Sunday, May 8, 2022

Bookmarking some good stuff

Mothers' Day on the American civic calendar coincides with Good Shephered Sunday on the American Catholic calendar this spring, and Maureen Mullarkey has thought a lot about the consecration of Russia that was performed earlier this year by Pope Francis. She's cynical but brings receipts, as they say:

Part One: (a snippet): "However grievous Putin’s sins, his regard for the Orthodoxy into which he was secretly baptized in infancy appears more convincing—to those who chance to look—than Joe Biden’s rosary rattling. Does this excuse Putin’s tactics in Ukraine? No, not at all. But it ought not be lost on us that the tactics we now condemn—aerial bombardment of civilian centers; no distinction between combatants and noncombatants—are the very ones used by the Allies in World War II."

Part Two: (a snippet): "Nations exist to protect their own interests. The moral quality of those interests, and the means to advance them, is hard to determine in a world anxious to scuttle Judeo-Christian reasoning. Instead we suffer the presumptions of unaccountable bureaucrats. A self-selected power network, they position themselves outside the constitutional constraints of the existing world order. Pope Francis embraces their enthusiasms. Our Lady of the Great Reset, ora pro nobis."

Meanwhile, Victor Davis Hanson confines his gaze to domestic goings-on, but he has no patience for unaccountable bureaucrats, either:

"...what is behind leaking Supreme Court drafts of impending opinions, or seeking to pack the Supreme Court with 15 justices, or ending the Senate filibuster, or adding two more states to the 60-year-old, 50-state union, or curtailing states’ rights to set their own balloting procedures, or trashing the Constitution’s Electoral College?

The hard Left has detoured from the mainstream of American voters onto a radical trajectory. So it will never find 51 percent public approval for any of its current extremist and crackpot initiatives. Instead, it sees success only through altering the rules of governance or changing the demography of the electorate—or both." 

If you think that Hanson's worry about what he calls a "radical trajectory" is misplaced, then you haven't wrapped your head around such Orwellian developments as the new Disinformation Governance Board, the federal penchant for retaliating against disfavored groups, or the complicit silence from the Biden administration about protests at the homes of U.S. Supreme Court justices and the unprecedented leak of a draft opinion that triggered those protests. 

Misguided reaction to that leak forced prudent Catholic parishes to pay special attention to security this past weekend, not because the legal reasoning in Justice Samuel Alito's draft is unsound, but because -- as John C. Wright and others (like Bookworm!) have noted -- it makes sense enough to strike idealogues as threatening. There's a good summary of the draft at Bookworm's blog

Not be be combative, but anyone woke enough to cheer for the Next Big Thing has been miseducated or manipulated. In a few cases, they're manipulators themselves. Journalism and politics attract more than their share of such people -- they're activists under color of authority. But we now know, thanks to the COVID pandemic, that public health has big problems, too.

Fortunately, hope springs eternal, as singer/songwriter Mark Humphreys also reminded us years ago:

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Gimlet eye on WRAL

It's another spring weeknight in the Carolinas. I haven't yet mastered a "shut down" routine as recommended in Deep Work, and raiding the freezer at this hour for a Drumstick ice cream seems irresponsible. Beyond that, going back to the novel I'm currently reading means keeping its characters sorted in my head, and I don't have the mental energy for that at the moment, so TV wins. 

I decided to have fun with story treatment in today's 7:00 pm news on WRAL, the local broadcast affiliate for both Fox and NBC, which in my head is best known for throwing talent and money at its "severe weather center."

  • In the first news block, there's a story about 70 municpal employees who are suing the city of Raleigh over its vaccination and COVID policies, including a monthly surcharge that Raleigh will soon be levying against medical insurance for the unvaccinated.

    Many of those suing the city are first responders, the reporter notes, without providing any other context for the suit, such as how the city settled on its $50 per month figure. Neither reporter nor anchor mentions that even vaccinated people can still get COVID.

  • The lawsuit story is immediately followed by a story desribing an FDA meeting about "the need for a fourth booster shot." Following the in-studio introduction, the news anchors toss to a field reporter who quotes a local doctor touting boosters ("If you've only had three shots...I am a little concerned.").

    The story includes a plug for a local pharmacy. Juxtaposing its fear-mongering against the suit by people who "chose not to be vaccinated" (emphasis from the WRAL anchor, because it's their fault) makes the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Raleigh sound unreasonable.

  • The one bright spot in the broacast turnsn out to be a hit from a Duke University School of Public Policy professor about events in Ukraine. It's very clear that the intentional targeting of civilians is a war crime, he says, while describing the "repetitive fire patterns" used by Russian artillery to shell an area, pause, and then resume fire so that first responders in that area are targeted, too.

    The professor also points out the Vladimir Putin is, among other things, a "serial bigamist." Unlike most of the people who provide sound bites for this broadcast, Professor Simon Miles contributes several nuggets I haven't heard elsewhere. Full marks to the producers for his segment.

  • Following the Ukraine story and a blurb about the shooting of two people in Fayetteville (no names released by the police and no suspects found yet), WRAL teases a story about how supply chain woes might be good for business.

    It turns out that two local pundits think the pandemic represents a "significant opportunity" for companies to be proactive rather than reactive about their sourcing. (That's a solid point, but it doesn't mean that supply chain disruptions are good, as WRAL claimed while trying to gild the rapidly decaying lily). 
News producers have never called me for advice, but then they tend not to use inset maps when talking about wildfires or shootings in other states, either. I give this newscast a C+, which it gets only because the Duke University professor added unusual detail about the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Update (18 April): In a lead story on evening newscasts about mask mandates being lifted at RDU Airport in the wake of today's ruling by a federal judge who struck down the nationwide travel mask mandate that the CDC had imposed for more than two years, the reporter is wearing a mask. I hope that was a personal choice rather than a diktat from her producers, because the optics are decidedly ironic.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Of note in a new year

Gerard Vanderleun's old poem for his then 16-year-old daughter Justine on her birthday is a thing of beauty.

If you don't read any of the investigative books now about about the mendacious Dr. Anthony Fauci, all you really need to know is that his signature moves are talking out of both sides of his mouth and moving the goalposts.

It's good to see Maureen Mullarkey wondering what hiding our faces says (or might say) about the condition of our souls.

Also, J.P. Sears is a funny guy.

Friday, December 31, 2021

As 2021 slinks away

Among many other things, I'm thankful for the preset buttons on my car radio. I actually heard all of the following songs today:

  • I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash)
  • Sister Golden Hair (America)
  • With or Without You (U2)
  • Day After Day (Badfinger)
  • Walk Like a Man (Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons)
  • Slip Sliding Away (Paul Simon)
  • These Dreams (Heart)
  • Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Queen)
  • I Heard it Through the Grapevine (Marvin Gaye)
In other entertainment news, "American Underdog" is a movie worth seeing.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

The Klavan Catechism

From the 2016 memoir The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, by Andrew Klavan:

The fact was, as a story -- even leaving out the supernatural, especially leaving out the supernatural, taking it all as metaphor, I mean -- the Bible made perfect sense to me from the very beginning.

I saw a God whose nature was creative love. He made man in his own image for the purpose of forming new and free relationships with him. But in his freedom, man turned away from that relationship to consult his own wisdom and desires. The knowledge of good and evil was not some top-secret catalog of nice and naughty acts that popped into Eve's mind when a talking snake got her to eat the magic fruit. The knowledge was built into the action of disobedience itself: it's what she learned when she overruled the moral law God had placed within her. There was no going back from that. The original sin poisoned all history. History's murders, rapes, wars, oppressions, and injustices are not the inescapable plot of the story we're in.

The Old Testament traces one complete cycle of that history; one people's rise and fall. This particular people is unique only in that they're the ones who begin to remember what man was made for. Moses' revelation at the burning bush is as profound as any religious scene in literature. There, he sees that the eternal creation and destruction of nature is not a mere process but the mask of a personal spirit, I AM THAT I AM. The centuries that follow that revelation are a spiraling semicircle of sin and shame and redemption, of freedom recovered and then surrendered in return for imperial greatness, of a striving for righteousness through law that reveals only the impossibility of righteousness, of power and pride and fall. It's every people's history, in other words, but seen anew in the light of the fire of I AM.

It made sense to me too -- natural sense, not supernatural -- that after that history was complete, a man might be born who could comprehend it wholly and re-create within himself the relationship at its source. His mind would contain both man and God. It made sense that the creatures of sin and history -- not the Jews alone but all of us -- would conspire in such a man's judicial murder. Jesus had to die because we had to kill him. It was either that or see ourselves by his light, as the broken things we truly are. It's only from God's point of view that this is a redeeming sacrifice. By living on earth in Jesus, by entering history, by experiencing death, by passing through that moment of absolute blackness when God is forsaken by God, God reunites himself with his fallen creation and reopens the path to the relationship lost in Eden. Jesus' resurrection is the final proof that no matter how often we kill the truth of who we're meant to be, it never dies.

[That summary right there is worth the price of the book, I think]. 

But there's more:

For years, maybe most of my life, I had languished in that typical young intellectual's delusion that gloom and despair are the romantic lot of the brilliant and the wise. But now I saw: it wasn't so. Why should it be? What sort of wisdom has no joy in it? What good is wisdom without joy? By joy I don't mean ceaseless happiness, of course. I don't mean willed stupidity for the sake of a cheap smile. The world is sad and it is suffering. A tragic sense is essential to both realism and compassion. By joy I mean a vital love of life in both sorrow and gladness. Why not? The hungry can't eat your tears. The poor can't spend them. They're no comfort to the afflicted and they don't bring the wicked to justice. Everything useful that can be done in the world can be done in joy.

Klavan's insight summoned a song for me. 

The  "Nazareth" that Robbie Robertson of  The Band was writing about pulling into "half past dead" was Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of the Martin Guitar company. But we all know which Nazarene put the original town in Judea on the proverbial map. And I don't think it coincidental that the refrain of  "The Weight" is deliberately redemptive: "Take a load off, Annie" [or Fannie, if you sing it that way]. Take a load for free!

If you take a load off, what are you supposed to do with it? Jesus is the man who stepped up to say "You put the load right on me!"  Moreover, he volunteered for that.

The best kind of Christian music is stealthy Christian music. Ol' Luke ain't the only one "waitin' on Judgement Day." [Remember the stream of pilgrims going "down to the river to pray" in O Brother Where Art Thou, or Jake and Elwood Blues putting the band back together because they were "on a mission from God"? Remember the question about "Will the Circle be Unbroken" by and by, or Rick Beato pointing out that U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" has gospel music phrasing in it?].

It's not too much of a hop from "The Weight" to C.S. Lewis and what he wrote about "The Weight of Glory." Think of the same theme in two different keys. But as the Klavan excerpt (and the harmony between Levon Helm and Mavis Staples in their live recording) makes clear, the Chronicles of Narnia author wasn't the only one "surprised by joy." 

While I'm on a roll, let me drag J.R.R. Tolkien up to the bar so he can help me make the argument from Middle Earth that Frodo and Sam and the other hobbits were invited into the Fellowship of the Ring not merely for their humility, but also because the most obvious characteristic of hobbitry (hobbitdom?) is joy (in contrast to the fragile valor of the humans, the cultivated detachment of the elves, the pugnaciousness of the dwarves, and the wisdom of wizards). 

The Fellowship needed joy, which I think is why Tolkien inserted two "spare" hobbits into it for a total of four, and no more than two representatives of any other free race among the nine heroes. As Saint Paul had before them, Tolkien and Lewis saw joy as a hallmark of the Christian life. 

It's inspiring to see a contemporary thriller writer like Andrew Klavan wrestle his way into the same insight, and then surrender to it.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

My Thanksgiving cooking playlist

My sweetheart spent last night making a pumpkin pie while listening to Christmas music. Contrarian that I sometimes am, I still insist that Christmas music before Thanksgiving is premature, That said, her example inspired. 

We were doing meal prep in two different states, so I kept track of what was playing while I made deviled eggs from a proven recipe in The Deplorable Gourmet.

Directions in that crowd-sourced cookbook are, for the most part, spot on, but there's no way that prep time for deviled eggs is only 30 minutes -- at least not for me! My tripling the recipe didn't shorten prep time, but that's alright. Thanksgiving, y'all.

The playlist is eclectic because Dad had an influential hand in forming my musical ears. I miss him.

Pro tip: Slice the eggs on the longitude, not on the latitude. And I think they peel a little easier if you go pole to pole, north to south, after denting the egg to give your thumb some purchase.

Music to peel hard-boiled eggs

  • Honky Tonk Woman -- Rolling Stones
  • End of the World Again -- The Steel Wheels
  • Good Hearted Man -- Fats Domino
  • Call Me -- Blondie

Egg slicing

  • Something so Feminine About a Mandolin -- Jimmy Buffet
  • Mirabeau Bridge -- James Keelaghan

Scooping and grating

  • You Ain't Going Nowhere -- Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
  • When Silence Was Golden -- David Schnaufer
  • Brighter Than the Sun -- Colbie Caillet
  • The New Jerusalem -- Dan Wheetman

Mix and measure

  • When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings -- Willie Watson and Tim Blake Nelson
  • Worried About You -- Rolling Stones
  • Fat-Bottomed Girls -- Queen

Using the "Poor Man's Pastry Bag"

  • Some Nights -- Fun.
  • Si Lo Hice y Que -- Carin Leon
  • Into the Mystic -- Van Morrison
  • Be Thou My Vision -- Martha Bassett
  • More Than a Feeling -- Boston
  • How Great Thou Art -- Home Free

Decorating with Paprika

  • Find a New Home -- Will Banister
  • Yellow Ledbetter -- Pearl Jam
  • The Load-Out -- Jackson Browne
The recipe doesn't include a dash of Frank's Red Hot, but my deviled eggs do. That's how I roll.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

More of the underrated

These actors and actresses have more range than many people seem to give them credit for having:

  • Kathryn Erbe
  • Katheryn Winnick
  • Jack Black
  • Ana de la Reguera
  • Mary McDonnell
    (Truth to tell, however, when you successfully play characters in both Dances With Wolves and Battlestar Galactica, people know you've got game)
Among poets, on the evidence of When Earth's Last Picture is Painted, I think Rudyard Kipling is underrated.

Among brewers, don't sleep on the Benedictine monks of Birra Nursia.

Underrated musicians (lauded but not as well-known as they should be, given their talent):
  • David Mason, the trumpeter on the Beatles' song, "Penny Lane"
  • Laith Al-Saadi, dark horse Voice contestant and Michigan music legend
  • Evelyn Glennie, deaf but extremely accomplished percussionist