Thursday, July 18, 2024

Old-fashioned truths

In September 1947, the cover of Time, perhaps then the most important American weekly magazine, portrayed C.S. Lewis. The cover article, uncredited, but in fact by Whittaker Chambers, former Communist spy, now a Christian witness against that ideology, described Lewis to Time's readers. (Lewis didn't much like this portrayal):
The lecturer, a short, thickset man with a ruddy face and a big voice, was coming to the end of his talk. Gathering up his notes and books, he tucked his horn rimmed spectacles into the pocket of his tweed jacket and picked up his mortarboard. Still talking—to the accompaniment of occasional appreciative laughs and squeals from his audience—he leaned over to return the watch he had borrowed from a student in the front row. As he ended his final sentence, he stepped off the platform.

The maneuver gained him a head start on the rush of students down the center aisle. Once in the street, he strode rapidly —his black gown billowing behind his grey flannel trousers—to the nearest pub for a pint of ale.

Clive Staples Lewis was engaged in his full-time and favorite job—the job of being an Oxford don in the Honour School of English Language & Literature, a Fellow and tutor of Magdalen College and the most popular lecturer in the University. To watch him downing his pint at the Eastgate (his favorite pub), or striding, pipe in mouth, across the deer park, a stranger would not be likely to guess that C.S. Lewis is also a best-selling author and one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world.

Since 1941, when Lewis published a witty collection of infernal correspondence called The Screwtape Letters, this middle-aged (49) bachelor professor who lives a mildly humdrum life (“I like monotony”) has sold something over a million copies of his 15 books. He has made 29 radio broadcasts on religious subjects, each to an average of 600,000 listeners. Any fully ordained minister or priest might envy this Christian layman his audience.

That audience is the result of Lewis’ special gift for dramatizing Christian dogma. He would be the last to claim that what he says is new; but, like another eloquent and witty popularizer of Christianity, the late G.K. Chesterton, he has a talent for putting old-fashioned truths into a modern idiom. .... (more)

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

"The bullet is in me now"

I taught US History for many years, so no surprise that a 1912 event described by a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article came to mind:
It was 99 years ago Oct. 14 that former president Theodore Roosevelt survived an assassination attempt near what is now the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee at W. Kilbourn Ave. and N. 4th St. He was campaigning in Milwaukee as the Progressive (or Bull Moose) Party presidential nominee. His shirt bloodied by a bullet still lodged in his chest, T.R. insisted on delivering an hour-and-a-half long speech anyway at the Milwaukee Auditorium, notable for this declaration:
“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet — there is where the bullet went through — and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”
The assassin was John Schrank, an opponent of Presidential third terms who had followed TR for thousands of miles, finally finding his opportunity in Milwaukee. Shrank wrote that the ghost of William McKinley had advised him in a dream to avenge his [McKinley's] death by killing Roosevelt.

A description of the event:
.... He [TR] stopped for the afternoon at the Hotel Gilpatrick, and after dining with local dignitaries, readied to leave for the Milwaukee Auditorium (now the Milwaukee Theatre) to give a campaign speech.

As he was getting into his vehicle, Roosevelt paused on the floorboards to turn and wave goodbye to well-wishers. Unfortunately, this moment cleared the way for would-be assassin, John Schrank, to take the shot he had been plotting for more than three weeks as he followed Roosevelt's campaign across eight states. Schrank fired his .38 revolver from close range, hitting Roosevelt in the chest.

In the ensuing melee, in which Schrank was immediately caught, Roosevelt's car left, but it was supposedly several moments before Roosevelt fully comprehended that he had been hit. The tenacious Roosevelt insisted, however, on continuing on to his speech anyway. (It could be that he felt he owed the speech its day — it was the speech's thick manuscript, folded in his breast pocket along with a metal glasses case, that absorbed most of the bullet's force.)

Upon entrance to the Milwaukee Auditorium, Roosevelt announced to the stunned audience that he had been shot, proclaiming: "It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose!" He then proceeded to speak for 80 minutes before reluctantly going to a Milwaukee hospital for treatment.
Only after the speech did Roosevelt permit himself to be taken to the hospital  The bullet was not removed and remained in his body for the rest of his life. A transcript of the eighty-minute (!) speech is here.
Schrank was arrested at the scene and Milwaukee officers had to protect him from the crowd. On November 12, 1912 Schrank pled guilty to assault with intent to commit murder. He was found insane by the court and sent to Northern Hospital for the Insane located in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Shrank died not long after FDR was elected to his third term as President.

TR's bloody shirt - JSOnline

Monday, July 15, 2024

The most absurd, offensive blather

A wise reminder from Peter Savodnik, "Don’t Fall for the Partisan Trap":
An hour and a half after Donald Trump was nearly killed at a rural Pennsylvania campaign rally, Dmitri Mehlhorn, a Democratic strategist in northern Virginia who advises Democratic mega-donor Reid Hoffman, emailed journalists, suggesting the shooting might have been “staged.” ....

By this late date, there’s nothing especially surprising about a partisan, on either side, floating nutty conspiracy theories. Recall that two years ago, Republican influencers like Donald Trump Jr. and Dinesh D’Souza pushed the totally uncorroborated theory that the intruder who attacked Paul Pelosi, husband of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was his gay lover.

We have come to expect those engaged in electoral battles to say and tweet and post the most absurd, offensive blather. Their job is not to seek out the truth, but to fight relentlessly—blindly.

The problem, of course, is that they forget that the rest of us—the vast majority of us—are not partisans, that we are capable of something more generous and ecumenical. That we are able to disagree passionately with our fellow Americans about the border or the climate or TikTok or whatever and still, somehow, not fall for the most insidious lies about them. That we can make basic moral distinctions. For example, Trump is not Vladimir Putin. Nor is he Adolf Hitler. He’s just the presumptive Republican nominee. ....

There are, to be sure, millions of Americans who fear that President Trump, given a second term, won’t defend and uphold the Constitution. That he endangers our democracy. There are also millions of Americans who believe that President Biden has been a disaster—and that he’s the one endangering democracy with his lies about his mental acuity.

So be it. But we need not succumb to the partisan trap. The partisan stupidity. Because that is exactly what this is. A myopia and mindlessness so blinding that it conjures up scenarios that go beyond the fiercest partisanship into the realm of insanity. That’s what happens when one views one’s political foe not as a human being with human failings, but as Satan himself. Donald Trump, his innumerable foibles notwithstanding, is not Satan. .... (more)

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Enlightened critics and the unwashed masses

I continue to be a big fan of The Free Press because it is invariably interesting, tolerant of diverse political and cultural opinion, and intolerant of intolerance. Inevitably I sometimes disagree, but only sometimes. Kat Rosenfield has joined them as a regular "columnist on all things culture." Her first column in that capacity, "How Culture Got Stupid," published today:
Critics used to agree that the purpose of art is to explore what is true, not to model what is proper. But...a new breed of cultural commentator was gestating—one for whom art was understood less as a truth-seeking enterprise than as a vehicle for moral instruction. ....

The tenets of the new cultural criticism were as follows:
  • All art was political, and always had been;
  • Art with the wrong politics caused harm, especially to women and people of color;
  • And all art must be analyzed through the lens of power, privilege, and progressive pieties.
The whole thing had a frantically performative vibe that bordered on the evangelical—with journalists in the role of the youth pastor palpably desperate to keep you going to church. ....

It was inevitable that a rift would emerge between the enlightened critics and the unwashed masses who, as it turned out, would rather not undergo mandatory DEI training every time they turn on the television. The one-two punches of #MeToo followed by BLM only widened it.

Today, there’s often a hilarious mismatch between how normie audiences receive a film versus how it’s reviewed by critics, one most clearly visible on the site Rotten Tomatoes. ....

...[T]he media’s offense-takers enjoy outsize influence—so Hollywood, always a liberal bastion, has increasingly come to see itself as a moral authority. The result is observable, as the complex and provocative stories of the peak TV era have given way to something far more pious, dutiful, dull, and shrill. ....

But don’t we want more? To laugh, to cry, to be thrilled, to be moved? To lose ourselves in a story we haven’t heard before, and to decide for ourselves what it means? .... Despite the strange takeover of my chosen field by tasteless scolds, I still believe there’s nothing better than a story that grabs you and won’t let go. So from now on, you’ll find me writing about all things culture regularly here at The Free Press. ....

Monday, July 8, 2024

"I will not fail thee nor forsake thee"

In a post at Commentary, Rabbi Meir Y. Soloveichik quotes from a speech President Reagan delivered at Arlington National Cemetery on on Veterans Day in 1985:
The living have a responsibility to remember the conditions that led to the wars in which our heroes died. Perhaps we can start by remembering this: that all of those who died for us and our country were, in one way or another, victims of a peace process that failed; victims of a decision to forget certain things; to forget, for instance, that the surest way to keep a peace going is to stay strong. Weakness, after all, is a temptation—it tempts the pugnacious to assert themselves—but strength is a declaration that cannot be misunderstood. Strength is a condition that declares actions have consequences. Strength is a prudent warning to the belligerent that aggression need not go unanswered. ....

Peace also fails when we forget to bring to the bargaining table God’s first gift to man: common sense. Common sense gives us a realistic knowledge of human beings and how they think, how they live in the world, what motivates them. Common sense tells us that man has magic in him, but also clay. Common sense can tell the difference between right and wrong. Common sense forgives error, but it always recognizes it to be error first. ....

Peace fails when we forget to pray to the source of all peace and life and happiness. I think sometimes of General Matthew Ridgeway, who, the night before D-day, tossed sleepless on his cot and talked to the Lord and listened for the promise that God made to Joshua: “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”… Let us make a compact today with the dead, a promise in the words for which General Ridgeway listened, “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.”

Saturday, July 6, 2024

No further left

Joseph Epstein, reviewing Reds: The Tragedy of American Communism:
By the end of the 1920s, the various organizations had coalesced into the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). What would entice one to join this American communist party? Idealism expressing itself as a yearning for the best of all good societies. A hatred of capitalism, viewed as a brutally exploitative economic system. Or, perhaps, an incident in the wider culture, such as the 1921 Sacco and Vanzetti murder trial, which roused many to the defense of the two Italian-immigrant political anarchists charged with killing a factory guard and a paymaster during the robbery of a Massachusetts shoe factory. Then there is the general challenge, first noted by George Orwell, that those on the political left often feel from people to the left of them: that they are too timid in their views, are not really on the bus, are themselves part of the problem. Communism provided the comfort that one couldn’t go any further left.

For that slender minority of Americans who did go over to Communism (the membership of the CPUSA peaked at around 75,000 in 1947), it was a rocky ride. .... “If the history of American Communism is a narrative of conversion and faith,” he writes, “it is also one of disenchantment and apostasy.” People wandered in and out of the party, others hovered just outside—so-called fellow travelers—but never actually joined. “Communism was an adopted and embattled faith,” the author observes, “and, as such, often precariously held.” ....

The Communist Party of America was never more than a branch office of Soviet Communism, and rather a minor branch office at that. (Both the French and Italian Communist parties were more potent than the American party in the sense of affecting their countries’ mainstream politics.) The chief problem that Soviet communism presented to American communists was the requirement to toe the line—and a most jagged, not to say crooked, line it often turned out to be.

There was the Soviet Union’s break with, and eventual assassination of, Leon Trotsky, a figure much admired by many American Communists. There was the Nazi-Soviet pact on the eve of World War II, through which Stalin promised nonaggression while Hitler invaded his European neighbors and the two dictators fatefully (and secretly) agreed to divvy up Poland. There were the Moscow Trials, during which once-revered old-line Russian Communists were put on trial by Stalin’s secret police, found guilty and executed for treason. There was Nikita Khrushchev’s 1956 “secret speech,” during which Stalin’s successor as Soviet leader seemed to do an about-face, describing and acknowledging the monstrous crimes of the recently deceased Stalin. Then there was the brutal Soviet suppression of a rebellion in Hungary later that year, and (12 years later) a similar attack against restive Czechoslovakians. Through all this and more, members of the American Communist Party had to adjust to sudden ideological shifts if they were to remain in the party. ....

More interesting than the party’s leaders are those peripheral figures, some party members, others fellow travelers—Paul Robeson, the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Whittaker Chambers, I.F. Stone, Clancy Sigal, Angela Davis and many others—extollers and victims of communism alike. ....

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

A solemn and perilous circumstance

On Independence Day in 1862 Frederick Douglass delivered an address in Himrod, New York. This is only a small selection of passages from that rather long speech:
FELLOW CITIZENS: Eighty-six years ago the fourth of July was consecrated and distinguished among all the days of the year as the birthday, of American liberty and Independence. The fathers of the Republic recommended that this day be celebrated with joy and gladness by the whole American people, to their latest posterity. Probably not one of those fathers ever dreamed that this hallowed day could possibly be made to witness the strange and portentous Events now transpiring before our eyes, and which even now cast a cloud of more than midnight blackness over the face of the whole country. We are the observers of strange and fearful transactions. ....

Never was this national anniversary celebrated in circumstances more trying, more momentous, more solemn and perilous, than those by which this nation is now so strongly environed. We present to the world at this moment, the painful spectacle of a great nation, undergoing all the bitter pangs of a gigantic and bloody revolution. We are torn and rent asunder, we are desolated by large and powerful armies of our own kith and kin, converted into desperate and infuriated rebels and traitors, more savage, more fierce and brutal in their modes of warfare, than any recognized barbarians making no pretensions to civilization. ....

Men have strange notions now[a]days as to the manner of showing their respect for the heroes of the past. They everywhere prefer the form to the substance, the seeming to the real. .... Nevertheless, I would not even in words do violence to the grand events, and thrilling associations, that gloriously cluster around the birth of our national Independence. There is no need of any such violence. The thought of today and the work of today, are alike linked, and interlinked with the thought and work of the past. The conflict between liberty and slavery, between civilization and barbarism, between enlightened progress and stolid indifference and inactivity is the same in all countries, in all ages, and among all peoples. Your fathers drew the sword for free and independent Government, Republican in its form, Democratic in its spirit, to be administered by officers duly elected by the free and unbought suffrages of the people; and the war of today on the part of the loyal north, the east and the west, is waged for the same grand and all commanding objects. We are only continuing the tremendous struggle, which your fathers, and my fathers began eighty-six years ago. ....

FELLOW CITIZENS: let me say in conclusion. This slavery begotten and slavery sustained, and slavery animated war. has now cost this nation more than a hundred thousand lives, and more than five hundred millions of treasure. It has weighed down the national heart with sorrow and heaviness, such as no speech can portray. It has cast a doubt upon the possibility of liberty and self Government which it will require a century to remove. .... I have told you of great national Opportunities in the past; a greater [one] than any in the past is the opportunity of the present. If now we omit the duty it imposes, steel our hearts against its teachings, or shrink in cowardice from the work of today, your fathers will have fought and bled in vain to establish free Institutions, and American Republicanism will become a hissing and a by-word to a mocking earth. (the entire address)

Monday, July 1, 2024

A favorite mystery

A post at the Facebook group "Golden Age Detection" (a private group, you would have to join to read) enthuses about one of my favorite mysteries:
...[I]gnore the movie read the book.

Anthony Gethryn, MacDonald's sleuth is typical and old school but still fascinates. He is English in the way that I like to think of the English of that era. He suits my imagination. I love how he thinks, how he reacts, how he adores his wife, how he is always the smartest person in the room, and how he's filthy rich enough to indulge whatever whim he has but doesn't overdo it. I also love that he can be brave and ruthless. He has no fault. My kind of guy. ....

(Gethryn shows up in my second favorite mystery thriller too, by the way. MacDonald's The Nursemaid Who Disappeared aka Warrant For X.)

Don't know how else to say it: the plot of The List of Adrian Messenger (and has there ever been a better title for a thriller? Well, besides The 39 Steps, that is.) is brilliant. ....

Behind the scenes mass murder on the grandest of scales. A pitiless killer who almost gets away with a cunningly contrived plan if not for a small list of names handed over to a friend by a researching writer who never realizes his own danger — I think he regards the thing as an intellectual exercise. The dreadful audacity of the killer is dazzling if not mind-numbing.

The ending is as ruthlessly efficient as it has to be. ....

My enthusiasm for Philip MacDonald knows no boundaries. Give his work a look, and see what you think. ....
I agree. I also agree that Warrant for X is almost as good. The illustration is of my copy.