Monday, February 28, 2022

Romance and adventure

Watched Lorna Doone (2000) tonight. I thoroughly enjoyed it, giving in to a romantic impulse. It starred, among others, Richard Coyle, Peter Vaughan, Honeysuckle Weeks (Foyle's War), Michael Kitchen (also Foyle's War), Martin Clunes (Doc Martin), and James McAvoy (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). I particularly enjoyed seeing Michael Kitchen as Lord Jeffreys, James II's hanging judge after Monmouth's Rebellion. The film is based on R.D. Blackmore's book, a book that I may have read long ago. Amazon's description of the movie:
Star-crossed lovers, feuding family, royal plots, noble destinies, and salt-of-the-earth heroes. No wonder R.D. Blackmore's romantic classic has been a perennial favorite. Amelia Warner (Michael Caine's innocent child bride in Quills) is Lorna, the beautiful young brunette "queen" of the feral Doone clan in this latest adaptation, a handsome 2.5-hour co-production between the BBC and A&E. The once noble line now lives out of a swamp fortress and preys off the local farmers and tradesmen, but the family patriarch (Peter Vaughan) has hatched a plot to win back his title and his land. Handsome John Ridd (Richard Coyle) swears vengeance against the Doones when they murder his father, but he falls for Lorna, and the rakish, ruthless Doone scion (Aiden Gillen, who swaggers through the drama with a perpetual sneer) refuses to give up his claim on the girl without a fight.

This is the kind of British romantic adventure that decries the tradition of nobility and privilege while rewarding its heroes with those very privileges, all within a grand framework of melodramatic twists, thrilling battles, and chivalrous heroics. Director Mike Barker creates an appropriately larger-than-life world at once pastoral and savage for his little epic–shot in the verdant British countryside, where a lush forest green permeates every outdoor scene, while the dusky interiors glow with candlelight–giving in completely to the sweeping emotional melodrama at the core of the story.
The film can also be watched on Amazon Prime Video (or maybe not).

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Steak again

Just finished reading Glorious Beef: The LaFrieda Family and the Evolution of the American Meat Industry (see my previous post). It is a combination history of the LaFrieda firm and the family that created it. The author is its owner. The book also has a lot of information about beef, especially steak, from the animal to the plate. It was a fast, informative, and enjoyable read, in those ways very like the on spice book I so much enjoyed.

I usually charcoal grill a steak and the steak is usually a rib-eye. But based on what I've read here I may more often try different cuts. In the penultimate chapter, which includes several recipes, Pat LaFrieda offers advice to those of us who grill:
  1. Never pepper your steak before searing or grilling. If cooked at high heat, pepper will cast a slightly bitter flavor to your beef, so add it freshly ground after you've served your meat, like the waiters do at fine-dining establishments.
  2. Always make sure your grill or pan is smoking hot before cooking for the perfect sear. The biggest mistake when cooking meat is putting it on a surface that's not hot enough. This will steam your beef and make it lose all the flavor it should have.
From his instructions for a grilled T-bone:
  1. Pat the steak dry with paper towels.
  2. Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high heat, 375 to 400°F.
  3. Drizzle both sides of the steak with the blended oil and season with the salt.
  4. Place the steak on the grill and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare. If medium is preferred, add 1 minute of cooking time on each side.
  5. Remove from the grill and allow the steak to rest for at least 7 minutes, then season with pepper and serve.
Applicable to any grilled steak, I think. I knew much of that but suspect I haven't been getting the grill temperature high enough. And I will begin to consistently oil and salt the meat beforehand. Looks like it will be warm enough here to grill outside soon.

The book can be ordered from Amazon here.

Monday, February 21, 2022

"Weighed in the balance"

I recently watched Netflix's Munich—The Edge of War and enjoyed it. Andrew Roberts, biographer of Churchill, watched it, too, and wrote “The movie Munich is well-written (based on Robert Harris’s bestselling 2017 thriller), lavishly produced (by Netflix), fast-paced—and an absolute historical travesty.” His review of the film, "Munich: The Edge of Nonsense" is an excellent take-down of the film's version of history by someone thoroughly familiar with the subject. Movies are rarely a very good way to learn history.

Prime Minister Chamberlain returned from Munich professing that he had won "peace for our time" and he had " the impression that here was a man [Hitler] who could be relied upon when he had given his word."

Churchill was unconvinced and addressed the Munich Agreement in the House of Commons on October 5, 1938:
The Prime Minister desires to see cordial relations between this country and Germany. There is no difficulty at all in having cordial relations between the peoples. Our hearts go out to them. But they have no power. But never will you have friendship with the present German Government. You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy. ....

I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week – I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:
“Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.”
And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Sunday, February 20, 2022


There are few things I enjoy as much as a good steak. In high school eight of us would gather on a Saturday evening for a "steak-out," steaks charcoal grilled outdoors even in the depths of a Wisconsin winter. I'm more particular about the quality and preparation of beef now, but a quality cut and good sides remain my first choice if given an option. The cost does mean I have the meal less often. I enjoyed reading this review of Glorious Beef: The LaFrieda Family and the Evolution of the American Meat Industry, from which:
Among steak lovers, is there anything more overrated than grass-fed beef? Perhaps you bought it because you wanted to treat yourself. It costs more so it must taste better. Except it doesn't.

In Glorious Beef, author and butcher extraordinaire Pat LaFrieda confirms my suspicions. "The chefs simply didn't like it," he says. "I thought it was a surefire sale given its favorable marketing points, but in the restaurant world, it all comes down to appealing to the chef's palate, and grass-fed beef wasn't cutting it. No one really liked the flavor, and they didn't buy into the sustainability selling points."

The reason for this aversion is obvious. If all cattle do is eat grass every day (as opposed to grain), the beef is guaranteed to be lean and lacking "the delectable intramuscular fat we rave about when acquiring a high-quality cut of meat." What's more, "organic grass-fed beef also tends to be expensive due to the cost of setting up and maintaining organic soil, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into higher quality beef." ....

Carnivores will benefit from the book's guidance on purchasing meat at the store. There's the obvious—look for beef that's bright red and well marbled. But if you've ever been tempted to purchase that marinated meat on sale behind the glass, "just keep in mind it is likely meat that is on the verge of going bad."

If you can't find a label indicating a grade—Prime, Choice, or Select—it's likely below that. But there are actually eight grade levels. The bottom three are Utility, Cutter, and Canner, "used in pet foods, and canned goods, and … shipped to prison systems and to the armed forces." ....

The author's current obsession is with dry-aging, a costly process that requires twin cooling and dehumidifying systems—moisture will otherwise spoil the meat. Primals are aged 14 to 120 days and the result, says LaFrieda, "is ten times more tender and has ten times the flavor of its fresh counterpart." ....
Victorino Matus, "Butcher Confidential: REVIEW: Glorious Beef: The LaFrieda Family and the Evolution of the American Meat Industry, The Washington Free Beacon, February 20, 2022.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Too proud to let go

From Dorothy L. Sayers in Introductory Papers on Dante (1954) quoted in A Matter of Eternity (1973):
It is the deliberate choosing to remain in illusion and to see God and the universe as hostile to one's ego that is of the very essence of Hell. The dreadful moods when we hug our hatred and misery and are too proud to let them go are foretastes in time of what Hell eternally is. So long as we are in time and space, we can still, by God's grace and our own wills assenting, repent of Hell and come out of it. But if we carry that determination and that choice through the gates of death into the state in which there is, literally, no time, what then? .... If, in the very moment of that crisis, the true self is still alive, however feebly: if, deep down beneath all perversities of self-will, the absolute will is still set towards God's reality, and the soul can find it in itself, even at that last moment, to accept judgment to fling away the whole miserable illusion and throw itself upon truth, then it is safe. .... There is no power in this world or the next that can keep a soul from God if God is what it really desires.

But if, seeing God, the soul rejects Him in hatred and horror, then there is nothing more that God can do for it. God, who has toiled to win it for Himself, and borne for its sake to know death, and suffer the shame of sin, and set His feet in Hell, will nevertheless, if it insists, give it what it desires. .... And if that is our deliberate and final choice, if with our whole selves we are determined to have nothing but self, He will, in the end, say, "Take it." He cannot, against our own will, force us into Heaven....

Monday, February 14, 2022

A happy person

Alan Jacobs today:
I’ve been listening to the music for viol consort written by a 17th-century English composer named John Jenkins. After his death, a friend wrote,
he was certainly a happy person, …of an easy temper, superior in his profession, well accepted by all, knew no want, saw himself outrun by the world, and having lived a good Christian, died in peace.
This is the obituary I aspire to.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The pleasure of good argument

From Robert Louis Stevenson in "Talk and Talkers":
There is a certain attitude, combative at once and deferential, eager to fight yet most averse to quarrel, which marks out at once the talkable man. It is not eloquence, not fairness, not obstinacy, but a certain proportion of all of these that I love to encounter in my amicable adversaries. They must not be pontiffs holding doctrine, but huntsmen questing after elements of truth. Neither must they be boys to be instructed, but fellow-teachers with whom I may, wrangle and agree on equal terms. We must reach some solution, some shadow of consent; for without that, eager talk becomes a torture. But we do not wish to reach it cheaply, or quickly, or without the tussle and effort wherein pleasure lies. ....

It is the mark of genuine conversation that the sayings can scarce be quoted with their full effect beyond the circle of common friends. .... Good talk is dramatic; it is like an impromptu piece of acting where each should represent himself to the greatest advantage; and that is the best kind of talk where each speaker is most fully and candidly himself, and where, if you were to shift the speeches round from one to another, there would be the greatest loss in significance and perspicuity. .... [T]he true talk, that strikes out all the slumbering best of us, comes only with the peculiar brethren of our spirits, is founded as deep as love in the constitution of our being, and is a thing to relish with all our energy, while, yet we have it, and to be grateful for forever.
Robert Louis Stevenson, "Talk and Talkers," Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson (1906)

Saturday, February 12, 2022


From a review of Jeremy Black’s The Importance of Being Poirot:
...Christie’s fiction, like all good detective novels, are ultimately stories about good and evil, sin and virtue, crime and justice. And good always prevails. “The detective fiction of the period presupposed a providentially governed universe that could provide meaning,” says Black. Even readers disconnected from traditional, Christian-influenced conceptions of morality yearn for this, because the human heart craves stability, especially in our time of distemper. ....

Yet it is not only Christie’s moral conception of the universe that draws us in. It’s also her ability to convincingly describe so many different periods and events in twentieth-century British history. Her very first story, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, written during World War I, features a Belgian detective who fled to Britain following the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, and was inspired by her interactions with convalescing Belgian soldiers while serving as a volunteer nurse.

Post-war works discuss social and political turmoil, such as the importance of inheritance (a frequent motive for murder in fiction) in preserving or procuring status. Christie’s characters express concern over communist-driven societal unrest, especially among the labor class. “There is nothing of the Socialist about Poirot,” says his companion and assistant Captain Hastings. Right-wing extremism is similarly condemned, with Poirot’s sometime collaborator Inspector Japp excoriating fascism in a 1940 novel. ....

Christie could be direct in censuring not only modern architecture, but modern art and literature, which she found vapid and uninspiring. A character in Murder Is Easy considers disguising himself as an artist but admits he can’t draw or paint; someone responds: “You could be a modern artist… Then that wouldn’t matter.” In another story, Poirot examines a piece of modern art and finds that the contrasting images contained are incoherent and meaningless. ....

There is thus a profound continuity spanning more than half a century of Christie’s impressive literary corpus: she never stopped believing that evil existed, or that goodness and justice would prevail over it. .... (more)
When I was growing up Agatha Christie was still writing at least one mystery a year and I anticipated buying a "Christie for Christmas."

Casey Chalk, "The deep conservatism of Agatha Christie," The Spectator, February 10, 2022.

Young Lincoln

On the anniversary of his birth, an appreciation of Lincoln before he became President, "A genius for friendship.":
Lincoln is such an imposing figure that his stature obscures the man. As we view him historically, from the end of his life to the beginning of his career, he remains a figure whose greatness makes him difficult to know or understand. If we can follow him as a young man, as he finds his vocation and his calling, he may become a more familiar and accessible if no less admirable man.

In 1831 Lincoln left home at age 22 to strike out on his own in the struggling frontier town of New Salem, Illinois. He had no trade and few prospects. The single most striking fact about him as a young man is his genius for friendship. As one of his New Salem contemporaries recalled (as recorded in the interview notes of William Herndon quoted by David Herbert Donald), “Lincoln had nothing[,] only plenty of friends.” He was obviously one of the most likable men who ever lived, a man who radiated decency. Moreover, the better his acquaintances got to know him, the more they liked him. Those who got to know him best, such as the acquaintances with whom he shared boarding rooms as an impoverished young man, became lifelong friends. The student of Lincoln who can see him through the eyes of these friends will have a similar experience. .... (much more)
Scott Johnson, "A genius for friendshaip," Powerline, February 12, 2022.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Narnia explained

A friend (thanks, Karl) saw this on Facebook, sourced it, and sent it on to me. C.S. Lewis in a 1961 letter:
Since Narnia is a world of Talking Beasts, I thought He [Christ] would become a Talking Beast there, as He became a man here. I pictured Him becoming a lion there because (a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; (b) Christ is called "The Lion of Judah" in the Bible; (c) I'd been having strange dreams about lions when I began writing the work. The whole series works out like this.

The Magician's Nephew tells the Creation and how evil entered Narnia.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  
the Crucifixion and Resurrection.
Prince Caspian restoration of the true religion after corruption.
The Horse and His Boy the calling and conversion of a heathen.
The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader"  
the spiritual life (specially in Reepicheep).
The Silver Chair the continuing war with the powers of darkness.
The Last Battle the coming of the Antichrist (the Ape), the end of the world
and the Last Judgement.

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Loving the dead

Justin Taylor quotes from a summary of Beth Barton Schweiger’s argument in “Seeing Things: Knowledge and Love in History.” I liked this very much:
.... This love is not sentimental, nor does this love absolve the subjects of their sins. Loving the dead means we tell the truth about them, as far as it is possible given our limitations and the complexities of the past. And we love the dead for their own sakes, rather than for some utilitarian purpose we might have for them.

The dead are a source of contemplation for us in the present; they offer us perspective, humility, and aid us in our own self-examination as we study their lives. The dead are at our mercy—they cannot come back and offer their explanations, their justifications, their apologies, or their acts of restitution.

As we increase in our knowledge of history, the temptation is to exercise power over those who are gone, render judgment on them, and emerge from the exercise justified, righteous, and pure. ....
Justin Taylor, "Jesus, John Wayne, and the Failure to Love," February 9, 2022.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Classic mysteries

From CrimeReads (, "Gone, But Not Forgotten," about mystery writers "dearly departed," among which, Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rex Stout, Ellery Queen, and others. On Dashiell Hammett:
Hammett wrote about two of my favorite sleuths, Sam Spade and Nick & Nora Charles, and while Spade is very different from the Charles, the books they are in are total classics. Hammett’s influence on detective and mystery fiction cannot be underestimated – he created a mold that most all others followed – and to me his books completely stand the test of time. In my opinion, The Maltese Falcon featuring Sam Spade is undeniably one of the best books ever written in its genre, while The Thin Man with Nick & Nora is right up there with it. Lest I forget, Hammett’s Red Harvest, featuring Continental Op, is on many all-time best books lists as well.
CrimeReads, "Gone, But Not Forgotten: 12 Great Mystery Authors Readers Still Love," February 7, 2022.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

On cancelling

Via David French: from a speech by Frederick Douglass on December 9, 1860, in Boston, after being shouted down and denied the right to speak a few days earlier. Douglass was then addressing abolition but what he said had, and has, a broader application.
.... No right was deemed by the fathers of the Government more sacred than the right of speech. It was in their eyes, as in the eyes of all thoughtful men, the great moral renovator of society and government. Daniel Webster called it a homebred right, a fireside privilege. Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist. That, of all rights, is the dread of tyrants. It is the right which they first of all strike down. They know its power. Thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers, founded in injustice and wrong, are sure to tremble, if men are allowed to reason of righteousness, temperance, and of a judgment to come in their presence. ....

.... To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker. It is just as criminal to rob a man of his right to speak and hear as it would be to rob him of his money. ....

.... A man’s right to speak does not depend upon where he was born or upon his color. The simple quality of manhood is the solid basis of the right – and there let it rest forever.
Frederick Douglass, “A Plea For Freedom of Speech in Boston,” December 9, 1860.

A refutation

Patrick Kurp quotes Boswell's account of Samuel Johnson's response to Bishop Berkeley:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, “I refute it thus."
Anecdotal Evidence, February 6, 2022.

Friday, February 4, 2022

"One day there came a message..."

A cousin has emailed me a poem composed by my great-uncle, AJC Bond. The poem is largely about his father's brother, Levi Bond, who was killed in the Civil War. From AJC's Introduction:
My grandfather, Richard Bond, living in Virginia, voted for secession. He did not believe in slavery, but voted for secession on the issue of states' rights. His eldest son, Levi, joined the Union army at the age of 19 years, with no conflict of purpose between father and son. Before Levi was killed in battle near Berryville, Virginia, the new state of West Virginia had been formed from the northern counties of Virginia and my grandfather was pleased to find himself living in a free state.

Our father used to tell us about his older brother in the war, and about his own experiences with soldiers, both Northern and Southern, who used to pass along the old Weston and Gauley Bridge turnpike that went past his boyhood home. Union soldiers took the last horse from the plow at one time. They took my father's knife on another occasion, and he escaped with his watch only because he had forethought enough to hide it in the leg of his boot. At another time, when he was going up the road to school, soldiers in the van advised him to leave the road and go across the fields, for the road was "full of soldiers." This first poem in this group was written a good many years ago, and is the result of my attempt to express the feelings often aroused in me as we sat by the old wood fire and father told of those distressing days, difficult especially for those living just south of the Mason and Dixon line.
From "THE SOLDIER BOY FROM THE HILLS," apparently written for Memorial Day:
The stars and stripes had been torn down,
Fort Sumter fired upon,
Not by a cruel foreign foe
As in the days agone,
The Rebs had won, our boys fell back,
The van became the rear,
And when the roll was called that night,
He failed to answer "Here."
But those who used to love the flag
Would tear it now in twain.
The stars and stripes, the freeman's flag,
Is doomed to suffer stain.
Some days had passed when boys in blue
Looked on that mortal place,
And saw half-buried bodies lie,
Unrecognized each face.
The call has come for volunteers,
And from the old home nest
The first-born son will soon depart,
And sorrow fills each breast.
But those who marched out from the hills,
The boys from Comp'ny B,
Were looking closely 'mong the dead
Familiar forms to see.
They give him up in freedom's name;
They would not have him stay.
But shall they see his face again,
When peace has won the day?
Ah, here their comrade's body lies,
They know him by his hair;
For ghastly are his form and face
That lately were so fair.
Some don the blue, and some the gray,
But whether blue or gray
'Tis hard for those who love them most
To see them march away.
Beyond the reach of loving hands,
Beneath soft southern skies,
Unknown the spot to mortal man,
There many a loved one lies.
So from this home among the hills
A boy marched forth in blue,
He loved the friends he left behind;
He loved his country too.
These lives were giv'n for our sakes,
And mothers' hearts were wrung,
That freedom's banner still might wave,
And freedom's song be sung.
The days speed on, and weeks and months,    
While parents longing wait;
Now, standing anxious at the door,
Now, at the old yard gate.
Give honor to the boys in blue,
And, on occasion, cheer;
But voiceless be your thoughts today,
And drop a silent tear.
One day there came a message brief;
There was not much to tell.
'Twas in a skirmish in the woods
Our brave young hero fell.
Today we pause before each mound,
And leave a flower there;
Have for the living kindly thoughts,
The sorrowing, a prayer.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

"For them, it is God who matters"

Alan Jacobs excerpts some passages from "God, Grades, and Graduation":
When it comes to performance, religiously restrained students who live their life for God fare better because they are conscientious and cooperative. This is the case regardless of students’ social class upbringing. Working-class abiders have better grades than working-class nonabiders, middle-class abiders have better grades than middle-class nonabiders, and so on. But this story changes when we look at the next stage involving educational choices.

Since religiously restrained students have better academic performance in high school, we would expect them to make more ambitious choices about higher education.

This is generally the case, except in one social class group: adolescents from the professional class. When it comes to the transition to college, students from the professional class who live their life for God make less ambitious choices about where to attend college than we would expect given their stellar report cards. God-centered students undermatch in the college selection process because educational decisions are social decisions that highlight the effect of the home environment on norms and values surrounding education. God-centered students make choices that reflect their familial and social ties rather than choices that optimize their social class standing. Millions of young men and women do not live to impress college admissions counselors. For them, it is God who matters.
Ilana Horwitz, "God, Grades, and Graduation: Religion’s Surprising Impact on Academic Success," Heterodox: the Blog, February 2, 2022