March 27, 2013

Sundry & Various

Oh who does not love a bookish curmudgeon? There's Joe Queenan's One for the Books but I found another in the dusty archives of Britain's Literary Review, a Henry Hitchens:

“Once upon a time you became a librarian because you fancied a quiet life: 'Catalogue some books, deal with the occasional pedant, write The Whitsum Weddings.' Not anymore.”
He dislikes the way modern libraries have become loud and he sounds unashamedly Mr. Wilson-ish reacting to the modern Dennis the Menace crowd.

Then I read a bit of the BBC history of the 13th century king, Edward I. A bit on the dry side alas. I like the idea of reading these Brit magazines more than the actuality. Although I was interested to learn from the Literary Review that Anthony Trollope's mother wrote a semi-scathing expose of America in Domestic Manners of Americans (spoiler: the manners deemed not good) which I proceeded to download for free since it was written around 1830. The first chapter caught my attention and my heart given her wonder at the ocean's “indescribable charm”:
Perhaps some may think that the first glance of ocean and of sky shew all they have to offer…but to me, their variety appeared endless, and their beauty unfailing…I may recall with difficulty the blue outline of the Alleghany mountains, never, while I remember any thing, can I forget the first and last hour of light on the Atlantic.
Anyway apparently the book caused quite a row between Britain and America, one Anthony Trollope aimed to mend by writing his own friendlier book on the land of the (somewhat) free and the brave.

*

Miss and pine
that timber-pined craft,
boards of amusement
professionals all:
musicians and sailors
comedians and chefs
waiters, room cleaners:
oh the live long dram!

The sweet buzz of sea
on mornings unmourned,
glimpses on the balcony
of tireless scenes --
I think I'm in lush with that boat
winds from Castro's land
sail shrug'd of carry or woe
undulations of rhythm
till “It's medicine time!”
the heal of sun and warmth
trivially basic ingredients.


*


It's interesting and a privilege to see human life at its earliest. I'd more or less had the mistaken notion that we all began as blank slates, as more or less interchangeable. A baby is a baby is a baby, even allowing for physical and psychological differences due to sex.

But seeing the first year or two of both S. and W. I'm intrigued by how different their interests and preferences are almost immediately out of the womb. And it certainly seems like a whole different environment for the second born as compared to the first. At least my own attitude is telling in that I spend 90% of my time and attention on S; when S was W's age I spent 100% of my time and attention on S. So W is being “gypped” in that a 3-year old is just much more fun to play with than a 1-year old. That can work the other way too of course - parents have to give more attention to their newborn just because the feedings are so much more frequent and because the baby won't play on his own. Plus W is fascinated by S and so has a richer and more engaging environment than S had.

As small a thing as the opening and closing of things - drawers or the arm rest of the recliner - seemed much more of interest to one year old S than one year old W.

Dogs too are quite different, witness our Buddy and Obi. I don't know why I should be surprised at any of this. We are all as individual as snowflakes. If God can make snowflakes different, how much more animals and humans?


*

Oh what joy the Kindle prompts in me! Even though intellectually I realize it's the McDonaldization of reading. McDonald's prides itself on the smooth experience: no matter where you go you'll get the same tasting hamburgers and fries, standardized and homogenized. Similarly the Kindle removes all those barriers to entry such as different font types, font sizes, margins, paper textures. Books on Kindle are so easily consumed using settings that you've chosen as your default. I read more if only because there are no lingering stopovers, no pressing of nose to inked page, no leisurely author bio re-readings, no distractions of font.

*

I miss the Nigerian scammers
who tell me their tales of woe.
I miss the Nigerian scammers
we'll not see their like till it snow.
They tell us their tales of banking woe
They tell us their tales of woe.
If not for Nigerian scammers,
I'd have no poetry to show.

*


Was thinking about the poor today because I came across a passage in Co-Workers of the Truth and because of an Atlantic magazine article that tries to understand why the rich are so ungenerous compared to poorer folks (1.3% of rich folks' income versus 3.4% for the poor, and with the rich it's rarely money given for those in distressed situations but instead to museums, universities, etc..).

The Atlantic makes the case that wealth is isolating, which creates an “empathy gap”. The rich don't know any poor people therefore they can't empathize.

A lack of money forces people together more in little ways and big. You have to go to family members for help in repairing things, or in moving, or building something instead of hiring it done. The poor borrow instead of buy.

Some young relatives have almost no money and the suspicion is that what brings them to family gatherings is the free meal. Or what brings them to the Christmas party is the promise of gifts. They are said to totally ignore the family except when they need something. But I wonder if that isn't better than the alternative, i.e. being rich enough to blow off the family completely. I think of this also in connection with spiritual poverty. In religious terms, I am the beggar. I am the one dirt poor coming to God and the saints, perhaps mostly in hope of gifts in the form of prayers, mercy… But at least it brings me to them.




I was reading was a line from National Review about how the diversity folks want not equality of opportunity but “equality of result”. And I thought about how that desire which has taken root in America is also reflected in religion where universalism is the de facto belief: that there will be an equality of eternal result. I long for universalism to be true and we do pray that all be saved, but I guess that's different from believing it to be true. Just as some think it fair and just that homosexuals be married, and some think that it's unfair that blacks are incarcerated at a higher rate than whites despite underlying behaviors, so too do we want Heaven to be independent of earthly behaviors.

*

Whoa. There are few things more utterly consuming than being on a genealogical super sleuth mission. Got totally obsessed with it.

I found out a very exciting piece of info: exactly where great-grandfather James fell in 1899. Must visit the scene of that crime. Two little girls were with him, surely his daughters who were like 8 and 6 at the time. Via the magic of Google Earth, I was able to find the exact spot (it would seem pretty much unchanged since the houses around that area are all of 1900-vintage). How neat a trick of time travel to be able to go to the exact spot your great-grandfather fell some 114 years ago? And to see a spot apparently little changed.

So my mom got me all excited about Joan supposedly finding the “missing link” in the James saga, the city of his birth. This would be an astonishing breakthrough because generally if you have the city you can find the parents and thus go back a generation or more. But color me dubious. I emailed Joan and she said she someone told her it was “Stafford” but I'm not seeing any census data for a James born in New Jersey under Stafford or Stratford or any variation I could think of. As much as I've researched James, I do find it hard to believe someone could've scooped me. He's Ahab's whale to me, my Moby-Dick. He shows that often sinners fascinate more than saints, that we remember Clark Gable more than Leslie Howard. And of course it helps that his life is infused with mystery: like Melchizedek we don't know where he was born or where he died. We don't know if he died tried to save someone in the 1913 flood or fled to parts west in search of greener pastures. I can't find his marriage license to save my life. He enters the scene as a 26 year old in 1891 with the birth of his first child and disappears suddenly in 1913 at 48. The only thing we know for certain is that he had children and that he passed his y chromosome even unto me. DNA is a crap-shoot, a hit or miss thing shrouded in mystery and garnered from multiplicative sources, but every paternal great-grandfather's Y chromosome is identical to every great-grandson's. It's the one sure thing passed from father to son in an unbroken line.

Oh, and another thing we can be sure is that he's dead now. To be 148 years old would make him famous and I'd surely have heard of him.

No matter how much of a good-for-nothing he may've been, the mere fact that he had found a wife and impregnated her eight times meant that his life bore fruit, literally and figuratively.  How can a person love their life and despise their forebear given that it's only through that ancestor that they have life? They do leave a legacy. And here I wrote earlier of being dismissive of those who care unduly about their legacy! Ha. 


*

I felt in a ravenously Twitter mood last night. The various social medias complement one another perfectly: tumblr for artistic right-brain'd beauty, twitter for links and madcap one-liners, and Facebook for family color. And the mood varies but Twitter is especially addictive lately because it offers a constant stream of Pope Francis-related items via my follows.

Woke up and watched a bit of Morning Joe which pretty consistently offers only irritation. Haven't watched in months since I tired (almost instantaneously) of inauguration news, followed by sequestration news. Politics feels so “over”, in the sense that Obama won and thus whatever slim hope we had for governing sanity seems past. Today's show featured blowhard Mike Barnicle piously defending gay marriage and pointing to how surely Justice Roberts will want to be on the “right side of history” by declaring gay marriage valid in a court case being heard today. “Twenty years from now it will tarnish his reputation since everyone will wonder what the fuss was about,” declared Barnicle. I love how the “right side of history” is automagically determined by a historical consensus. (Well, they do say that the victors write the history books. But God keeps the only ledger that matters.) As has been said said elsewhere, Jesus was killed by consensus and Hitler was democratically elected. But Barnicle does have a point inasmuch as the great temptation for public figures is to attend to their “legacy”. For some reason it's crucially important to them to be thought well of after they're dead and so Barnicle is definitely playing the right cards.


*

Finished the compulsively readable tell-all book on cruise. Seems as though in this “brave new world” where self-publishing sans editor is the rage then there's nothing to stop the sort of nakedly honest sex diary. He said that his wife said she was glad he had sex with all those girls before because without it “he would have always wondered what it would have been like, and that type of curiosity can destroy a marriage.”

I didn't overly appreciate, but am certainly not surprised, by how Americans are universally denigrated by the crews of cruise ships. Americans have the reputation of being “rude, stupid and overweight hamburger-chasers.” In fact, hamburgers were so linked with Americans that the crew refused to eat them.

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