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.

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 Cal Newport's 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" and "storm team."

  • In the first news block, there's a story about 70 municpal employees 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 for the surcharge. Neither reporter nor anchor mentions that even vaccinated people can still get COVID. I'd also like to know a bit about the history of suits like this -- have municipal employees in North Carolina filed class action suits against their employers before? Alas, WRAL won't answer questions like mine.

  • The lawsuit story is followed by a story describing an FDA meeting about "the need for a fourth [COVID] booster shot." After the in-studio introduction, both 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. Was that the intent?

  • The one bright spot in the broacast turns 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. That's a detail I haven't heard elsewhere.

    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 of new information. Full marks to WRAL producers for his segment, which unfortunately seems to be the only one of its kind.

  • Following the Ukraine story and a blurb about the shooting of two people in Fayetteville (with 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. Say what?

    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 decomposing lily. 
Local 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. How hard would that be? Are Carolinians supposed to recognize the names of little towns in California's Napa Valley, for example? 

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 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 WRAL reporter is wearing a mask. I hope that was a personal choice rather than a diktat from her producers, because the optics involved 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.