Saturday, July 14, 2018

For the sheer joy...

Re-posted from 2009 because it is really good advice:

Bob at Wilderness Fandango offers "Bob's One Big Awesomely Important Tip on Reading" and he is absolutely right.
.... My mother instilled in me the joy of reading when I was a child. She made sure we visited the local library often, and she let us linger there as long as wanted. The point is, long before I knew that reading was good for me, reading was giving me pleasure. And that, my friend, is the key. ....
Here's my advice. Reading is never going to make it to the top of your to-do list if it's merely a chore, a good-for-me duty, like brushing teeth or watching PBS. What makes a kid love reading is the sheer joy of it, and what's going to make an adult love reading is for him or her to discover that joy also. You might say, it's time to start thinking like a kid again!

Now, admittedly, it's harder for adults to discover joy than it is for kids. We're jaded. We think in terms of future pay-off, kids think in terms of present experience. So this is going to to take a little shift in thinking for some. The question you need to ask is, what kind of book is going to give me joy? ....

I'm serious. Read for pleasure. Read for joy. Read to be enthralled.

One last point. You may not have ever stopped to think about this, but all your favorite movies are stories. That's what they are. Stories. Story-telling is perhaps the art form that undergirds all other art forms, it is a built-in inclination of all humanity. So if by now you're wondering what kind of book might give you pleasure (and I hope you are), my answer is, it's probably some kind of cracking good yarn, that's what kind. And by the way, your local library is full of these, for every reading level. .... [more]
In my case it was my father who read to me (even after I could read — I told him I could hear better when he read), took me regularly to the library, and only resisted briefly when I moved from juvenile books to the adult fiction. I know I am repeating myself, but there is no better gift a parent can give a child than the love of reading.

Wilderness Fandango: Bob's One Big Awesomely Important Tip on Reading

Friday, July 13, 2018

In the arena

Patrick Kurp's middle son entered the U.S. Naval Academy this summer. Kurp writes that "along with around-the-clock drill and other sorts of physical and psychological training, Plebes at the U.S. Naval Academy are required to memorize and recite on demand vast quantities of text." Two examples:
Theodore Roosevelt's "Man in the Arena":
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.


W.E. Henley’s “Invictus"
Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul.
Stirring stuff.
Anecdotal Evidence: `Sustained Many a Wavering and Fearful Heart'

Thursday, July 12, 2018

"Thus we never actually live..."

I've been reading a selection of quotations from Blaise Pascal's Pensées. On his faith:
Thus I stretch out my arms to my Saviour, who, after being foretold for four thousand years, came on earth to die and suffer for me at the time and in the circumstances foretold. By his grace I peaceably await death, in the hope of being eternally united to him, and meanwhile I live joyfully, whether in the blessings which he is pleased to bestow on me or in the affliction he sends me for my own good and taught me how to endure by his example.
Thinking about time:
We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of times that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching. Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"Plenteous grace with Thee is found..."

I missed this particular controversy. I agree with his apology. A great Welsh hymn tune with words by Charles Wesley:

Jesu, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound; make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart; rise to all eternity. Amen.

The moral advantage of victimhood

If you've been perplexed by the outrage about "cultural appropriation" this essay, "The Evils of Cultural Appropriation," from Tablet may help explain what is going on. From that:
.... In a culture that increasingly rewards victimhood with status, in the form of op-ed space, speaking events, awards, book deals, general deference, and critical approbation, identity has become a very valuable form of currency. It makes sense that people will lie, cheat, and steal in order to get some. Expressing offense over a white person wearing a sombrero hat might seem ridiculous on its face—but for those who live inside these sententiously moralistic bubbles, it may be both a felt injury and a rational strategic choice.

Complaints about cultural appropriation are not really complaints, they are demands. ....

In their newly released book, The Rise of Victimhood Culture: Microaggressions, Safe Spaces, and the New Culture Wars, the moral sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning describe the three main moral cultures that exist today, which they give the shorthand labels of dignity, honor, and victimhood. A dignity culture, which has been the dominant moral culture of Western middle classes for some time, has a set of moral values that promotes the idea of moral equality and was crystallized in Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision that people ought to be judged according to the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

Victimhood culture departs from dignity culture in several important ways. Moral worth is in large part defined by the color of one’s skin, or at least one’s membership in a fixed identity group: i.e., women, people of color, LGBTIQ, Muslims, or indigenous peoples. Such groups are sacred, and a lack of deference to them is seen as a sign of deviance. The reverse is true for those who belong to groups that are considered historical oppressors: whites, males, straight people, Zionists. Anyone belonging to an “oppressor” group is stained by their privilege, or “whiteness,” and is cast onto the moral scrapheap. ....

One might make the case that while complaints about cultural appropriation are annoying, they are ultimately harmless. What is the harm in showing deference to peoples who have historically been the victims of exploitation, discrimination, and unfair treatment? What is the harm in showing respect and compliance with these new rules—isn’t it a way of making up for past sins?

The short answer to these questions is, no. The notion that a person can be held as responsible for actions that he or she did not commit strikes at the very heart of our conception of human rights and justice. ....

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

"When politics is everything..."

Carl Trueman responding to a proposal to once again revise The Book of Common Prayer:
...[The Prayer Book's] content reflects a form of Christianity that ultimately reflected not so much the politics of Reformation England as the basic elements of historic Christianity and of earthly existence. Those elements include the God of the catholic creeds, and human life bookended by birth and death and lived in world full of the joys and sorrows, drudgery and delights, of ordinary, universal human experiences—love, marriage, illness, bereavement. There are services and prayers in The Book of Common Prayer that address all of these hardy perennials, connecting them to the Trinitarian God revealed in Jesus Christ.

That, I suspect, is one reason why the basics of the Prayer Book stayed in place for so long, with revisions being for many generations of the minor sort. Consensus on the fundamentals remained steady, and the changes were accordingly cosmetic. By contrast, the last century has witnessed liturgical change after liturgical change wrought by the various Anglican and Episcopal groupings around the world. None of these changes, as far as I can tell, embodies anything like significant improvement in either prose style or theological content. Tracing the revisions would no doubt prove a fruitful, if depressing, topic for a Ph.D. thesis, as the revisions witness to an age of restlessness and shortsighted obsession with the latest fads.

One of the reasons for this is surely that Christian liturgy—and God himself—have become victims of the abolition of the pre-political: Even those universals of human existence mentioned above—birth, sex, death—have become the political issues of the day via abortion, LGBTQ rights, and euthanasia. For the post colonial mindset, to hold to a traditional liturgy that refuses to play the games of a pan-politicized world is to take a political position. And so traditional liturgy comes under relentless pressure to conform to the latest piety of the dominant political lobbying groups. When politics is everything, God loses his awesome transcendence and human beings take center stage. And the momentary afflictions of the professional victims displace the eternal weight of God’s glory. Historic, biblical Christianity thus becomes irrelevant—no, worse: It becomes the instrument of oppression.

That is why it is no surprise to see that the Episcopal Church in the USA is doing what it does best: planning to screw up the faith of its people yet further by eliminating gendered language about God from the liturgy. It is pulling off the remarkable hat trick of demonstrating profound ignorance about how God-language works, reinforcing the denomination’s divorce from anything resembling historic Christianity, and making itself yet again into a rather insipid and irrelevant tool of the liberal political establishment whose approval it apparently craves. Added to this, we might also anticipate the multiple crimes against graceful prose and theological sanity that such linguistic abominations as “Godself,” represent and which will no doubt pervade the final product.

...[The Book of Common Prayer's] underlying concern is not with the vicissitudes of life considered in themselves, but with those vicissitudes set within the context of a sovereign and glorious God. Its religion is not the effete therapy of our age of victimhood, nor the lazy clichés of contemporary politics. It is the religion of historic Christianity, and both the Prayer Book’s form and its content reflect that. That is why it has no need to strive for relevance. ....

Monday, July 9, 2018

Illustrations

Most of my favorite illustrators were working around the turn of the Twentieth Century which seems to have been a golden era for the illustration of children's books. One of them is Arthur Rackham (1867-1939). Two of his illustrations are below. The first was for Charles Dickens' Christmas Carol and the second for the fairy tale Rapunzel.

Nobody under the bed; nobody in the closet; nobody in his dressing gown.

The Witch climbed up.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Inklings in the Great War

To be released on November 11, 2018 — the 100th anniversary of the truce that ended the First World War:


I'm looking forward to this.

"Peace must...be frequently bought by some indulgence and toleration"

…. The extreme of liberty (which is its abstract perfection, but its real fault) obtains nowhere, nor ought to obtain anywhere. Because extremes, as we all know, in every point which relates either to our duties or satisfactions in life, are destructive both to virtue and enjoyment. Liberty too must be limited in order to be possessed. The degree of restraint is impossible in any case to settle precisely. But it ought to be the constant aim of every wise, publick council, to find out by cautious experiments, and rational, cool endeavours, with how little, not how much of this restraint, the community can subsist. For liberty is a good to be improved, and not an evil to be lessened. It is not only a private blessing of the first order, but the vital spring and energy of the state itself, which has just so much life and vigour as there is liberty in it. But whether liberty be advantageous or not (for I know it is a fashion to decry the very principle), none will dispute that peace is a blessing; and peace must in the course of human affairs be frequently bought by some indulgence and toleration at least to liberty. ….

Saturday, July 7, 2018

"But like a child at home"

We sang one of my favorite hymns this morning in worship, Isaac Watts' paraphrase of the 23rd Psalm: "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need." I particularly like the last lines of the final verse.



My shepherd will supply my need:
Jehovah is His name;
In pastures fresh He makes me feed,
Beside the living stream.
He brings my wandering spirit back
When I forsake His ways,
He leads me, for His mercy’s sake,
In paths of truth and grace.
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.
When I walk through the shades of death    
Thy presence is my stay;
One word of Thy supporting breath
Drives all my fears away.
Thy hand, in sight of all my foes,
Doth still my table spread;
My cup with blessings overflows,
Thine oil anoints my head.

My Shepherd Will Supply My Need

Friday, July 6, 2018

Ripper

It seems unlikely that I will ever return to London. I've allowed my passport to lapse and I dislike what airline travel has become. On the other hand, if I could afford to travel on the Queen Elizabeth 2.... I didn't have this Murder Guide to London when I was last in the city. It is about actual crimes. It contains fourteen tours of various parts of London directing attention to—as the title indicates—locations associated with murders. Chapter 2, "The East End," includes this (the bold locations would be places on the tour map):
The Whitechapel Murderer' was the original title accorded the unknown 'Jack the Ripper'. Although his murders fell within the tight compass of one square mile, they strayed outside Whitechapel proper to Spitalfields, a region named for a medieval priory and hospital, and developed into attractive streets of elegant houses by refugee Huguenot silk weavers in the eighteenth century. But silk weaving ceased to flourish and by the 1880s the fine eighteenth-century streets had fallen into disrepair: many spaces between them had been filled by wretched brick shacks that could be let cheaply as one-room lodgings.

To the north, on the other side of Bethnal Green Road, lay another slum area of narrow brick streets and blind alleys. 'The Nichol', around Old Nichol Street, was infested by gangs whose livelihood was robbing, mugging and extortion. Whitechapel and Spitalfields were more unsalubrious than unsafe, but the Nichol gangs terrorised the sreetwalkers from time to time.

So when the body of Emma Smith was found viciously stabbed outside the cocoa factory at the union of Brick Lane with Osborn Street on Easter Monday 1888 the police assumed (probably correctly) that 'Nichol' hooligans were responsible.

August Bank Holiday saw another murder. Martha Tabram or Turner was found on the first-floor landing of a tenement in George Yard (today's Gunthorpe Street), a narrow alley leading off Whitechapel High Street under a dim arch. Her throat had been cut, and there were a few random stabs in her abdomen. Police soon discovered that Martha and a friend known as 'Pearly Poll' had picked up a couple of soldiers the night before. Pearly had gone off with her client, leaving Martha and the other soldier near George Yard at midnight. Pearly failed to identify either man in a garrison parade at the Tower.

The discovery of Mary Anne Nichol's body in the gateway opposite Essex Wharf; Bucks Row (today's Durward Street) on August 31st started the real scare in Whitechapel. 'Polly' Nichol's throat was cut and her abdomen was horribly mutilated. Senior police officers who studied the documentary evidence concluded (a couple of years later) that this was the first actual 'Ripper' murder, but the police carrying out the investigations at ground level, like the general populace, took it for the third.

A week later Annie Chapman's body was found in the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, disembowelled, her throat cut, and her few pathetic coins arranged at her feet. To get to the yard, Annie and her murderer passed through the narrow passageway from the front door of the house in which seventeen people slept. Yet nobody had heard a sound.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Always ready for a good argument

From a Peanuts series wherein Linus has decided to be a fanatic. These seem to have a certain current relevance.

___________________________________________________________
 

A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim. — George Santayana


Wednesday, July 4, 2018

"A tree will wither if its roots be destroyed"

On the occasion of the one-hundred-fiftieth birthday of the United States President Calvin Coolidge, who was himself born on the 4th of July, delivered a speech in Philadelphia:
.... It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed. ….

.... A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause. ….

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers. ....

.... If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

"With a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence"

Posted previously:

Prominent individuals in the Continental Congress, including those who drafted the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, were not orthodox Christians (or, by orthodox standards, Christians at all), although each of them believed in a God who acted in the affairs of men. But many of the others did profess biblical Christianity. Steven Waldman, in Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America:
...[W]e cannot consider only the views of Franklin and Jefferson. Most of the other men in that hall likely imagined something different when they read the phrase Divine Providence—not the god of nature but the God of scriptures. John Hancock, the first to sign, had served as president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress when it declared that "it becomes us, as Men and Christians," to rely on "that GOD who rules in the Armies of Heaven." George Read, one of Delaware's delegates, had written the Delaware constitution, which required legislators to take an oath to "God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost." New Jersey's delegate was the Reverend John Witherspoon, the president of Princeton, which trained young men to become evangelical ministers. It was Witherspoon who had authored a resolution the year before, on July 20, 1775, calling for a continentwide day of fasting and prayer, and he was hardly a Deist: "I entreat you in the most earnest manner to believe in Jesus Christ, for there is no salvation in any other (Acts 4:12)," he had written. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, who offered the resolution on independence, would a year later propose one creating a national day of prayer in which the people "may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance." Sam Adams, the influential Boston radical, had called for "bringing in the holy and happy period when the kingdoms of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be everywhere established, and the people willingly bow to the scepter of Him who is the Prince of Peace."'

Monday, July 2, 2018

Words slipping into the abyss

The miss-use of words often results in the loss of their useful meaning. Today that has pretty much happened to "racist" and "fascist" and "communist." From a 1944 essay in The Spectator, "The Death of Words," by C.S. Lewis:
.... A skilful doctor of words will pronounce the disease to be mortal at that moment when the word in question begins to harbour the adjectival parasites real or true. As long as gentleman has a clear meaning, it is enough to say that so-and-so is a gentleman. When we begin saying that he is "a real gentleman" or "a true gentleman" or "a gentleman in the truest sense" we may be sure that the word has not long to live. ....

And I can think of one word—the word Christian—which is at this moment on the brink. When politicians talk of "Christian moral standards" they are not always thinking of anything which distinguishes Christian morality from Confucian or Stoic or Benthamite morality. One often feels that it is merely one literary variant among the "adorning epithets" which, in our political style, the expression "moral standards" is felt to require; civilised (another ruined word) or modern or democratic or enlightened would have done just as well. But it will really be a great nuisance if the word Christian becomes simply a synonym for good. For historians, if no one else, will still sometimes need the word in its proper sense, and what will they do? That is always the trouble about allowing words to slip into the abyss. Once turn swine into a mere insult, and you need a new word (pig) when you want to talk about the animal. Once let sadism dwindle into a useless synonym for cruelty, and what do you do when you have to refer to the highly special perversion which actually afflicted M. de Sade?

It is important to notice that the danger to the word Christian comes not from its open enemies, but from its friends. It was not egalitarians, it was officious admirers of gentility, who killed the word gentleman. The other day I had occasion to say that certain people were not Christians; a critic asked how I dared say so, being unable (as of course I am) to read their hearts. I had used the word to mean "persons who profess belief in the specific doctrines of Christianity"; my critic wanted me to use it in what he would (rightly) call "a far deeper sense"—a sense so deep that no human observer can tell to whom it applies. ....

What is the good of deepening a word's connotation if you deprive the word of all practicable denotation? Words...can be "killed with kindness." And when, however reverently, you have killed a word you have also, as far as in you lay, blotted from the human mind the thing that word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think what they have forgotten how to say.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Chronological snobbery

One of Chesterton's recurring complaints appears again in "The Case for the Ephemeral," the argument that an idea or fashion simply being recent proves it superior. That is what C.S. Lewis would later label "chronological snobbery."
GKC
.... These pages contain a sort of recurring protest against the boast of certain writers that they are merely recent. They brag that their philosophy of the universe is the last philosophy or the new philosophy, or the advanced and progressive philosophy. I have said much against a mere modernism. .... It is incomprehensible to me that any thinker can calmly call himself a modernist; he might as well call himself a Thursdayite. But apart altogether from that particular disturbance, I am conscious of a general irritation expressed against the people who boast of their advancement and modernity in the discussion of religion. But I never succeeded in saying the quite clear and obvious thing that is really the matter with modernism. The real objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness. It is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or particularly "in the know." To flaunt the fact that we have had all the last books from Germany is simply vulgar; like flaunting the fact that we have had all the last bonnets from Paris. To introduce into philosophical discussions a sneer at a creed's antiquity is like introducing a sneer at a lady's age. It is caddish because it is irrelevant. The pure modernist is merely a snob; he cannot bear to be a month behind the fashion. ….

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Keeping first things first

In a magazine called First Things Peter Leithart reminds us of this thing:
...Christians are always citizens of two cities, the heavenly city of God and the earthly city of America, the ecclesial polis and the nation. The two citizenships don’t always conflict, but when they do, our heavenly citizenship trumps. ....

No nation will ever become the kingdom of God; no people will ever replace the Church as the people of God. Yet the gospel announces Jesus’s kingship over everything. The Church proclaims the gospel so that the world will acknowledge Jesus. We hope for an America that honors the Church, an America whose manners express the golden rule and the second great commandment, whose laws respect God’s law by protecting the vulnerable, whose arts and entertainments glorify rather than degrade human beings, whose children learn that Scripture and prayer are essential to education. We hope for an America conformed to the reality that Jesus is Lord. ....

Friday, June 29, 2018

Black & White

Stefan Kanfer begins his fine essay about B&W films,"In Living Black-and-White," with this:
The civics teacher had an inspired idea: bring American jurisprudence to life by showing the class an award-winning 1957 film. Twelve Angry Men had all the requisites of instructive high drama: suspense, as one juror tries to change the minds of 11 others hell-bent on sending the accused to death row; crackling dialogue, written by Reginald Rose, a luminary of television’s Golden Age; a scintillating cast, led by Henry Fonda and directed by Sidney Lumet. The title flashed on-screen—immediately followed by a chorus of groans. One 15-year-old wailed for all his disappointed colleagues: “You didn’t tell us it was going to be in black-and-white!”
The essay proceeds to argue that viewers who eschew black and white films are missing out. The lengthy essay describes worthy films in every genre that were just better without the hues of the rainbow. One of the genres of course was film noir:
Film noir got its name from French cineastes. The term refers to hard-edged, downbeat movies, with iconic heroes and antiheroes, “bad girl” temptresses, and a brooding, dangerous atmosphere. More than 60 years after it was made, the quintessential noir movie remains Double Indemnity, director Billy Wilder’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s thriller of betrayal. The story concerns an insurance salesman, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), bedazzled by a steamy adulterous wife, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Together they conspire to get rid of her husband. The lethal romance begins with crackling, double-entendre intensity:
Phyllis: Mr. Neff, why don’t you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30? He’ll be in then.
Neff: Who?
Phyllis: My husband. You were anxious to talk to him, weren’t you?
Neff: Yeah, I was. But I’m sort of getting over the idea, if you know what I mean.
Phyllis: There’s a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.
Neff: How fast was I going, Officer?
Phyllis: I’d say around 90.
Neff: Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket.
Phyllis: Suppose I let you off with a warning this time.
Neff: Suppose it doesn’t take.
Phyllis: Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles.
Neff: Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder.
Phyllis: Suppose you try putting it on my husband’s shoulder.
Neff: That tears it. Tomorrow evening, then.
Phyllis: That’s what I suggested.
Neff: You’ll be here, too?
Phyllis: I guess so. I usually am.
Neff: Same chair, same perfume, same anklet?
Phyllis: I wonder if I know what you mean.
Neff: I wonder if you wonder.
Dietrichson’s killing is made to look like an accident. Neff’s buddy, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson), is an insurance investigator in the same office. He believes that the mishap was actually murder and spends the rest of the film vainly attempting to identify the killer. ....

As the name implies, film noirs have usually come in shades of black. True, there have been Technicolor imitations—Body Heat, L.A. Confidential, Chinatown, dramas in which the protagonist, in classic style, winds up lured by a conniving woman into a maelstrom of greed and corruption. But these films would have been impossible to make without their B&W predecessors: Lady from Shanghai, with Rita Hayworth as the femme fatale and Orson Welles as her prey; The Blue Dahlia, with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake as victim and victimizer; Out of the Past, with Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer; and any one of a dozen Humphrey Bogart movies. No one can truly understand American cinema without seeing The Maltese Falcon, with Bogie as Sam Spade and Mary Astor as the villainess; The Big Sleep—the first meeting of Bogart and the future Mrs. B., Lauren Bacall; and their second pairing, To Have and Have Not. (“You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow.”)
I've enjoyed every one of those films again and again over the years.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"It is not mistaken to be prejudiced against cheats and liars, fanatics and demagogues"

I probably first read Russell Kirk while in high school in one of the columns he wrote about education for National Review. One summer I read The Conservative Mind. It stretched my understanding and that was good for me. Soon I was reading some of those conservative minds he had written about, especially Burke. One of Kirk's books I collected and still have is his Confessions of a Bohemian Tory (1963), a collection of short essays, many of which were first published as newspaper columns. This one is titled "Prejudices."
Like me, the several million readers of my daily column all entertain prejudices. Nor is this altogether a misfortune. Some of our prejudices are silly and perhaps harmful; but others are simply the necessary rules by which you and I live.

"Prejudice" means pre-judgment: that is, decisions we reach speedily without having to weigh much evidence. So whether our prejudices are sound or unsound depends upon the source of our deep-rooted beliefs and preferences.

Of course, one may cherish foolish prejudices against the shade of another man's skin or the color of his hair or the character of his religion. But also it is true, as Edmund Burke wrote, that by a wise prejudice a man's virtue becomes his habit.

Thus people of healthy inclinations and decent moral training nourish a prejudice against murder. When we hear that homicide has been committed, we react against it from our prejudices—and rightly so. We don't ask whether the murdered man was a good sort, or whether the murderer had pleasant manners, or whether (supposing you and I should feel like giving somebody his quietus) we might be able to get away with the act undetected. Unlike the principal character in Dostoevski's novel The Idiot, we don't rationally weigh the beneficial and baneful aspects of a particular murder, and then decide whether to take another human being's life.

On the contrary, we simply obey the commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," if you and I are normal. On learning of a murder, we resolve that whatever the particular circumstances, murder is evil; and we resolve that justice must be done. A sound prejudice, acquired early in life, informs us that murder is forbidden, and ought not to be tolerated out of sentimentality.

Similarly, we are able to maintain a decent civil social order because most of us act on wise prejudices against theft and cruelty and fraud. We don't have to be forever hesitating and trying to reason about the loss or gain possibly involved in cheating or beating our neighbor. If we are good, most of us are good from moral habits. We don't have to perform a kind of moral calculus every time we are compelled to make a moral decision.

We deliberately instill desirable prejudices early in life—by spanking little boys, for instance, if they persist in kicking other little boys in the shins. Prudent parents rightfully bring up their children prejudiced against shop-lifting, window-smashing and dog-tormenting. They don't teach their offspring to inquire, "Would anybody see me hurt that puppy?" or "Would it be more fun than danger to turn the hose on Sally?"

Let me add that healthy-minded parents also endeavor to keep their children free from false prejudices. It is a matter of early discrimination. But to be reared altogether without prejudice is to be brought up irresolute and essentially immoral. It is not mistaken to be prejudiced against cheats and liars, fanatics and demagogues.