have been made, but from humanity's persistent lust to sin freely and without even the thin penalty of remorse? Was this final treason done because this sin had been secretly blessed by God, or for the sheer dark thrill of asserting the self at the expense of life in the light?

"I betrayed my friend, because he gave me the freedom to do so. Feel my love for him."

"I betrayed my country because it gave me the freedom to do so. Feel my love for it."

Black is white. Hate is Love. Slavery is Freedom. Treason is Loyalty. That last phrase fits right in to the secular catechism, doesn't it? All it needs to become holy writ is an avatar, a solid historical personage with the power to turn darkness into light, lies into truth, and betrayal into something that was, in the final analysis, "all good."

Saint Judas, step right up to the Gates, ring that bell, and don your halo -- you the man.

Thursday, December 29, 2022

A personal almanac for 2022

Lots of publications put end-of-year lists together, but I'm particularly fond of this effort from The Federalist, and don't disagree with staff selections there. Even before finding that particular compendium of "winners and losers," I thought it might be fun to cobble a personal summary into being, so here's my almanac for the Year of Our Lord 2022:

Best surprise:

Finding a Great Pyrenees dog that was being fostered under the auspices of a rescue organization after my sweetie had done a lot of research into the breed. Pearl makes a wonderful companion and a top-notch guard dog. Not for nothing are Pyrenees known for their soulful eyes.

Favorite new movie:

Top Gun: Maverick -- and seeing the film with my Uncle Jim was a bonus. I like this one even better than the original Top Gun movie.

Gone too soon:

Gian Carlo Zollo was a proud Italian prayer buddy and an inspiration who shuffled off this mortal coil at age 70 on 19 October 2022, after having beaten cancer earlier in the year. Pneumonia took him down, although some of us think that with better care it might not have. Carlo was an absolute rock for his family, and those friends he treated like family. We hope he's gone to help "prep the place upstairs for us," as mutual friend Jeff once put it.

Most excellent road trip:

It was heartwarming to be able to attend my sister's wedding in Phoenix AZ on 04 February. Eve and Frank had quite the celebration. Mom danced, and Dad was there in spirit. I got to meet some of Eve's friends, several of whom she's known all her adult life. 

Cheers to these older movies:

I'd forgotten how good Hear My Song (1991) and Secondhand Lions (2003) are. Genuine storytelling seems now to be a lost art. I also enjoyed War for the Planet of the Apes (2017).

Novel that made the strongest impression on me:

American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins must be reckoned a contemporary classic. It wasn't published this year, but it's on this list because I read it this year.

Most fun to read this year:

My Enemy, My Ally (Star Trek: Rihannsu #1), by Diane Duane. Everything you liked about the original TV series helps make this book a blast to read.

The American Dream onscreen:

If you had to pick three movies from the same year in an effort to understand this country, then 2022 was a good year. Watching Father Stu, Elvis, and Devotion would give anybody a better-than-average introduction to the important aspects of American culture.

I'm not crying; you're crying:

(The best evidence I can vouch for of culture in or near Raleigh, if friends from the Northeast or Western U.S. coasts still think all of the American south is backward):

  • The Theatre Raleigh production of City of Angels this past summer
  • Bittersweet -- the "chic spot for coffee drinks, desserts, and specialty cocktails" on E. Martin Street.

Ben Franklin spins in his grave:

The American sage known for saying that he and the other founding fathers had bequeathed to their fellow citizens "a republic, if you can keep it" would have been appalled at the FBI's August 7 raid on former president Donald J. Trump's Palm Beach FL home. I'm all for law and order (thanks, Dad!) and I think Trump is an egomaniac, but that was an instance of political thuggery that pharmaceutical companies and other groups with effective lobbyists have learned to count on. 

Hoping to do this again:

Favorite string band The Steel Wheels hosts an annual Red Wing Roots Music Festival near Mount Solon, Virginia. Heavy thunderstorms soaked festival-goers this past June, but the festival was still a good time, and its top-notch live music makes a repeat visit sound worthwhile.

Quotes of the year:

  1. "Solar and wind can never be anything more than boutique forms of incremental electricity production, and they will never, ever, be able to keep this country warm on cold winter nights."
    -- Buck Throckmorton at the Ace of Spades blog, December 30.
  2. "Angels don't bluff. That's why I never play poker with 'em." 
    -- Carlo Zollo, who said that when he was still with us and may now be doing that very thing.
  3. "The key ingredient of groupthink has always been the fear of social isolation, which leads us to be swept up by propaganda. It’s a fear so pervasive that—like fish in water—we are rarely aware of the effect it has on us." 
    -- Stella Morabito, paraphrasing her fascinating new book on "the weaponization of loneliness."
  4. "Look who's running our Defense Department -- Obama lackeys put there to degrade our combat readiness and morale, while defining the two greatest threats to American national security as 'climate change' and Republican voters."
    -- J.J. Sefton in a sarcastic but on-point screed for the Ace of Spades blog from 19 May 2022.
  5. "The profound crisis that the Church is experiencing in the world and especially in the West is the fruit of the forgetting of God. If our first concern is not God, then everything else collapses. At the root of all crises, anthropological, political, social, cultural, geopolitical, there is the forgetting of the primacy of God."
    -- Cardinal Robert Sarah in an interview about his new book, The Day is Now Far Spent.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Presumptive Italian PM quotes Chesterton

This passage from G.K. Chesterton of England has currency again, thanks to Giorgia Meloni of Italy:

"Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed. Thus every man who utters a doubt defines a religion. And the scepticism of our time does not really destroy the beliefs, rather it creates them; gives them their limits and their plain and defiant shape. We who are Liberals once held Liberalism lightly as a truism. Now it has been disputed, and we hold it fiercely as a faith. We who believe in patriotism once thought patriotism to be reasonable, and thought little more about it. Now we know it to be unreasonable, and know it to be right. We who are Christians never knew the great philosophic common sense which inheres in that mystery until the anti-Christian writers pointed it out to us. The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable position to deny the stones in the street; it will be a religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream; it will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and the skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed."

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Class warfare in the multiplex

My sweetheart and I both enjoyed Where the Crawdads Sing, and in that we were not alone, despite the movie's very mixed reception among professional film critics (see samples below).

These critics can't be trusted. As the snippets illustrating this post show, neither Clarisse Loughrey nor Peter Bradshaw was paying enough attention to the film they were supposed to review. 

Loughrey, for example, missed several onscreen cues to the effect that "Crawdads" takes place in North Carolina. 

One might excuse a British reviewer for not knowing what North Carolina's state flag looks like (it's in courtroom scenes), but the movie also announced its location in dialog more than once. 

Bradshaw's complaint is even dumber. Two Black actors play pivotal roles in the story, so to call the movie an "all-white reboot" of anything else is ridiculous. In the current social climate, it's also irresponsible.  

And it's hard to say anything about Gary Kramer except that his visceral dislike for Where the Crawdads Sing sure makes him seem an unhappy soul.

Sadly, the dichotomy between critical (33% approval) and popular (96% approval) reception for Where the Crawdads Sing isn't a one-off. 

You can see the same dynamic at play in the "Rotten Tomatoes" reaction to the last year's hero-worshipping documentary about Dr. Anthony Fauci, the camera-loving face of federal response to COVID-19 who hasn't seen actual patients since he completed his residency decades ago:

More recently, scoring on Rotten Tomatoes also shows a gulf between what audiences (95% approval) and critics (39% approval) think of The Terminal List

That eight-episode exposition of a U.S. Navy SEAL's revenge is many things, not least a commentary on the value of informed consent. I thought season one very much worth watching, with fine performances throughout, and unusual fidelity to the novel on which it is based. 

Actors Chris Pratt, Taylor Kitsch, Constance Wu, Jeanne Tripplehorn, and Tyner Rushing all turned in yeoman work for season one of that series. Even so, professional critics were more likely to sneer at the effort. One can't help but wonder if their beef with The Terminal List was mostly ideological. They probaly don't understand the appeal of such allegedly polarizing real-life figures as Joe Rogan or Jordan Peterson, either.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Plans A through F

Michael Anton's astute political analysis is always worth reading. This time he writes about why "They Can't Let Him Back In."  And you know very well who he is.

Anton writes:

Anti-Trump hysteria is in the final analysis not about Trump. The regime can’t allow Trump to be president not because of who he is (although that grates), but because of who his followers are. That class—Angelo Codevilla’s “country class”—must not be allowed representation by candidates who might implement their preferences, which also, and above all, must not be allowed. The rubes have no legitimate standing to affect the outcome of any political process, because of who they are, but mostly because of what they want.

Complaints about the nature of Trump are just proxies for objections to the nature of his base. It doesn’t help stabilize our already twitchy situation that those who bleat the loudest about democracy are also audibly and visibly determined to deny a real choice to half the country. “No matter how you vote, you will not get X”—whether X is a candidate or a policy—is guaranteed to increase discontent with the present regime.

To the point that Anton makes about what might be called a country club war on Trump's base -- and Neo's related thoughts about the January 6 subcommittee's quixotic quest for something to charge Trump with legally -- think of Rodney Dangerfield's character in Caddyshack: Like Donald Trump, Dangerfield's character ("Al Czervik") has money enough for membership at the Bushwood Country Club, but other golfers consider him uncouth. Attitude-wise, Czervik, like Trump, has more in common with Bill Murray's gopher-hunting groundskeepr than with the other people in his social class.

I'm tickled by that fact that Anton uses a nautical analogy near the end of his essay. I had a similar thought (seawater on the brain?) for this recent piece published by The Locke Institute's Carolina Journal, except that I was looking at progressive reaction to Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, rather than political machinery prepping for the 2024 presidential election.