Sunday, May 19, 2024

Work and play

I'm not sure when I first read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) but it was early in my reading experience. I then went on to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Some years ago my brother and I visited Hannibal, Missouri, where Mark Twain grew up, and saw what may have been the fence that inspired Tom's white-washing con. Remember this?
.... “Say—I’m going in a-swimming, I am. Don’t you wish you could? But of course you’d druther work—wouldn’t you? Course you would!”
Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:
“What do you call work?”
“Why, ain’t that work?”
Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered carelessly:
“Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain’t. All I know, is, it suits Tom Sawyer.”
“Oh come, now, you don’t mean to let on that you like it?”
The brush continued to move.
“Like it? Well, I don’t see why I oughtn’t to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?”
That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily back and forth—stepped back to note the effect—added a touch here and there—criticised the effect again—Ben watching every move and getting more and more interested, more and more absorbed. Presently he said:
“Say, Tom, let me whitewash a little.”
Tom considered, was about to consent; but he altered his mind:
“No—no—I reckon it wouldn’t hardly do, Ben. You see, Aunt Polly’s awful particular about this fence—right here on the street, you know—but if it was the back fence I wouldn’t mind and she wouldn’t. Yes, she’s awful particular about this fence; it’s got to be done very careful; I reckon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done.”
“No—is that so? Oh come, now—lemme just try. Only just a little—I’d let you, if you was me, Tom.”
“Ben, I’d like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly—well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn’t let him; Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn’t let Sid. Now don’t you see how I’m fixed? If you was to tackle this fence and anything was to happen to it—”
“Oh, shucks, I’ll be just as careful. Now lemme try. Say—I’ll give you the core of my apple.” “Well, here—No, Ben, now don’t. I’m afeard—”
“I’ll give you all of it!”
Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face, but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by, dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the slaughter of more innocents. There was no lack of material; boys happened along every little while; they came to jeer, but remained to whitewash. By the time Ben was fagged out, Tom had traded the next chance to Billy Fisher for a kite, in good repair; and when he played out, Johnny Miller bought in for a dead rat and a string to swing it with—and so on, and so on, hour after hour. And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth. He had besides the things before mentioned, twelve marbles, part of a jews-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar—but no dog—the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window sash.
He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while—plenty of company—and the fence had three coats of whitewash on it! If he hadn’t run out of whitewash he would have bankrupted every boy in the village.
Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow world, after all. He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it—namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do. And this would help him to understand why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the summer, because the privilege costs them considerable money; but if they were offered wages for the service, that would turn it into work and then they would resign. ....

Friday, May 17, 2024

The way he said it

K. Alan Snyder is working on a paper describing Dorothy L. Sayers's arguments for sound education. Sayer's most well-known paper on the subject is “The Lost Tools of Learning,” which has been part of the inspiration of the classical school movement. Dr. Snyder, doing research at the Wade Center, has discovered an unpublished Sayers lecture about one of those "lost" tools, rhetoric. Sayers on Churchill's effective use of rhetoric:
The cornerstone for this address was the example of Winston Churchill, a leader that Sayers believed had rejuvenated the impact of effective rhetoric. She comments, “At the beginning of the last war, an extraordinary wave of excitement & vivification ran through the nation when Mr. Churchill began to speak on the wireless.”

Sayers adds, “It was not so much what he said—though that was heartening & good—as the way he said it, which was electrical. Events (which were agitating enough) helped of course to put us into the mood to be moved; but at first events were so depressing that if they had been talked about in the old way we should probably have sunk into a lethargy of discouragement.”

Throughout the war, Sayers notes, “that resonant voice trumpeted its way through bad times & good.” Even people who weren’t fans of Churchill or his politics were stirred by the rhetoric of his famous speeches in those dire times. They “drank in great lifesaving draughts of stimulating language with body in it. That marked, I believe, the first steps in the Revival of Rhetoric.”

Thursday, May 16, 2024

A gold heist

I just watched a recently acquired Blu-ray of one of my favorite British comedies, The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). It was produced by Ealing Studios, a company that became famous for a whole series of great comedies, many—including this one—starring Alec Guinness. Other Ealing films that I always enjoy sharing: Whiskey Galore!, Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Man in the White Suit, the original The Ladykillers, and A Run for Your Money, all of which except the first have Guinness in the cast. If you enjoy British humor, you will enjoy any of them. CrimeReads recently published an essay about The Lavender Hill Mob which I excerpt below:
.... It is about two men, neighbors in the small Battersea London neighborhood of Lavender Hill, who become unlikely collaborators, compatriots, and friends by giving into their desires and pursuing a life of crime. Our hero is a mild-mannered bank transfer agent played by Alec Guinness,...and a frustrated artist played by Stanley Holloway (best known as playing Alfred Dolittle in My Fair Lady), who team up to commit an extraordinary heist. our antihero Henry Holland. He has dutifully worked for the bank for two decades, facilitating the transfer of gold bullion from foundry to vault, every week. Holloway is Alfred Pendlebury, who dreams of being a sculptor but has to settle for carving stone in his off-hours; his day job is making lead souvenir statues. But it’s not long before Holland realizes that, if one wanted to smuggle stolen gold out of the country, all they’d have to do is melt and smelt it into figurines and ship them abroad.

Holland knows that, even if he gets promoted, he’ll never ever make enough money to live a good life. Pendlebury knows he’ll never make it as an artist. So, the realization of an easy smuggling opportunity gives them both a new raison d’être. But they’re going to need help, so they pretend to be tough-guys and enlist the help of two criminals (Alfie Bass and Sidney James), forming a bank robbing gang for the ages. ....

There are many magical tidbits sprinkled through, including a tiny appearance by a young, pre-fame Audrey Hepburn, and a young, pre-fame Robert Shaw. ....

Monday, May 13, 2024


C.S. Lewis on faith:
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 11 "Faith" (1952)

Saturday, May 11, 2024

Lying liars

I've been enjoying reading Samuel Johnson's essays. He made his living by writing and there is a great deal of it quite apart from the famous Dictionary. And much of it can be found online. The following is from a 1753 essay about liars:
When Aristotle was once asked, what a man could gain by uttering falsehoods? he replied, “Not to be credited when he shall tell the truth.”

The character of a liar is at once so hateful and contemptible, that even of those who have lost their virtue it might be expected that from the violation of truth they should be restrained by their pride. Almost every other vice that disgraces human nature, may be kept in countenance by applause and association: the corrupter of virgin innocence sees himself envied by the men, and at least not detested by the women; the drunkard may easily unite with beings, devoted like himself to noisy merriments or silent insensibility, who will celebrate his victories over the novices of intemperance, boast themselves the companions of his prowess, and tell with rapture of the multitudes whom unsuccessful emulation has hurried to the grave; even the robber and the cut-throat have their followers, who admire their address and intrepidity, their stratagems of rapine, and their fidelity to the gang.

The liar, and only the liar, is invariably and universally despised, abandoned, and disowned: he has no domestick consolations, which he can oppose to the censure of mankind; he can retire to no fraternity, where his crimes may stand in the place of virtues; but is given up to the hisses of the multitude, without friend and without apologist. It is the peculiar condition of falsehood, to be equally detested by the good and bad: “The devils,” says Sir Thomas Brown, “do not tell lies to one another; for truth is necessary to all societies: nor can the society of hell subsist without it.” ....

Friday, May 10, 2024

"Now I lay me down, to sleep"

From Samuel Johnson "On Sleep":
—Pallas pour’d sweet slumbers on his soul;
And balmy dreams, the gift of soft repose,
Calm’d all his pains, and banish’d all his woes. POPE.
If every day did not produce fresh instances of the ingratitude of mankind, we might, perhaps, be at a loss, why so liberal and impartial a benefactor as sleep, should meet with so few historians or panegyrists. Writers are so totally absorbed by the business of the day, as never to turn their attention to that power, whose officious hand so seasonably suspends the burden of life; and without whose interposition man would not be able to endure the fatigue of labour, however rewarded, or the struggle with opposition, however successful.  ....

Sleep is necessary to the happy to prevent satiety, and to endear life by a short absence; and to the miserable, to relieve them by intervals of quiet. Life is to most, such as could not be endured without frequent intermission of existence....

Sleep, therefore, as the chief of all earthly blessings, is justly appropriated to industry and temperance; the refreshing rest, and the peaceful night, are the portion only of him who lies down weary with honest labour, and free from the fumes of indigested luxury; it is the just doom of laziness and gluttony, to be inactive without ease, and drowsy without tranquillity.

Sleep has been often mentioned as the image of death; “so like it,” says Sir Thomas Brown, “that I dare not trust it without my prayers:” their resemblance is, indeed, apparent and striking; they both, when they seize the body, leave the soul at liberty: and wise is he that remembers of both, that they can be safe and happy only by virtue.

Tuesday, May 7, 2024


Among the treasures at Standard Ebooks I find Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini (1922). This was one of the first books I read in the adult fiction section of the library, having exhausted what seemed interesting in the children's section. I was probably about twelve, maybe younger. The librarian thought I was too young for this book, consulted my father, and wouldn't let me check it out. Whereupon I went to the library every day after school, took the book from the stacks, and read it at a library table. The librarian again consulted Dad. They gave up.

The description of the book at the site:
Peter Blood, with experience as a soldier and sailor, is practicing medicine in Bridgewater, England, when he inadvertently gets caught up in a rebellion being waged by the Duke of Monmouth. After being convicted of treason, Blood and some of the rebels are sentenced to slavery in the Caribbean. The year is 1688.

During the course of Blood’s servitude, he works on the sugar plantation of Colonel Bishop and becomes infatuated with the colonel’s niece, Arabella. When Bishop realizes that Blood is an accomplished physician he “employs” Blood in that capacity.

When the colony is attacked by a Spanish force, Blood and some of the other slaves manage to escape and take over the Spanish ship. Several of the other escapees turn out to be experienced seamen, including as officers in the British Navy. ....
As I've noted before, the eBooks at this site can be downloaded in every format used by e-readers, but I've been reading them online.

From the first chapter of Captain Blood:
Peter Blood, bachelor of medicine and several other things besides, smoked a pipe and tended the geraniums boxed on the sill of his window above Water Lane in the town of Bridgewater.

Sternly disapproving eyes considered him from a window opposite, but went disregarded. Mr. Blood’s attention was divided between his task and the stream of humanity in the narrow street below, pouring for the second time that day in the direction of Castle Field, where earlier in the afternoon Ferguson, the Duke’s chaplain, had preached a sermon that contained more treason than divinity.

These straggling, excited groups were mainly composed of men with green boughs in their hats and the most ludicrous of weapons in their hands. Some, it is true, shouldered fowling pieces, and here and there a sword was brandished; but more of them were armed with clubs, and most of them trailed the mammoth pikes fashioned out of scythes, as formidable to the eye as they were clumsy to the hand. There were weavers, brewers, carpenters, smiths, masons, bricklayers, cobblers, and representatives of every other of the trades of peace among these improvised men of war. Bridgewater, like Taunton, had yielded so generously of its manhood to the service of the bastard Duke that for any to abstain whose age and strength admitted of his bearing arms was to brand himself a coward or a papist.

Yet Peter Blood, who was not only able to bear arms, but trained and skilled in their use, who was certainly no coward, and a papist only when it so suited him, tended his geraniums and smoked his pipe on that warm July evening as indifferently as if nothing were afoot. One other thing he did. He flung after those war-fevered enthusiasts a line of Horace⁠—a poet for whose work he had early conceived an inordinate attachment:
“Quo, quo, scelesti, ruitis?”
And now perhaps you guess why the hot, intrepid blood inherited from the roving sires of his Somersetshire mother remained cool amidst all this frenzied fanatical heat of rebellion, why the turbulent spirit which had forced him once from the sedate academical bonds his father would have imposed upon him, should now remain quiet in the very midst of turbulence. You realize how he regarded these men who were rallying to the banners of liberty⁠—the banners woven by the virgins of Taunton, the girls from the seminaries of Miss Blake and Mrs. Musgrove, who⁠—as the ballad runs⁠—had ripped open their silk petticoats to make colours for King Monmouth’s army. That Latin line, contemptuously flung after them as they clattered down the cobbled street, reveals his mind. To him they were fools rushing in wicked frenzy to their ruin. .... (more)

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Memento mori

Nothing is more evident than that the decays of age must terminate in death; yet there is no man, says Tully, who does not believe that he may yet live another year; and there is none who does not, upon the same principle, hope another year for his parent or his friend: but the fallacy will be in time detected; the last year, the last day, must come. It has come, and is past. The life which made my own life pleasant is at an end, and the gates of death are shut upon my prospects.

The loss of a friend upon whom the heart was fixed, to whom every wish and endeavour tended, is a state of dreary desolation, in which the mind looks abroad impatient of itself, and finds nothing but emptiness and horrour. The blameless life, the artless tenderness, the pious simplicity, the modest resignation, the patient sickness, and the quiet death, are remembered only to add value to the loss, to aggravate regret for what cannot be amended, to deepen sorrow for what cannot be recalled. ....

We know little of the state of departed souls, because such knowledge is not necessary to a good life. Reason deserts us at the brink of the grave, and can give no further intelligence. Revelation is not wholly silent. “There is joy in the angels of Heaven over one sinner that repenteth;” and, surely, this joy is not incommunicable to souls disentangled from the body, and made like angels. ....

These are the great occasions which force the mind to take refuge in religion: when we have no help in ourselves, what can remain but that we look up to a higher and a greater Power? and to what hope may we not raise our eyes and hearts, when we consider that the greatest POWER is the BEST?

Surely there is no man who, thus afflicted, does not seek succour in the gospel, which has brought life and immortality to light. The precepts of Epicurus, who teaches us to endure what the laws of the universe make necessary, may silence, but not content us. The dictates of Zeno, who commands us to look with indifference on external things, may dispose us to conceal our sorrow, but cannot assuage it. Real alleviation of the loss of friends, and rational tranquillity, in the prospect of our own dissolution, can be received only from the promises of Him in whose hands are life and death, and from the assurance of another and better state, in which all tears will be wiped from the eyes, and the whole soul shall be filled with joy. Philosophy may infuse stubbornness, but Religion only can give patience.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

The Hardy Boys

My introduction to mysteries, even before Conan Doyle, was the Hardy Boys series. I read the updated editions published in the '60s. Standard Ebooks is publishing one after another of the original 1920s editions. Recently The Shore Road Mystery, described on the site:
The city of Bayport is at the mercy of a ring of car thieves! Vehicles have been disappearing off of the well-traveled Shore Road for three weeks; eventually, the gang gets bolder and starts moving their sights to the city. With the police and even Fenton Hardy running into dead ends, the town is in an uproar. The ring runs like a well-oiled machine: no one sees the thieves and the cars seemingly disappear into thin air despite patrols on either end of the Shore Road. Incentivized by a victimized friend, the Hardy Boys are determined to bring down the gang … but at what cost?

This is the sixth book of the Hardy boys series, first published in 1928 and then rewritten in 1964. .... This Standard Ebooks edition is based on the original 1928 text.
I once owned almost all the books but at some point, believing I had outgrown them, gave them away.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

How to argue

Of all the memorable statements uttered by Charles Spurgeon, this advice from Lectures to My Students has stuck in my head as much as anything the great preacher said or wrote:
The sensible minister will be particularly gentle in argument. He, above all men, should not make the mistake of fancying that there is force in temper, and power in speaking angrily.... Try to avoid debating with people. State your opinion and let them state theirs. If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words.
So many wise sentiments in these few sentences. We could talk about how “the Lord’s servant,” even as he rightly contends for the faith, “must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:24–25). We could talk about the folly of mistaking forcefulness for true spiritual power. We could talk about the wisdom of avoiding protracted debates, by stating your opinion and then moving on. All of that is pure gold.

But I want to focus on the last sentence in the paragraph above. I want to suggest two ways we can make our arguments harder, which in this case means better, more careful, and more persuasive. .... (more)

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

A great adventure

I read the Nordhoff & Hall trilogy (Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea, and Pitcairn Island) while in elementary school. Later I saw the 1935 Mutiny on the Bounty starring Charles Laughton as a particularly sadistic Captain Bligh, and Clark Gable as Fletcher Christian. The story is historical and there have been several movies based on it. In 1962 a film starred Marlon Brando as a rather effete Christian, and Trevor Howard as Bligh. That one, I didn't care for. Last night, for the first time, I watched the third movie about the mutiny: The Bounty (1984) with a script by Robert Bolt (A Man for All Seasons), starring Anthony Hopkins as Bligh, and a young-looking Mel Gibson as Christian. I'm sorry I missed it forty years ago. It is probably the most accurate recounting of the actual events. And it is entertaining. Note: there is a lot of native nudity in the Tahiti scenes. Roger Ebert gave the film a "thumbs up" in 1984:
The relationship between Fletcher Christian and Captain William Bligh is one of the most familiar in the movies: We've seen it acted between Clark Gable and Charles Laughton, and between Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard, but it's never before been quite as intriguing as in "The Bounty," the third movie based on the most famous mutiny in the history of the sea. The movie suggests that Bligh and Christian were friends, of all things, and that Bligh — far from being the histrionic martinet of earlier movies — was an intelligent, contemplative man of great complications. The story is well-known, and simple: HMS Bounty sets sail for the South Seas, has a difficult voyage that frays everyone's tempers, and then anchors at a Polynesian island. During the trip, the original first mate has been replaced by the young Fletcher Christian, whom Bligh decides to trust. But Christian tires of the voyage and of the dangers and probable death that lie ahead. He falls in love with a native girl and leads a mutiny of sailors who choose to stay on their island paradise. ....

This Bounty is not only a wonderful movie, high-spirited and intelligent, but something of a production triumph as well. Although this third Bounty film was originally conceived as a big-budget, two-part epic to be directed by David (Doctor Zhivago) Lean, the current version was prepared and directed after only a few months' notice by a talented young New Zealander named Roger Donaldson....

The sea voyage is done with the sort of macho confidence that a good sea movie needs, and the land portions do an interesting job of contrasting the proper, civilized British ... with the cheerful absolute freedom of Polynesia. The romance between Gibson and the beautiful Tevaite Vernette, as his island lover, is given time to develop instead of just being thrown in as a plot point. And the Polynesians, for once, are all allowed to go topless all the time (the movie nevertheless gets the PG rating, qualifying under the National Geographic loophole in which nudity doesn't count south of the equator). The Bounty is a great adventure, a lush romance, and a good movie.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Not about how I feel

Carl Greene is Executive Director of the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference. In the current Sabbath Recorder, he writes "Sabbath Liturgy is Not All About Me":
Liturgy is not a word that we drop in our Seventh Day Baptist circles very often. Even less often do we use the word as a positive descriptor of ourselves. We prefer to say that we are non-liturgical and simply use an order of service for gathered worship. We tend to see the label of liturgical as representative of worship that has become routine to the point of mindless repetition.

I will confess. I like the word liturgy. I am out to convince you that liturgy is a lovable word.

Liturgy is derived from the Greek work leitourgia. It gets better. Two words are contained within liturgy: people (laos) and work (ergon). Hence, leitourgia is literally a "work of the people."' Liturgy is not some stodgy approach to worship—it is the intentional way that we worship together as a body. What I like about using the word "liturgy" is that it keeps us focused on Biblical worship rather than attractional worship.

Our only metric for assessing worship can all too easily be reduced to an assessment of if people like it. This constitutes seeing worship mainly as an attraction to get people through the doors of a church building. One way we do this is by directly demanding our worship personal style preferences—because any normal person will agree with my worship preferences. That usually does not end well.

We can also be indirect in communicating our worship wants. We refer to the wants of people who do not attend worship (yet) but we are confident will come to worship if we make some strategic changes. It just so happens that the worship preferences of the currently-not-attending are the same preferences as mine. I do not even have to ask them. ....

...[O]ur practice of liturgical worship is not so much focused on how I feel or what I want but focused on our great God. ....

Sunday, April 28, 2024

The lazy latitudes

Exploring again at Standard EBooks I've come across Earl Derr Biggars' The House Without a Key, described on the site:
Published in 1925, The House Without a Key introduces the kindly detective Charlie Chan, conceived by Earl Derr Biggers as a counter to the “Yellow Peril” stereotypes common in the era’s society.

John Quincy Winterslip, having been sent by his family to convince his aunt to return to Boston, arrives in Honolulu to find that a rich family member with a shady past has been murdered. Detective Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police Department recruits John to aid in the investigation. As he works to uncover the murderer, John learns about Chinese culture—and true love.
There were six books in the Charlie Chan mystery series published in the 1920s and early thirties. The Chan in the books avoids most of the steriotypes of East Asians common in a time when the US had severe restrictions on immigration from that part of the world.

The image on the right is of the cover of the book in my library, a facsimile of the 1925 first edition.

I enjoy Biggars' writing. These are the first paragraphs of the first chapter, introducing some important characters, and the setting is Waikiki in the 1920s:
Kona Weather

Miss Minerva Winterslip was a Bostonian in good standing, and long past the romantic age. Yet beauty thrilled her still, even the semi-barbaric beauty of a Pacific island. As she walked slowly along the beach she felt the little catch in her throat that sometimes she had known in Symphony Hall, Boston, when her favorite orchestra rose to some new and unexpected height of loveliness.

It was the hour at which she liked Waikiki best, the hour just preceding dinner and the quick tropic darkness. The shadows cast by the tall coconut palms lengthened and deepened, the light of the falling sun flamed on Diamond Head and tinted with gold the rollers sweeping in from the coral reef. A few late swimmers, reluctant to depart, dotted those waters whose touch is like the caress of a lover. On the springboard of the nearest float a slim brown girl poised for one delectable instant. What a figure! Miss Minerva, well over fifty herself, felt a mild twinge of envy⁠—youth, youth like an arrow, straight and sure and flying. Like an arrow the slender figure rose, then fell; the perfect dive, silent and clean.

Miss Minerva glanced at the face of the man who walked beside her. But Amos Winterslip was oblivious to beauty, he had made that the first rule of his life. Born in the Islands, he had never known the mainland beyond San Francisco. Yet there could be no doubt about it, he was the New England conscience personified⁠—the New England conscience in a white duck suit.

“Better turn back, Amos,” suggested Miss Minerva. “Your dinner’s waiting. Thank you so much.”

“I’ll walk as far as the fence,” he said. “When you get tired of Dan and his carryings-on, come to us again. We’ll be glad to have you.”

“That’s kind of you,” she answered, in her sharp crisp way. “But I really must go home. Grace is worried about me. Of course, she can’t understand. And my conduct is scandalous, I admit. I came over to Honolulu for six weeks, and I’ve been wandering about these islands for ten months.”

“As long as that?”

She nodded. “I can’t explain it. Every day I make a solemn vow I’ll start packing my trunks⁠—tomorrow.”

“And tomorrow never comes,” said Amos. “You’ve been taken in by the tropics. Some people are.”

“Weak people, I presume you mean,” snapped Miss Minerva. “Well, I’ve never been weak. Ask anybody on Beacon Street.”

He smiled wanly. “It’s a strain in the Winterslips,” he said. “Supposed to be Puritans, but always sort of yearning toward the lazy latitudes.” .... (more)

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Humor today

Fawlty Towers is about to reappear, this time on stage. I bought the entire series on DVD some time ago. It's funny. John Cleese on humor:
.... In comedy, context is everything: part of the problem with humour today is that people have lost sight of that. Some people still think “The Germans” is controversial because of the scene in which Basil imitates the Nazi goose-step, but the only people who have never complained about that episode are the Germans themselves. They know the comedy is never at their expense. Those who do take exception to this episode also criticise the moment in the hospital early on when Basil jumps back on encountering a black doctor. I pinched that from WC Fields, because I thought it was funny. The point of that particular moment is that we are all frightened by whatever is unfamiliar. It’s Basil’s naivety that makes you laugh.

But when people get mired in ideas about comedy and victimhood, they stop thinking. They lose sight of those distinctions of context. I’ve recently been working on a stage show of the 1979 Monty Python film Life of Brian, which we’re hoping to open in London next year. When we had a read-through in America last year, some of the actors objected to a scene from the film in which Eric Idle’s character says he’s going to become a woman. They said, “We can’t include this scene!” To which I said “Why not? It has amused people for 40 years…” No one was offended until a couple of years ago. ....

These days it’s almost mandatory that everyone gets offended by one thing or another, but it doesn’t breed in you a good state of mental health. A friend of mine who suffered greatly from depression recently underwent cognitive behavioural therapy which is all about reframing negative opinions, changing your mindset. But the extreme woke believe the opposite to this: that whatever you feel about something is entirely valid and should never be questioned. Which basically means Freud was wasting his time. .... (more)
A favorite film of mine starring John Cleese is A Fish Called Wanda.

Friday, April 26, 2024


Most historians agree that the reparations required of Germany after World War I had unfortunate consequences. Are those lessons relevant to the consideration of reparations in general?
.... Reparations caused endless, dangerous resentment, and damaged the prospects of genuine reconciliation. They arguably harmed both those paying them and those receiving them. They caused severe trade distortions and added to financial instability. They imposed burdens on people not responsible for the damage being repaired. Worst of all, the political outcomes were disastrous.

One might think that such a discouraging and well-known historical example as the Treaty of Versailles would cause those blithely proposing billions or trillions in reparations for long-distant wrongs to exercise some caution, especially as today’s circumstances make the case for reparations vastly less strong than it was in 1920. Precisely what damage today is to be repaired? Who are the victims now? Who alive in the 2020s is responsible for events in the 1720s? How can the monetary cost of remote harms be reasonably calculated? Would resentment be caused by the imposition of reparations? How damaging might that be to present society and to the relationship between payers and receivers? Could resources be better used to relieve urgent 21st-century needs, rather than to pay the distant heirs of long-dead victims? ....

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Art, architecture, music, and philosophy

I watched Civilization when it first aired on PBS. I watched it in B&W because I did not yet have a color TV. I was enthralled. I am getting a Blu-ray version right now fearing that the series in its original form may not always be available. From The Spectator:
'What is Civilisation? I don’t know. I can’t definite it in abstract terms – yet. But I think I can recognise it when I see it; and I am looking at it now.’ So suggested Kenneth Clark, looking towards Notre Dame at the start of Civilisation, his magisterial televisual guide through Western art, architecture, and philosophy. .... Now, more than fifty years since its creation, the BBC has decided its viewers need protecting from this ‘personal view’.

It suggests the programme does not necessarily accord with Auntie’s current ‘standards and attitudes’, and further undermines it by placing alongside it a new segment by Mary Beard lamenting the ‘posh’ Clark’s Euro-centrism.

The former can be begrudgingly accepted, since it has previously been applied to other programmes from the BBC archives, including an interview with Martin Luther King Jr. But the latter sticks in the craw. ....

Reading the Victorian critic [John Ruskin] had convinced Clark that art should be accessible to everyone. Civilisation was the embodiment of his life’s work. It never talks down to its viewers. Clark contentedly left minutes devoid of commentary, allowing those watching to bask in the magnificence of whichever cathedral or piece of music he had chosen. You are free to enjoy the beauty without interruption.

...Clark wholeheartedly believed in individual genius and Christianity’s role as ‘the chief creative force in western civilisation’. Neither is in vogue today. Looking at the monstrosities that litter our cities and galleries, one can’t help but find Clark’s traditionalism appealing. ....

At the end of the series, Clark maintains that it is ‘a lack of confidence, more than anything else, that kills a civilisation’. A national broadcaster that feels challenged enough by a fifty-year old programme not to let it air without some form of warning or lecture cannot be said to be that. But as Civilisation proves, great art endures, even as fashions shift – and idle posturing can never substitute for good taste.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Planning to grill this evening, so was happy to come across this in The Telegraph this morning. It discusses seven myths about choosing a good steak. Some of the positive advice:
“The best steak doesn’t exist,” says chef Paul Foster, the owner of Stratford-upon-Avon restaurant Salt and author of How to Cook Meat Properly. “[Fillet] is the most tender,” he admits, “so if you’re looking for the most tender steak, then you’ve got to go for fillet. But it doesn’t have very much flavour.” Flavour often comes from meat taken from parts of the cow that have done more “work”, so for Foster, rib-eye (from the forequarter of the animal) is a great choice, delivering plenty of flavour and texture. ....

There are two types of fat to consider, explains Smith. “We’ve got subcutaneous fat – the fat on the outside – and too much of that is not good. Then we’ve got intramuscular fat, known as marbling. .... the distribution of fat plays a far more significant role than the quantity. Foster’s advice is to look for a steak that’s a dark cherry red, with even marbling. “Good, even marbling shows it’s a good animal. You don’t want pockets of fat in one side of the steak and not in the other.” ....

You’ll often see steaks referred to as aged or dry-aged, along with a range of days, most commonly 28, which is considered roughly to be the sweet spot. Ageing beef can help meat develop a more intense flavour, as well as tenderising it by breaking down the muscle fibres. .... More important than the duration is how the meat has been aged, argues Smith. Dry ageing describes when meat is exposed to air, in many cases hung but sometimes on a rack, allowing its moisture to evaporate, whereas a different process – called “wet ageing” by some – sees meat vacuum-packed, sitting in its own moisture, then left to age. .... [T]he key word to look out for is “dry” rather than simply “aged”. “If you see ‘28-day aged’, it sounds lovely,” he says, but if the meat has been vacuum-packed for that time, “the moisture hasn’t escaped and it’s just sitting there ageing in a bag, so the enzymes aren’t breaking it down as much. It’s not getting that flavour from being dry-aged, it’s not losing that moisture content.”
I knew most of that, although I didn't know what "wet-ageing" was, and I will avoid it. A previous post on the subject.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Freedom and friendship

Anthony Esolen's "Word of the Week" is "Friend":
Cicero wrote a charming treatise on friendship, in which he says, among many other things, that a friend is someone in whose presence you can think out loud. ....

Because we are friends, and true friendship can only be founded in virtue, we delight in one another’s company, and friends don’t abandon one another when that delight is overshadowed by danger, or sadness, or misfortune, or even the threat of death. In that world, it meant a lot to call someone your friend. That’s why Jesus, who had befriended his apostles for three years, says at the Last Supper that he no longer calls them his servants, but his friends: not because of any greater love that he feels, but because he has chosen to be entirely open with them. “All that the Father has made known to me,” he says, “I make known to you.” ....

If you love someone, you do not make a bondslave of him; he is free; hence we get Welsh rhyddid, freedom, as they sing in that great fight song “Men of Harlech,” and we get Germanic freo, free. Now, if you’re really free in the company of someone, it means that you needn’t worry that your next word will cause him to leap upon the table and put a knife to your neck. .... (more)

Friday, April 19, 2024

He saw the Light

The Word & Song substack remembers a song each week. Recently it was "I Saw the Light" by Hank Williams:
.... The idea for our song this week came to Hank when his mother was driving him and the band home after one of their performances. The guys were all asleep. When she drew nearer to home, and the lights of the Montgomery airport came in view, Hank’s mother called out, “I saw the lights.” What Hank heard that night inspired him to write a timeless song of gratitude and praise. And if Hank’s heart was really in his music, which it must have been for him to get as far as he did in the short time allotted to him, we surely can hope that he hoped to see the Light of his heavenly home and to receive the ultimate healing of body and soul.

Debra Esolen, "I Saw the Light," Word & Song by Anthony Esolen, March 9, 2024.