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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


"...Most of us get old without growing up"

Bill Watterson:
Calvin is autobiographical in the sense that he thinks about the same issues that I do, but in this, Calvin reflects my adulthood more than my childhood. Many of Calvin's struggles are metaphors for my own. I suspect that most of us get old without growing up, and that inside every adult (sometimes not very far inside) is a bratty kid who wants everything his own way. I use Calvin as an outlet for my immaturity, as a way to keep myself curious about the natural world, as a way to ridicule my own obsessions, and as a way to comment on human nature. I wouldn't want Calvin in my house, but on paper, he helps me sort through my life and understand it.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Crime and history

"Mystery in the Age of Empire" is about books that combine two of my favorite genres, historical fiction and crime fiction. Good historical fiction teaches history. Crime and detection fiction necessarily provides detailed descriptions of the circumstances of the crime thus teaching us about the times. The writer of the essay, Paddy Hirsch, himself an author of such a mystery, describes how he came to enjoy history:
I suppose I was just looking for the spark to set it all alight in my mind. George MacDonald Fraser did exactly that, with his Flashman novels, followed by Bernard Cornwell, whose character Richard Sharpe rises through the ranks of Queen Victoria’s army and fights his way through India and the Napoleonic Wars.

It didn’t take me long to find out there was an intersection of crime fiction and historical fiction. One of the most fascinating elements of this literary hybrid is its ability to show the reader not just what the world was like in a given period, but how social change was being effected at the time. And what impact those changes had on real people. ....
Hirsch then provides examples of historical crime novels set from the early 18th century up to the late 19th. One he didn't include is by one of the authors who sparked his interest in history: Bernard Cornwell. Gallows Thief is set in London in the period immediately after the Napoleonic Wars and could easily fit into a list like this.

Well researched books about crime set in the past can be an enjoyable way to learn history. And although obviously not their intention, books not about the past, but written in the past can do the same. Merely by describing places, behaviors, technologies, etc., authors like Dashiell Hammet, R. Austin Freeman, Agatha Christie, and on and on, teach us about the times they inhabited and in which they set their stories.

Friday, June 22, 2018


A blessing is group of friends whose friendship is firm enough that it cannot be undone by vigorous disagreement expressed frankly. I don't mean intentional provocation and certainly not contempt, or condescension, or insult. Just a willingness to engage with others without the need to be constantly on guard censoring yourself out of fear of giving offense. The Inklings are one of the groups I would love to have been able to overhear when fully engaged. Anecdotal Evidence refers to another more eminent gathering from an earlier time:
…. To be clubbable, for [Samuel] Johnson, was to maintain sanity. He and Sir Joshua Reynolds founded The Club in 1764. It met weekly at The Turk’s Head on Gerrard Street in Soho. The original nine members included Edmund Burke and Oliver Goldsmith. New members could be elected only by unanimous vote, and later additions included Boswell, Adam Smith and Edward Gibbon. Walter Jackson Bate called the club “the most remarkable assemblage of diverse talents that has ever met so frequently for the sole purpose of conversation.”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The inconsolable longing

From A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C.S. Lewis (1968) edited by Clyde Kilby (still one of the best collections of CSL quotations). The chapter called "An Inconsolable Longing" included these:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity)
Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy. But is there any reason to suppose that reality offers any satisfaction to it? .... A man's physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man's hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called 'falling in love' occurred in a sexless world. (Transposition and Other Addresses)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"Guinness is good for you"

Reading this today,"100-year-old woman says Guinness is key to long life," reminded me of this post from 2010: 

Good news for moderate consumers of Guinness (and perhaps other stouts) from the BBC and the University of Wisconsin. Of course the same benefit could probably be achieved with a diet high in "certain fruits and vegetables" — but this is far more efficient.
1920s ad
A pint of the black stuff a day may work as well as a low dose aspirin to prevent heart clots that raise the risk of heart attacks. Drinking lager does not yield the same benefits, experts from University of Wisconsin told a conference in the US. Guinness was told to stop using the slogan decades ago — and the firm still makes no health claims for the drink. .... The researchers told a meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Florida, that the most benefit they saw was from 24 fluid ounces of Guinness — just over a pint — taken at mealtimes. They believe that "antioxidant compounds" in the Guinness, similar to those found in certain fruits and vegetables, are responsible for the health benefits because they slow down the deposit of harmful cholesterol on the artery walls. However, Diageo, the company that now manufactures Guinness, said: "We never make any medical claims for our drinks." .... The original campaign in the 1920s stemmed from market research — when people told the company that they felt good after their pint, the slogan was born. In England, post-operative patients used to be given Guinness, as were blood donors, based on the belief that it was high in iron. Pregnant women and nursing mothers were at one stage advised to drink Guinness — the present advice is against this. .... [more]
It would appear that the health benefits have a different justification today than in the 1920s. One suspects that however beneficial it may have been to pregnant and nursing mothers it was much less so for the infants.

Related: The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World, by Stephen Mansfield

BBC News - Guinness could really be good for you

Monday, June 18, 2018

Loving God

Browsing in From the Library of C.S. Lewis: Selections from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey I came across this:
At first, man loves himself for his own sake. That is the flesh, which can appreciate nothing beyond itself. Next, he perceives that he cannot exist by himself, and so begins by faith to seek after God, and to love Him as something necessary to his own welfare. That is the second degree, to love God, not for God's sake, but selfishly. But when he has learned to worship God and to seek Him aright, meditating on God, reading God's Word, praying and obeying His commandments, he comes gradually to know who God is, and finds Him altogether lovely. So, having tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is (Psalm 34:8), he advances to the third degree, when he loves God, not merely as his benefactor but as God. Surely this is the longest state for the one who is growing in God. As to the fourth degree, I know not whether it would be possible to make further progress in this life to that fourth degree and perfect condition wherein man loves himself solely for God's sake. Let any who have attained so far bear record; I confess it seems beyond my powers. Doubtless it will be reached when the good and faithful servant shall have entered into the joy of his Lord (Matthew 25:21), and been satisfied with the plenteousness of God's house (Psalm 36:8). For then in wondrous wise he will forget himself and as if delivered from self, he will grow wholly God's.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

A pale horse

One of the Dover books I bought long ago is a large format paperback collection of The Doré Bible Illustrations: 241 Plates by Gustave Doré. This was his illustration for Revelation 6:8.

Rev. 6:8 "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him." (KJV)

Ups and downs

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Read to your child

Re-posted because it is such good advice. My father read to me. From Mark Bauerlein at First Things:
Everybody knows how important it is to read to toddlers. Apart from the emotional element, reading out loud every day during the pre-K years sends a child to kindergarten with a significantly larger vocabulary than a child without that experience possesses. ...
But many parents make the mistake of discontinuing reading when their children learn to read on their own, around ages 6–8. This is a mistake, for two reasons.

One, the emotional reason. As the latest reading poll from Scholastic points out, reported last week, kids want their parents to extend the practice. Fully 83 percent of 6–11-year-olds say they “loved” or “liked a lot” those reading sessions, but only 24 percent of 6–8-year-olds and 17 percent of 9–11-year-olds stated that their parents still conduct them.

And two, the intellectual reason. A child can understand words read aloud more easily than words in a book. A parent’s voice adds tone, cadence, volume, and other non-verbal markers of meaning, elements a child has to create on his own when he reads. This means that a child can understand a more advanced book with more sophisticated words and ideas if he hears it. Reading it by himself would be too stiff a challenge. .... [more]

To be or not to be

Jessica Hooten Wilson on Walker Percy and "Living as an Ex-Suicide":
.... The Declaration of Independence calls for the pursuit of happiness, but we define “happiness” as pleasure, achievement, or fortuitous circumstances. When we have all that we’ve ever wanted, then, we are surprised to find that we are still unhappy. Human beings seem paradoxically able to find enjoyment in bad environments, and sadness in pleasant ones.

If we do not literally kill ourselves, many of us are spiritual suicides, living in despair, and those of us who are not contemplating suicide, Percy labels “non-suicides”....

.... To combat this culture of death, we must acknowledge that the world is deranged, that we are not alienated individuals, but we are all born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. The Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us that if humans were made to be happy, we would not be born to die. Perhaps, we were not made for this world. Perhaps, earthly happiness should not be our primary pursuit. Perhaps, we should search for something more, and that search is life.

For Percy, we are wayfarers and pilgrims, and he always used “we” because, in this search, we are not alone. Yet, most of the time, we do not know this. We struggle to make it through a Wednesday afternoon. There seems to be no point or meaning, and we contemplate ending it all. Percy would say this is right. Consider suicide. Follow along with Percy’s thought experiment:
Suppose you elect suicide. Very well. You exit. Then what? … Your fellow townsmen will have something to talk about for a few days. Your neighbors will profess shock and enjoy it. One or two might miss you, perhaps your family who will also resent the disgrace. …The priest or minister or rabbi will say a few words over you and down you will go on the green tapes and that’s the end of you. In a surprisingly short time, everyone is back in the rut of his own self as if you never existed.
Seems like a poor option.

But, what freedom will come after this! After contemplating suicide, with all of its finality, tragedy, and consequences, then, life suddenly becomes livable. Once you realize that living is your choice, your preference, you are, in Percy’s terms, an “ex-suicide,” one who now “opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn’t have to.” Suicide is not the natural outcome of depression, though it’s the only “cure.” By considering suicide and not electing it, we reaffirm that to be is better than not to be. …. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

The purpose of a university

Via Anecdotal Evidence, from Michael Oakshott's essay “A Place of Learning” (1975):
Each of us is born in a corner of the earth and at a particular moment in historical time, lapped round with locality. But school and university are places apart where a declared learner is emancipated from the limitations of his local circumstances and from the wants he may happen to have acquired, and is moved by intimations of what he has never yet dreamed. He finds himself invited to pursue satisfactions he has never yet imagined or wished for. They are, then, sheltered places where excellences may be heard because the din of local partialities is no more than a distant rumble. They are places where a learner is initiated into what there is to be learned.
Schools are meant to be conduits for tradition, where the young inherit the gifts of our culture. They have become, instead, daycare centers devoted to social engineering. Oakeshott writes in another essay, “Learning and Teaching” (1965):
To initiate a pupil into the world of human achievement is to make available to him much that does not lie upon the surface of the present world. An inheritance will contain much that may not be in current use, much that has come to be neglected and even something that for the time being is forgotten. And to know only the dominant is to become acquainted with only an attenuated version of this inheritance.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Who are we to judge?

Via First Things

The precepts of the Lord are pretty clear—
What’s right or wrong is plain enough to see.
And yet the question that we often hear,
Is who are we to judge what shouldn’t be.
It seems the ban on judgment trickled down
From other people to the deeds performed;
To say, “that’s wrong,” will likely draw a frown—
Excusing all’s the choice of the informed.
Again the easy way is taken out;
We’re given props without a price to pay.
If this were really what life was about,
Then who would ever fear the judgment day?
That day when judgments due the greatest blame
May be the evils we refused to name.

Joseph Mirra

Flag Day

As has become my custom on Flag Day I post this:

Several years ago I was part of an exchange with secondary teachers from Japan. The Japanese teachers spent time with us in Madison and in our schools and we did the same in Japan. As preparation for the experience, all of us were together in Washington, D.C., learning about each other, getting acquainted, and trying to bridge some of the cultural differences. In one of the sessions a Japanese teacher asked why Americans seemed to place so much emphasis on the flag. Many Japanese are, for understandable historical reasons, very skeptical of anything smacking of nationalism. I explained that in our case we have no national figure—no queen or emperor—who symbolizes the nation. Nor does the flag stand for blood or soil. It stands for our ideals—"the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It stands for what we believe in and aspire to be as a country. We honor the flag because it represents the Constitutional system that protects our freedoms and our rights.

In my files I came across a pamphlet, undated, published by the Marine Corps, titled How to Respect and Display Our Flag. A stamp on it indicates that it was distributed by the "Marine Corps Recruiting Sub-Station" in Janesville, Wisconsin. Since the flags in the illustrations have forty-eight stars, it must be from the late 1950s. The rules it specifies seem almost quaint after the events of the last half century. The flag has been burned and trampled by Americans. It is flown night and day in good weather or foul—even by those who intend to honor it. A colleague used to put one on the floor of his classroom, inviting students to decide whether to walk on it. How one treats the symbol became partisan, expressing a political rather than a patriotic allegiance.

Here is the section from that pamphlet titled "How to Display the Flag":
Respect your flag and render it the courtesies to which it is entitled by observing the following rules, which are in accordance with the practices approved by leading flag authorities:

The National flag should be raised and lowered by hand. It should be displayed only from sunrise to sunset, or between such hours as may be designated by proper authority. Do not raise the flag while it is furled. Unfurl, then hoist quickly to the top of the staff. Lower it slowly and with dignity. Place no objects on or over the flag. Various articles are sometimes placed on a speaker's table covered with the flag. This practice should be avoided.

When displayed in the chancel or on a platform in a church, the flag should be placed on a staff at the clergyman's right; other flags at his left. If displayed in the body of the church, the flag should be at the congregation's right as they face the clergyman.

Do not use the flag as a portion of a costume or athletic uniform. Do not embroider it upon cushions or handkerchiefs nor print it on paper napkins or boxes.
1. When displayed over the middle of the street, the flag should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street, or to the east in a north and south street.
2. When displayed with another flag from crossed staffs, the flag of the United States of America should be on the right (the flag's own right) and its staff should be in front of the staff of the other flag.
3. When it is to be flown at half-mast, the flag should be hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-mast position; but before lowering the flag for the day it should again be raised to the peak. By half-mast is meant hauling down the flag to one-half the distance between the top and the bottom of the staff. On Memorial Day display at half-mast until noon only; then hoist to top of staff.
4. When flags of states or cities or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States of America, the latter should always be at the peak. When flown from adjacent staffs the Stars and Stripes should be hoisted first and lowered last.
5. When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope, extending from house to pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out from the building, toward the pole, union first.
6. When the flag is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at any angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should go clear to peak of the staff (unless the flag is to be displayed at half-mast).
7. When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder. The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.
8. When the flag is displayed in a manner other than by being flown from a staff, it should be displayed flat, whether indoors or out. When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window it should be displayed in the same way, that is, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street. When festoons, rosettes or drapings are desired, bunting of blue, white and red should be used, but never the flag.
9. When carried in a procession with another flag or flags, the Stars and Stripes should be either on the marching right, or when there is a line of other flags, our National flag may be in front of the center of that line.
10. When a number of flags of states or cities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs with our National flag, the latter should be at the center or at the highest point of the group.
11. When the flags of two or more nations are displayed they should be flown from separate staffs of the same height and the flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.

A federal law provides that a trademark cannot be registered which consists of, or comprises among other things, "the flag, coat-of-arms or other insignia of the United States, or any simulation thereof."

Take every precaution to prevent the flag from becoming soiled. It should not be allowed to touch the ground or floor, nor to brush against objects.

When the flag is used in unveiling a statue or monument, it should not be used as a covering of the object to be unveiled. If it is displayed on such occasions, do not allow the flag to fall to the ground, but let it be carried aloft to form a feature of the ceremony.

On suitable occasions repeat this pledge to the flag:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The pamphlet also has the words of our National Anthem. We almost never sing anything beyond the first verse. The third is particularly good:
Oh, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Power that has made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust";
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

First posted in 2009

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The lines for me...

From Psalm 16:
 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
      Thou holdest my lot.
 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
      yea, I have a goodly heritage.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Sometimes you just have to stop watching

Ross Douthat's review of Solo is titled "Meager Competence." It begins:
Sometimes you just have to stop watching. I figured that out after the first Hobbit movie. Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was a peak moviegoing experience—a childhood classic brought to life more beautifully than anyone could reasonably expect. But after Part One it was clear that the Hobbit movies were going to be bloated and disastrous; why give them the power to retrospectively taint Jackson's prior achievement? I didn't; I just stopped watching, without a trace of regret.

But I haven't ever managed that kind of self-discipline with Star Wars. The George Lucas prequels were terrible, a crime against the originals, but I still watched them all. Then came the Disney expansion, which promised to replace the ambitious dreadfulness of Lucas's prequels with something slick and mediocre. And exactly that has come to pass....
I haven't watched a Star Wars film since the original three and the only one I have re-watched recently was the first. Unlike Douthat I did make the mistake of watching all three Hobbit films. "Sometimes you just have to stop watching."

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

June 6, 1944

Today is the anniversary of D-Day. One of the best accounts of that day was by Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose's scholarship has come under question — he has been credibly accused of plagiarism — but not his ability to tell a story. Here are some Goodreads quotations from the book:
  • No matter how bad things got, no matter how anxious the staff became, the commander had to “preserve optimism in himself and in his command. Without confidence, enthusiasm and optimism in the command, victory is scarcely obtainable.” Eisenhower realized that “optimism and pessimism are infectious and they spread more rapidly from the head downward than in any other direction.” He learned that a commander’s optimism “has a most extraordinary effect upon all with whom he comes in contact. With this clear realization, I firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory—that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be reserved for my pillow."
  • On the edge of town, Fitzgerald saw a sight “that has never left my memory. It was a picture story of the death of one 82nd Airborne trooper. He had occupied a German foxhole and made it his personal Alamo. In a half circle around the hole lay the bodies of nine German soldiers. The body closest to the hole was only three feet away, a potato masher [grenade] in its fist. The other distorted forms lay where they had fallen, testimony to the ferocity of the fight. His ammunition bandoliers were still on his shoulders, empty of M-1 clips. Cartridge cases littered the ground. His rifle stock was broken in two. He had fought alone and, like many others that night, he had died alone. “I looked at his dog tags. The name read Martin V. Hersh. I wrote the name down in a small prayer book I carried, hoping someday I would meet someone who knew him. I never did.
  • On the beach, men saw Father Lacy “go down to the water’s edge and pull the dead, dying, and wounded from the water and put them in relatively protected positions. He didn’t stop at that, but prayed for them and with them, gave comfort to the wounded and dying. A real man of God.”

Monday, June 4, 2018

"Living in a heavenly mindset..."

Stefana Dan Laing at the Center For Baptist Renewal asks What Can We Learn from the Ancient Church? One of the answers is "Live in a heavenly mindset":
Often we hear the saying that someone is so heavenly minded as to be no earthly good. Actually the spiritual directors of the early church encouraged a heavenly cast of mind, which could produce quite a lot of earthly good. For example, if one dwells on God, His Word and the ideals of the kingdom, one is more likely to live out these ideals in daily life. ....

Living in a heavenly mindset is a choice, and it admits the conclusion that the believer lives in two realms, the earthly and heavenly, simultaneously. That realization of earthly residence with heavenly citizenship (as in Augustine’s magisterial apology) impacts our view of life as we know it. Our view of earthly pleasures, possessions, government, the church and a future we anticipate are all impacted. Earthly pleasures and goods are to be held lightly; they are temporary and not to be loved as 1 John 2:15-17 admonishes us. ....

Indeed, the New Testament gives the injunction not to “love the world” because it is “passing away” (1 Cor. 7, 1 Jn. 2) and is under the sway of “the ruler of this world” (Jn. 12:31, 14:30). In this view, the world is fallen, broken, imperfect and often constitutes the nexus of spiritual warfare when earthly and heavenly priorities clash. This was the Christians’ view as they faced government-sponsored persecution for refusing to worship Caesar, calling Christ Lord instead. .... Christians also held a view of time and power in which Caesar’s reign was limited and temporal, by contrast to the true Sovereign, Christ, who reigned eternally in heaven. ....

Because this world is under the devil’s sway, no earthly institution can provide perfect justice, harmony and peace. In the face of contentious elections and critical Supreme Court rulings, we should pray for justice and righteousness but should not expect it; it is fully certain only in God’s kingdom in the Heavenly City, when every citizen has been transformed by the Holy Spirit from the inside out. This future and eternal state of righteousness constitutes the consummation of the Christian life and human history, and it is our destiny. In the meantime, between creation, re-creation, and final telos, operating within an early Christian metaphysical framework, we get a sense of what disciples of Jesus can realistically expect in this life: houses, lands, brothers, sisters, children, mothers, “with persecutions” (Mk. 10:29-30), and the latter is mentioned in other New Testament contexts as well. However, we can also expect the comforting presence of Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom with us; the love of God “in Christ” to be inseparable from us; the knowledge of God’s sovereign rule over all, guiding history to its ordained telos; and the ever-present Holy Spirit who teaches, guides and sanctifies us, and convicts the world through our witness (our “martyria”)—whether we live or die. These aspects of a realistic discipleship were fully embraced by ancient believers. [read it all here]


It is said that William McGonagall was the worst English-language poet. Who was the second worst? Anthony Daniels says it was Cumberland Clark.
So I thought I needed to become familiar with each of them. First I searched for McGonagall and found his works collected here at McGonagall Online. As an example of his work the first two verses of "An Autumn Reverie"
Alas! Beautiful Summer now hath fled,
And the face of Nature doth seem dead,
And the leaves are withered, and falling off the trees,
By the nipping and chilling autumnal breeze.

The pleasures of the little birds are all fled,
And with the cold many of them will be found dead,
Because the leaves of the trees are scattered in the blast,
And makes the feathered creatures feel downcast. .... [the rest]
Anthony Daniels writes here about Cumberland Clark:
He was the second-worst poet in the English language, not far behind William McGonagall. Born in 1862, he seems to have commenced author, as the saying goes, in his middle fifties, thereafter suffering, or perhaps enjoying, severe graphomania, the compulsion never to leave off writing. Until then he had led a wandering life, abandoning his native London for Australia as a teenager, studying for the church at Sydney University, and working variously as a minister, gold miner, and sheep farmer in many far-flung places. But he settled eventually in Bournemouth and evidently decided that Bournemouth was best.

Much of his poetry extols the town. It is wonderfully, gloriously, hilariously awful. Here, taken at random when I opened the second edition of The Bournemouth Song Book (1934 second edition, 1929 first, privately published) is the opening stanza of “Bournemouth Boarding Houses”:
The boarding houses met with in this splendid seaside town
Are mainly very excellent, deserving their renown.
The residents form usually congenial society,
Although among so many you meet types in great variety.
Daniels also quotes the opening verse of “Bournemouth and Napoleon”:
Years ago Napoleon, at the apex of his power,
Was still upon the rampage, other countries to devour.
The English folk were not afraid, but what upset them most,
Was thinking, p’raps, he’d have a try to land upon their coast.
I have yet to discover an online collection of Cumberland Clark's "poetry." If I do I'm sure it will be pure pleasure.

Friday, June 1, 2018

"You cannot escape the past. Nor can you restore it."

"[T]he Sight & Sound poll—the oldest and most prestigious film ranking—declared in 2012 that Vertigo was the greatest film ever made...." Matthew Schmitz on Vertigo:
.... Like all gothic tales, Vertigo reminds us that modernity is defined by the sharp distinction between present and past. We insist that we live in a time of technology, progress, and enlightenment—opposed to an earlier age of bafflement, odium, and blood. Our fantasies about this dark past both attract and repulse us. We indulge visions of a chthonic world where desire and cruelty run wild (dungeon—inquisitor—ravished maiden), then retreat to a comfortable present, blind to its untheatrical evils. If there is ever occasion to suspect that our society is bigoted in its scientism, casual about the killing of innocents, or indifferent to the abuse of weak flesh, we can ward off the thought by recalling that no one wears capes or intones Latin phrases. As long as the forces of religion and reaction can be kept at bay, we are sure that all will be well.

Hitchcock slowly reveals that the line between past and present, Old World and New, is less clear than we think. Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore) laments that “San Francisco’s changed.” He feels confined by the modern, mechanical city and longs for “the color and excitement, the power, the freedom” of bygone days. One of the freedoms he longs for is the ability to kill his wife, Madeleine—a fact Scottie will learn too late. .... (more)