Tuesday, October 31, 2017

“In the end I have my own religion. I made it up.”

Andrew Ferguson on an awful person:
.... Quinn is proof of the observation attributed to G.K. Chesterton: When a person ceases to believe in God, the danger isn’t that he will believe in nothing, but that he’ll believe in anything. In addition to her hexes and ghosts, her Tarot and telepathy, Sally believes in Ouija boards, palm reading, astrology, fortune telling, Hindu gods, telekinesis, witchcraft, and pretty much anything else that crosses her line of sight. Anything, that is, but God, biblically understood. “In the end I have my own religion,” she writes. “I made it up.” So this is where we are, 50 years after the elites dropped conventional religion in pursuit of…something they could make up.

Self-invented religions will always be more appealing than God. They make no particular demands on the believer, moral ones most importantly. It’s a handy omission. “I am,” she assures us, “a good and compassionate person, ethical and moral, embedded in core values, someone who cares about others.” Meanwhile, her memoir produces plenty of hard evidence to the contrary. There’s that dead fortune teller, for one thing. For another: Her account, utterly remorseless, of how she systematically set about seducing Bradlee away from his wife and children is as harrowing as the hexes. ....
I think a new tag, perhaps "terrible people," could be rapidly populated.

"I wonder, they know"

John Mark Reynolds: on All Hallows'
.... When Halloween arrives, I am happy. Thanksgiving, the best of secular holidays, and Christmas, the jolliest Christian day, are coming and I will wallow in both feasts. Halloween is its own good and if the culture has appropriated this religious day, then they are welcome to do so. ....

I am not talking about waiting until death and then being happy. Christianity says we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” At times, the dead seem near and this is happy. Sometimes I go to bed and think of the prayers and praise that ascend to God all the time from this growing family and friend circle with God. They are alive and see goodness, truth, and beauty face to face. ....

I do not love death, but I love the dead, because they are not truly dead. They are more alive than I am. I am dying, they are not just living, but growing more alive by the moment. I am heading for the grave, they have passed through the grave to God. I wonder, they know so they can be full of wonders. ....
I Do Not Love Death, but I Love the Dead

Sunday, October 29, 2017

"Arouse yourself: your Savior knocks..."

Via RedState, Bach Cantata BWV 180, "Adorn yourself, O dear soul, leave the dark pit of sin...."

The text.

Oswald did it

I taught high school history and social studies classes for thirty-five years. For almost all of those years I taught required 9th grade US history classes. Eventually I got pretty good at it. Each quarter one of the units involved the production of an essay that propounded a thesis, supported the thesis with evidence properly footnoted, and a conclusion flowing from the argument. Since these were 9th graders I supplied packets of primary and secondary sources for them to use although they were free to find other materials. Of the topics I gave them the most popular by far was the assassination of JFK. Since I used that subject year after year I became very familiar with the various conspiracy theories and the evidence (or, rather, the lack thereof) supporting them. There is really no reason to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was not the only shooter that day in Dallas. All of the alternate theories were answered long ago and it requires a genuine unwillingness to consider the evidence to believe otherwise. Peter Jennings' ABC documentary (2003) effectively dealt with all of the questions regarding a second gunman or an alternate assassin firing from somewhere other than the Schoolbook Depository. A thorough debunking of the various conspiracy theories can be found in Gerald Posner's Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK (1993). If your understanding of the issues is based on Oliver Stone's movie, look further. Like most of his films JFK is pretty good as a movie and pretty terrible as history.

The President has decided to release the remaining documents relating to the investigation of the assassination. As of last night he has ordered that all those remaining should be released holding back only the names and addresses of people still living. I predict that nothing new of importance will be revealed. Was Oswald himself part of a conspiracy? People who know the most about him are doubtful that he could have worked in concert with anyone. From today's London Times:
Farris Rookstool, a former FBI analyst who spent nine years reading 500,000 pages of documents in the bureau’s Kennedy collection, said the notion that Russia controlled Oswald was seductive but flawed.

“I did the interviews with the KGB, the first FBI-authorised face-to-face meetings, and I can tell you they thought Oswald was just as crazy as we did. I don’t think they were trying to wash their hands of being involved with him but they were just being very candid. Oleg Nechiporenko [a KGB officer who also met Oswald in Mexico City] said they called him ‘the Tornado’ because he was spiralling out of control.

“If you strip Oswald down and look at him as just a human, he had antisocial personality disorders, he had a childlike understanding of world history and he didn’t take orders very well.

“When he was in Russia they did a two-year electronic surveillance on him and they finally realised the guy was an idiot. They thought this guy is obviously not an American double agent or false flag or a dangle. When they folded their operation over there they gave him 72 hours to leave the country.”
There are still people who believe Stanton had Lincoln assassinated or that Spain blew up the Maine in Havana harbor and there will always be people who think a professional assassin might have chosen an exposed position behind the wall of a public parking lot and fired over the heads of people lining a parade route.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

By Grace

Our Reformation Day/All Saints' Day worship service this morning seems to have been well received. I noted to all present that many of the elements were plagiarized without credit. I do, however, include the locations where they were found below.
Worship Theme
Saved by Grace through Faith

Meditation in Preparation for Worship:
Therefore being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand,
and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2 [KJV]
Prayer: Lord God of hosts, the Refuge of every sinner and the Strength of all who put their trust in you, we praise you for having made us partakers of the blessings of your Reformation. Without any merit on our part, you have sent your Holy Spirit into our hearts and brought us to faith in your dear Son, Jesus Christ. You have made known to us the perfect merit of Christ. You have directed our faith to rest on the exceedingly great and precious promises of your Gospel. You have revealed the beauty of your grace, which rescued us from a just condemnation and assured us of certain salvation in Christ. Grant us your grace that we may receive your forgiveness with thanksgiving. Use us as your witnesses in bringing the message of pardon in Christ to people everywhere. Open our eyes to a better understanding of your Word and a deeper appreciation of your grace that our faith in Christ Jesus may grow and flourish with the fruits of righteous living. Amen. (Source: http://www.desperatepreacher.com/reformation.htm)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
A Litany (Psalm 46)
Leader: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Congregation: Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
Hymn: A Mighty Fortress (verse 1)                         
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
Hymn: A Mighty Fortress (verse 2)                         
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; God speaks and the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come, behold the works of the Lord!
God makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
God breaks the bow, shatters the spear, and burns the shields with fire.

Friday, October 27, 2017


Our worship tomorrow, albeit a few days early, will focus on both Reformation Day and All Saints' Day.
 This Reformation Day is the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther issued his challenge to debate his 95 theses – not the beginning of the Reformation but an important point in it. Halloween is actually All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Saints’ Day. Days were thought of as evening to evening so the eve was the beginning of the next day – think New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve. Although today most approach it as a secular holiday that wasn’t its origin and for us Protestants all believers are “saints” – and All Saints’ Day is when we acknowledge “the great cloud of witnesses” who have passed on. So our service today both recognizes the Protestant Reformation and all those believers who have gone before.

Therefore being justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand,
and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2 [KJV]

Seventh Day Baptist history

The newsletter of the Seventh Day Baptist Council on History arrived today announcing soon to be available online resources:
In his October report to General Council, Director Nick Kersten highlighted the Council on History's major project: digitizing library holdings and making them available online. For three years the library catalog has been searchable on our website. Now the entire collection of Sabbath Recorders has been digitized and will soon be available on the website. Next will come the remaining periodicals (newspapers, magazines, yearbooks). Then more!

Council member Tim Lawton has taken the reins of the new website....
The Sabbath Recorder is one of the oldest religious publications in the United States. It began in 1844 as a weekly newspaper and has been in continuous publication since, although it is now a monthly magazine. Having it all available online will be an advantage to historians and genealogists. The site is still being developed and they aren't there yet but the promise is that this fall and winter will see developments. The new online logo (see above) for the site was created by the current editor of the Sabbath Recorder, Pat Cruzan.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Focusing on feels

Rod Dreher recommends a new book from which he excerpts:
Realism means being in touch with the real world, with real things. Often I have the impression that we are running away from reality and focusing on feels as if emotions were the only real thing. Through my experience with religious education textbooks and catechesis classes in both Germany and the United States, I have come to see that much of our parish life is centered on sentimentality or the chasing of feelings. Children are invited to “feel” and “experience” this or that, but they are rarely given any content for their faith. It does not surprise me that they leave the Church if they find better feelings elsewhere.
The title God Is Not Nice is not meant to say that God is mean, but rather that He is wild and undomesticated. He is not nice; he is holy. Lehner is here speaking of God as C.S. Lewis’s Mr. Beaver spoke about Aslan: “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”


Lenore Skenazy, who got in trouble for letting her "nine-year-old take the subway alone," contends that "If you don’t let children take risks, you are damaging them."
.... In 1971, 80 per cent of eight-year-olds walked to school alone in Britain. By 2006, it was down to 12 per cent of seven- to ten-year-olds. ....

When we keep our kids constantly supervised by an adult, we think we are keeping them safe. But in fact we are doing the opposite. Kids need some independence — and even a little risk.

A study on risky play published in Evolutionary Psychology found that kids ‘dose’ themselves with the level of risk they can handle. The thrill they feel when climbing ever higher on the monkey bars, for example, is their reward for being brave. The more they tiptoe to the edge of their comfort level, the braver they become. Facing your fears has what psychologists call an ‘anti-phobic effect’.

Children deprived of these opportunities can end up more anxious. They haven’t been able to build up their bravery, organise their own games or solve their own spats. They have never got lost and had to find their way home, scared and then triumphant. Their coping skills are stunted.

That could be why today’s students are having a harder time than earlier generations at getting along on their own. From 2011 to 2016, the number of undergraduates in America reporting ‘overwhelming anxiety’ jumped from 50 to 62 per cent. Having been protected from so many risks and discomforts, children remain hypersensitive to them on the cusp of adulthood. Hence, perhaps, the demand for ‘safe spaces’. It’s not that these students are not safe. But it may feel that way, because something is making them anxious and no one is stopping it — the way adults always have, until now. ....

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"It is magnificent, but it is not war."

On the anniversary of an extremely foolish event during the Battle of Balaclava, October 25, 1854, during the Crimean War.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said     .
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
   All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
   Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
   Not the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
   Left of six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Rode the six hundred.
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
   Noble six hundred!
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

There were 673 men at the beginning of the charge. 118 were killed. Nothing was achieved.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Advice from a burglar

I posted once before about the book that introduced me to a favorite fictional character:
During summer visits to grandparents in West Virginia, we often stayed with an uncle and aunt. The aunt, Aunt Mabel, was a reader and had a lot of books. I would entertain myself by finding one or more among them to read, and, at least once, not having finished the book before we left, I begged her to let me have it, and she did. I must have been very annoying. The book I extorted in this manner—and still possess—is Without Lawful Authority [1943] by Manning Coles (the pen name of English collaborators Adelaide Frances Oke Manning and Cyril Coles). It was a fine introduction to a series of books featuring Tommy Hambledon, British espionage agent. The first was Drink to Yesterday [1940], set during World War I, but all of the others take place during World War II or the Cold War. I have accumulated several more (by purchase) and have enjoyed re-reading them as light entertainment.  ....
My favorite of the Manning Coles remains the first I read, the one I badgered my aunt into giving me, Without Lawful Authority. In Chapter Two, Marden, a burglar who was apprehended in Warnford's apartment, offers advice to said Warnford, who has decided he would like to possess a burglar's skills:
Warnford nodded eagerly, and Marden began to stroll up and down the room, talking as he went.

"You sprang to your feet when Ashling came in; you would probably have done better to sit perfectly still if you're fairly sure you haven't been heard. People who wander about houses in the middle of the night are probably looking for the bathroom, not the study or wherever the safe is kept. Or they might want a book or a drink of water. It's incredible how little people see if there's no movement at all. You want to keep perfectly still, hardly breathing at all, and think about something innocent and far away. Such as a frog hopping slowly round the edge of a pond or a cow lying in long grass, thoughtfully chewing the cud with its eyes half shut."

"For heaven's sake, why?"

"Because there is such a thing as telepathy. If you think intently about the person who comes, ninety-nine out of every hundred will feel it and know there's somebody there."

"I see."

"Continuing my general instructions," said Marden spaciously, "here is a tip if you're talking on the telephone. If the bird of either sex at the other end says he or she is alone and you wonder whether it's true, make some excuse to leave the phone for a moment. Put the receiver down on the table and instantly pick it up again and listen. Most people who have someone in the room with them will make some remark at that point when they think they are not overheard. After a moment, whatever the result, touch the table with the receiver again and go on talking."

"Continue, Machiavelli," said Warnford.

"What else? There are hundreds of tips, all useful. Tread on the front edges of stairs to avoid creaks; the riser will take your weight. Oh, if you're walking across a room in which someone is sleeping, take a step when they breathe out and wait while they breathe in."

"Even if they snore?"

"Even so. I'm told it's something to do with the pressure on the inside of the eardrums, but that may be all baloney; I'm not a doctor. Beware of the snorer; they sometimes wake themselves up with an extra-loud snort and, having their mouths open as a rule, they hear extra well in the ensuing hush."

"Especially as they're usually convinced somebody else has made the noise."

"Exactly. You know how to prevent a sneeze from fruiting, don't you? Press your finger firmly on your upper lip close below your nose; it's infallible."

"I had heard that one," admitted Warnford.

"It's fairly well known. If you're doing a bolt and you dash out of a gate or drop from a garden wall practically into the arms of a policeman, don't run away from him. Run towards him, avoiding, of course, the outstretched arm. He will then lose time turning round to pursue you instead of getting straight off the mark, and you will be several yards to the good."

"When I am standing on the extreme edge of a stair," said Warnford, "thinking of cowslips and pressing my finger on my lip so as not to awaken the snoring policeman on the top step, I'll remember your words."
Rue Morgue's reprint of Without Lawful Authority: A Tommy Hambledon Novel can be ordered from Amazon.

Rue Morgue Press - Manning Coles: Without Lawful Authority

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"No sense of history"

Camille Paglia on the devolution of American public education:
It’s really started at the level of public school education. I’ve been teaching now for 46 years as a classroom teacher, and I have felt the slow devolution of the quality of public school education in the classroom.

What has happened is these young people now getting to college have no sense of history – of any kind! No sense of history. No world geography. No sense of the violence and the barbarities of history. So, they think that the whole world has always been like this, a kind of nice, comfortable world where you can go to the store and get orange juice and milk, and you can turn on the water and the hot water comes out. They have no sense whatever of the destruction, of the great civilizations that rose and fell, and so on – and how arrogant people get when they’re in a comfortable civilization. They now have been taught to look around them to see defects in America – which is the freest country in the history of the world – and to feel that somehow America is the source of all evil in the universe, and it’s because they’ve never been exposed to the actual evil of the history of humanity. They know nothing!
I taught for decades in very good public schools. I watched the devolution that Paglia describes. Of course in order to teach history the teachers themselves must know something about it.

Paglia: The Dumbing Down of America Began in Public Schools | Intellectual Takeout

Friday, October 20, 2017

The God within

Philip Jenkins writes that he "recently discovered a new word that will be really useful for me in writing about Christian history." Actually the word wasn't new to him but a new usage. I encountered that word too but in the context of political philosophy where it is used to describe those who are "trying to bring about the eschaton (the final, heaven-like stage of history) in the immanent world." The word is "immanentists.," i.e. those that immanentize. Jenkins:
.... To over-simplify, God can be portrayed as transcendent (beyond and above the world, and humanity) or as immanent (within). An immanentist believes that God is entirely or mainly within the individual person, and that idea conditions attitudes to spiritual authority. In this view, the Bible has enormous spiritual authority, but it has to be read in a spiritual and psychological sense, as it speaks to the individual soul. That esoteric doctrine links naturally to a rejection of the Law, antinomianism. Commonly, but not necessarily, belief in the God Within shades into a doctrine of pantheism, the idea that all is holy. ....

On several occasions, I have myself written about people who began with an intense belief in God and Christ as imagined in a fairly conventional way. Over time, though, they develop a more mystical approach, to believe in God as an inner reality, an inner light, so that Christ is within.

You can call them God-Within-ists, or Inner-Lightists; but immanentists is much better, and more accurate. ....

Often, orthodox critics launched ferocious attacks on such mystical and esoteric believers, depicting them as atheists, or as mockers of the Bible, or blasphemers. That is a gross misunderstanding – although historically, the sects that espouse these ideas in one generation often did later gravitate to skeptical and rationalist views. Historically, the Inner Light ultimately did create the pre-conditions for Enlightenment. ....
I was reminded of this, from G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy:
That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. .... Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. The only fun of being a Christian was that a man was not left alone with the Inner Light, but definitely recognized an outer light, fair as the sun, clear as the moon, terrible as an army with banners.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

"Basic human decency morally surpasses any 'convictions.'”

.... In one memorable scene, Solzhenitsyn describes how a believing Jew shook his worldview. At the time he met him, Solzhenitsyn explains, “I was committed to that world outlook which is incapable of admitting any new fact or evaluating any new opinion before a label has been found for it...be it ‘the hesitant duplicity of the petty bourgeoisie,’ or the ‘militant nihilism of the déclassé intelligentsia.’” When someone mentioned a prayer spoken by President Roosevelt, Solzhenitsyn called it “hypocrisy, of course.” Gammerov, the Jew, demanded why he did not admit the possibility of a political leader sincerely believing in God. That was all, Solzhenitsyn remarks, but it was so shocking to hear such words from someone born in 1923 that it forced him to think. “I could have replied to him firmly, but prison had already undermined my certainty, and the principle thing was that some kind of clean, pure feeling does live within us, existing apart from all our convictions, and right then it dawned on me that I had not spoken out of conviction but because the idea had been implanted in me from outside.” He learns to question what he really believes and, still more important, to appreciate that basic human decency morally surpasses any “convictions.”

Once he admits that he has supported evil, he begins to ask where evil comes from. How do interrogators, who know their cases are fabricated and who use torture every time, continue to do their work year after year? He tells the story of one interrogator’s wife boasting of his prowess: “Kolya is a very good worker. One of them didn’t confess for a long time—and they gave him to Kolya. Kolya talked with him for one night and he confessed.”

One way to commit evil is simply “not to think,” but willed ignorance of evil already means “the ruin of a human being.” Those who tell Solzhenitsyn not to dig up the past belong to the category of “not-thinkers,” as do Western leftists who make sure not to know. The Germans, he argues, were lucky to have had the Nuremberg trials because they made not-thinking impossible. This Russian patriot advances a unique complaint: “Why is Germany allowed to punish its evildoers and Russia is not?"

Solzhenitsyn discovers yet another cause of totalitarianism’s monstrous evil: “Progressive Doctrine” or “Ideology.” In one famous passage, he asks why Shakespeare’s villains killed only a few people, while Lenin and Stalin murdered millions. The reason is that Macbeth and Iago “had no ideology.” Real people do not resemble the evildoers of mass culture, who delight in cruelty and destruction. No, to do mass evil you have to believe it is good, and it is ideology that supplies this conviction. “Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale of millions.”

One lesson of Gulag is that we are all capable of evil, just as Solzhenitsyn himself was. The world is not divided into good people like ourselves and evil people who think differently. “If only it were so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The core chapter of Gulag, entitled “The Ascent,” explains that according to Soviet ideology, absorbed by almost everyone, the only standard of morality is success. If there are no otherworldly truths, then effectiveness in this world is all that counts. That is why the Party is justified in doing anything. For the individual prisoner, this way of thinking entails a willingness to inflict harm on others as a means of survival. Whether to yield to this temptation represents the great moral choice of a prisoner’s life: “From this point the roads go to the right and to the left. One of them will rise and the other descend. If you go the right—you lose your life; and if you go to the left—you lose your conscience.”

Some people choose conscience. To do so, they must believe, as Solzhenitsyn came to believe, that the world as described by materialism is only part of reality. In addition, there is, as every religion has insisted, a realm of objective values, which are not mere social constructs. You can’t make the right choice as a postmodernist.

Once you give up survival at any price, “then imprisonment begins to transform your former character in astonishing ways. To transform it in a direction most unexpected to you.” You learn what true friendship is. Sensing your own weakness, you become more forgiving of others and “an understanding mildness” informs your “un-categorical judgments.” As you review your life, and face your bad choices, you gain self-knowledge available in no other way. Above all, you learn that what is most valuable is “the development of the soul.” In the Gulag I nourished my soul, Solzhenitsyn concludes, and so I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” ....  [more]

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"Jiminy Cricket isn’t infallible"

“I’ve prayed about this and I really feel like God told me that it would be okay.”

Those were the words that I heard when a young lady informed me that she was leaving her husband in order to live with another dude. She was happier with the other guy. She knew that God didn’t want her to be unhappy and so as she prayed that voice in her head confirmed that she had permission from the Almighty.

Don’t write me off as crazy, but I think she probably did hear a sort of “voice” in her mind that she attributed to God. And I don’t believe it was necessarily demonic. In fact I believe it is a voice that many of us hear on a daily basis. I believe many well-meaning believers attribute this voice to God.

That voice is your conscience. ... [more]

Monday, October 16, 2017

The right answer

From a review of a new collection of Antonin Scalia's speeches:
.... Readers will learn about a formative event that occurred as Scalia was finishing oral exams at Georgetown in 1957, before matriculating to Harvard Law. Walter W. Wilkinson of the history department posed what young “Nino,” as the valedictorian was known then, considered a “softball” question: “Of all the historical events you have studied, which one in your opinion had the most impact upon the world?” “How could I possibly get this wrong?” Scalia asked rhetorically on his return to Georgetown in 1998:
There was obviously no single correct answer. The only issue was what good answer I should choose. The French Revolution perhaps? Or the Battle of Thermopylae — or of Lepanto? Or the American Revolution? I forget what I picked, because it was all driven out of my mind when Dr. Wilkinson informed me of the right answer — or at least the right answer if I really believed what he and I thought I believed. Of course it was the Incarnation. Point taken. You must keep everything in perspective, and not run your spiritual life and your worldly life as though they are two separate operations.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Millions murdered

On the 100th anniversary of the first Communist revolution, ignorance of some of the greatest evils of modern times:
.... Half of young people admitted they had never heard of Lenin. And while 8 percent were ignorant of Adolf Hitler, and therefore clearly as ignorant as swans, it is what happened farther down the name-recognition list that was more alarming.

Fully 39 percent of young people associated George W. Bush with crimes against humanity, and 34 percent associated Tony Blair with the same. Which were higher percentages than for either Mao Tse-tung (20 percent) or Pol Pot (19 percent). The cause is not fellow-traveling but sheer ignorance. No less than 70 percent of young people said they had never heard of Chairman Mao, while 72 percent had never heard of the Cambodian génocidaire.

.... The figure of 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust is rightly set in our collective consciousness and conscience during our years of education and constantly reinforced through popular culture, political reference, and a whole panoply of institutions devoted to keeping memories alive. ....

But what are the consequences of societies with so little memory of 20 million deaths in the USSR? Or the 65 million deaths caused by efforts to instill Communism in China? If those 65 million Chinese deaths cannot detain us, what are the chances that anyone will care about the 2 million deaths in Cambodia? The million in Eastern Europe? The million in Vietnam? The 2 million (and counting) in North Korea? The nearly 2 million across Africa? The 1.5 million in Afghanistan? The 150,000 in Latin America? Not to mention the thousands of murders committed by Communist movements not in power, a number that could almost seem meager compared with the official slaughter?

Who could survey this wreckage — 100 million deaths in a century alone — and not recoil? Who would stand on top of these 100 million tragedies and think “Once more, comrades, though this time with subtly different emphases”? ....
The estimates above are conservative. From R.J. Rummel, Death by Government:

"To get better, it must get much worse."

Reading some more from Michael Dirda's essays for The American Scholar, I came across an account of his visit to a second-hand bookstore and his acquisitions that day. One was a book by Ross Thomas, an author who has never disappointed me. Haven't read this one for a while. Dirda:
The Fools in Town Are on Our Side, by Ross Thomas. Years ago, I traded my mint first of this crime thriller to my friend David Streitfeld—and regretted it almost immediately. In my years as a book editor, I used to call up Ross Thomas to review mysteries and spy novels, and, a consummate professional, he was always at his desk. Like his contemporary Charles McCarry, happily still with us, Thomas never quite received the acclaim he deserves, though his fans are legion. In a Times Literary Supplement survey, of 25 years ago or more, Eric Ambler chose this novel as a neglected classic of its genre. The title, by the way, comes from Huckleberry Finn. Along with Chinaman’s Chance and The Seersucker Whipsaw, which I’ve read, The Fools in Town are On Our Side is probably Thomas’s most admired novel.
From the description on the back of my paperback edition:
Lucifer Dye was born in Montana and raised in Shanghai's most distinguished bordello. Recently dismissed from Section Two, a secret American Intelligence Agency, he heads for San Francisco to be debriefed. Dye and Section Two are parting company....

Unemployed, armed only with a passport, a severance check, and his wits, Dye is approached by a man named Victor Orcutt. Orcutt's vocation is the cleaning up of corrupt cities through the application of Orcutt's First Law: "To get better, it must get much worse."

Orcutt proposes a $50,000 fee. Dye's assignment: to corrupt an entire American city. ....
The American Scholar: Wonder Books - Michael Dirda

Thursday, October 12, 2017

"Let Us Now Praise Dover Books"

Michael Dirda has reviewed books for The Washington Post, The American Scholar, The New York Review of Books, and many others. He likes books and, importantly to me, books I like. I trust his taste. Several years ago he wrote an appreciation of Dover Books, a publishing house I discovered in high school or before. I still have many of Dover's products. Dirda:
.... I started to think about Dover Books and their importance in my own reading life. Because of Dover paperbacks, I was introduced to M.R. James’s Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and to the adventures of Ernest Bramah’s blind detective Max Carrados, marveled at the great cases of Jacques Futrelle’s Professor S.F.X. Van Dusen, known as The Thinking Machine.... Because of Dover Books I was gradually able to accumulate a small library of wonderful and unusual titles, ranging from the mysteries and ghost stories of Sheridan Le Fanu, to H.P. Lovecraft’s groundbreaking essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature, to Martin Gardner’s first great debunking classic, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.
In those days of yore, Dover proudly trumpeted that their paperbacks were “designed for years of use,” that the paper wouldn’t deteriorate, and that the pages consisted of sewn signatures, with ample margins. Sometimes the outer cellophane layer of the covers would delaminate, but this didn’t affect the book in any serious manner: It would still open flat, and the type face, except in those publications that reproduced the actual pages of old magazine serials, would always be large and legible. In short, a Dover book was “a permanent book.” Best of all, the company’s offerings were cheap—only a few dollars new and often findable in thrift shops and second-hand bookstores. There must still be a couple of dozen Dover editions scattered around this house. Even now I sometimes take one out and study the lists of the many other Dover titles printed either on the inside covers or as an appendix. 
.... In my copy of Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood, the inside cover carries an extensive list of “Dover Mystery, Detective, Ghost Stories, and Other Fiction,” including Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan, G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, and Five Victorian Ghost Novels, edited by E.F. Bleiler.

Everett F. Bleiler! Even as a boy, I noticed that this Bleiler guy introduced many of the books I most cared about. He seemed to have read everything, and, as I later learned, he actually had. ....

.... For more than 20 years Bleiler worked as an editor, later an executive vice president, at Dover, and was responsible for resdiscovering and making available some of the greatest names in Victorian and Edwardian popular fiction. ....
The images are of a few of the Dover books that are still in my library. They are all in remarkably good condition for large-format paperbacks printed in the 1960s. And the paper has not deteriorated.