May 27, 2020

Seven Takes

Talked to my boss in one-on-one and quizzed him on his take on the virus and how big his circle is. His parents are very que sera, sera, while his wife’s parents very strict. He had planned to go to Hilton Head in late July with her family and relatives but now not only are her parents begging off but asking the other family members not to go. He said he will go if no one else does.

The virus is understandably polarizing given the uncertainty. (That mask-wearing is polarizing just seems weird to me.)   I’m more relaxed now about the idea of our circle being widened: When the virus isn’t exponential in terms of growth - when it takes “breaks” (like infecting only a hundred a day in Franklin County) - then we have to take advantage. We might have a decent window, maybe till November, before the second wave and there’ll be time enough for quarantine then.

At the risk of jinx, it’s the best of all possible virus worlds right now: Summer (which is better for keeping the virus down), no big super-spreading events, and a merely linear viral increase. From what I’ve read, it’s possible 80% of the virus cases were caused by 20% events, big things like Mardi Gras and such. So by America simply limiting gatherings to under 50 we might get away with just the drumbeat of a slow viral increase. 


Read the latest issue of Gilbert, the Chesterton magazine. Interesting despite the lack of quotes from GK on the plague of his time (1918 flu). He was discouraged from publishing anything on it since they didn’t want the Germans to know how they were suffering given it could give them an advantage in WWI. In characteristically saintly fashion he looked upon his catching that flu as saying it allowed him solidarity with all those others suffering a similar fate.
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The biggest non-story in the constant drumbeat of political non-stories is Trump’s feud-tweets concerning Joe Scarborough.  How anyone could take Trump seriously when he does that stuff is beyond me. It’s as newsworthy as a child having a tantrum.

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Spectacularly beautiful summer day in May. Late linger-evenings that contain not a whiff of chill -- and not a mosquito to be found. The royal blanket of grass and trees and farm field (ok, newly planted garden). The dogs hungover from the walk in the heat, tongues askew like Otis Taylor’s cap.

Is it merely an “age thing” that my sense of the seasons has moved stage left on the calendar? When I was a kid summer was June 5, and June 5 was summer (where June 5th represents the quintessential last day of grammar school then). It was as black and white as it gets. Fall was Sept 1, or whenever we started back to school. Winter began on Thanksgiving weekend and ended in April. Summer lasted 3 months, Winter 4.5 months, Spring 2 months, and Fall 2.5 months.

Now I’m more sensitive to the weather aspects, the quality of light, the heat or cool, the length of days and interplay of all. (And I don’t go to school. And I live more closely to the baseball season -- I would prefer living the liturgical one).

Spring can feel as early as late February now when the first light from the east graces the sunroom. It can linger till June; it has “graduated” to a lengthier season.

Summer abates at a later felt-date, maybe the end of September even though there’s the deep bone-sense of the writing being on the wall. Winter has shrunk its talons to a mere December to February fling, maybe 2.5 months, or whenever spring training starts and I can watch meaningless games from sunny locales. And that leaves Fall with a brief Oct-Nov timeline.

Perhaps part of this could be climate change which seems to lengthen Ohio’s summer at the expense of fall.

So High June here in May, like a high mass. Peak beauty.

I took the dogs on a little mini-travel trip: downtown Dublin, the historic district. It might've been exotic Dublin, Ireland, so starved for travel I’ve been. I pushed them to their Max, which included a many flights of stairs in order to get down to and then back up from river level.

We saw old homes with rock fences, as in Ireland. We saw lovely grassy knolls and historic buildings. We saw kayakers on the river off Bridge Street. We saw attractive (empty) restaurants with outdoor patios, a modernistic public library...

We saw, we came, we panted. They panted.
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Poet Jane Kenyon on the Civil War:

With psalters
in their breast pockets, and gloves
knitted by their sisters and sweethearts,
the men in gray hurled themselves
out of the trenches, and rushed against
blue.

May 21, 2020

Trump’s Sin: Disregarding the Taboo

Excerpt from interesting piece from David Mamet in National Review :
I’ve been puzzled for a while by the absence in this virulent [Leftist] movement not only of a handy name (for leftism defines the thing only in relation to its opposite) but of a leader.

In the upcoming election, the Left has proposed, and its adherents have accepted, no candidate onto whom can be grafted even the most basic and most provisional attributes of charisma, wisdom, or record (however factitious) of accomplishment.

Why has the Left, intent on destroying the West, put forth no leader, and why has no leader put himself forward to fill the vacuum of power? What does the Left have, in place of a Marx, a Hitler, a Lenin, or, indeed, a Roosevelt or a Churchill? One who could state and embody its principles and thereby unify a country or a party? Perhaps the Left’s inability to propose a leader—and, so, a coherent (even if loathsome) vision—is not a problem but a solution.

The question, then, is: To what problem?

For four years I’ve found the “massteria” (Professor Harold Hill, The Music Man, 1957) around Trump healthy, as energy directed thus was unavailable for the Left’s beatification of a new leader (a führer). How fortunate for the country, I thought.

The national emergency has given me some leisure to think and consider; it was awarded by a virus. My question of the Virus is “Why now?”

The virus could not have spread globally without universal air travel, the national wealth that created such travel, and the disposable incomes that allowed individuals to take trips.

The Black Death reached Europe through rats on merchant ships from the Orient, the Spanish flu was spread here largely by servicemen returning from Europe, and so on, and so on.

Each, perhaps, could be seen as occurring through, or spreading because of, some stage of progression or, say, maturity, in the economy, or, to flirt with eschatology, in the Progress of the World.

The individual lifespan lengthens, and now the elderly are faced with diseases unknown to or rare among grandparents who would have been dead at a similar age.

Traffic congestion, attendant pollution, anxiety, and so on are the result of urban success. The highways take the mass of the newly solvent to the suburbs, the commutes become intolerable, and the old cities die, or exist (all the old capitals of commerce) as tourist attractions, or amusement parks, with the super-wealthy maintaining their skyboxes above the entertainment, as in “The Masque of the Red Death.”

The liberal, elite cities and states raise taxes, because they must, as their tax base disappears. As the services disintegrate, the rich follow the middle class out and leave the cities to the homeless, their ranks engorged by the aliens attracted to the notion of something-for-nothing (as who is not?), which is to say the Garden of Eden before the Fall.

There it is, before our eyes, but those who call attention, like our friend Laocoön, are swept back into the sea, and the wooden horse, inside which the voices of enemy soldiers are heard, is dragged inside the city.

The unabated loathing of Trump must be considered a delusion, for how could one man be responsible not only for treason, collusion, malversation, and other crimes that, though they might be practiced individually, would, in their conjoined execution, each cancel the efficacy of the other (e.g., armed robbery and embezzlement)? Consider that in addition to this endless litany of his human corruptions, he is, coincidentally, indicted as responsible for the weather and the spread (if not the inauguration) of a global pandemic.

A comparison of Trump Psychosis with adoration of Hitler—though perhaps appropriate mechanically, that is, in terms of power exerted on the mob—is inexact in terms of utility. For the apotheosis of Hitler united the Germans behind a shared vision; he personified, and gave voice to, a nationalist desire for revenge, pride, and power, in which vision, and through its supposed benefits, the individuals could participate.

But the revanchist Left is not opposed to Trump as the avatar of the Right, of capitalism, of Americanism (once called “patriotism”). They cannot object to his policies per se, because the policies, one by one, are demonstrably superior in practice to any the Left has employed and, in reason, to any they have suggested. Their objections are all ad hominem, alleging various “isms,” which epithet may be applied, given but little inventiveness, to any of his words or acts. (As they may to any of yours or mine.) To suggest it is his acts that enrage the Left would be as to understand the Islamist attacks of September 11 as architectural criticism.

The Trump “resistance” began in the first hours of his presidency and has continued unabated by either reason or fatigue. There are no dissentient voices on the left, for any suggesting consideration, let alone dissent, have been expelled, vilified, and “canceled”—they are thus no longer on the left. Perhaps in this the disease starts to proclaim itself.

Leo Marks was a British codebreaker at Bletchley Park, during the Second World War. In his book Between Silk and Cyanide (1998), he writes about the codebreaker’s disease: Engaged as they are in trying to break the code, it is their last thought at night, and their first on awakening. Many of them became ill—physically or psychologically—from the strain.

Marks was in charge of decrypting the messages sent by Allied agents parachuted into Nazi-controlled Holland. He was, he writes, driven mad by the suspicion that the Allied agents had been captured and turned—that is, that they, and so their codes, were being manipulated by the Nazis. He could find no error in the transmissions, but his suspicions would not go away. One morning he awoke and realized that the problem (that he could find no errors) was, of course, the solution: It would have been impossible for an Allied spy in Nazi Holland to transmit—in haste and in hiding, risking death—without errors in the transmission. The agents had been captured or turned, he concluded.

There are no “errors” in the unity of the Left, which may be a key to the solution of their irrational, implacable loathing. Trump is hated as the most prominent example of one who’s not afraid to employ reason. He has been “canceled” but ridicules their verdict.

It is not his plans (the Left doesn’t hear of them) or his accomplishments (they are discounted, attributed to others, glossed over, or dismissed as nefarious) that are loathed, but the man himself, as he had the temerity to hold himself superior to the zeitgeist.

The zeitgeist is the Decline of the West, which had been sweeping the world since the American apogee, victory in World War II, and the advent of the most prosperous economy in history.

Things age, mature, and die. Fascism was a 20-year-long dictatorship, expanded through murder and terror. American exceptionalism and prosperity are the overwhelming story of the 20th century; it was not spread by the sword, and it will not die by the sword. Lincoln said that all the massed armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined could not take a drink from the Ohio, but American culture has been decaying throughout my lifetime, as must any organism. Mr. Trump’s presidency has lengthened the American experience by some number of years. That number will be debated by the civilizations that succeed us, who will wonder at our fall, as the educated once did at that of Nineveh and Tyre.

Tragedy, to be compelling, must address a prerational experience or unity. A Hokusai painting of a wave makes us nod in recognition, as we do at a resolution of a Bach fugue. We cannot explain or dissect our experience of understanding, but it is undeniable. True art creates in us the same feeling of fulfillment, its possible description just beyond the rational mind.

The technician might explain it technically, the musician employing the cycle of fifths, or the painter some theory of color or proportion, but this merely puts the problem at one remove. For, after the technical reduction, even the expert cannot quite answer the question of why: Why, for example, is the eye so pleased by the golden mean? Like any great truth, our understanding of art must devolve into metaphysics or an assertion merely leading to an infinite regression.

The human mind will and must assemble phenomena into cause and effect. We will intuit or ascribe a causal relationship to two events that, to another, have no possible connection: Aunt Edna did not call on my birthday because she’s furious I didn’t sufficiently praise her new frock; Germany is troubled because of the Jews; we are suffering a pandemic because Trump did or did not act quickly enough, and an economic disaster because he did.

Psychoanalysis (and politics) attempts to address or capitalize on our human suggestibility, particularly on our frenzied willingness to assign our disquiets to another. Solutions offered thus flatter our ability to identify a problem, suggest its cure, and remind us to come back tomorrow for another dose.

Drama acts similarly, engaging us in the assurance that the cause of all problems is evident, and that our reason will suffice to cure them. The Bad Butler did it; Deaf People are People, Too; Love Is All There Is; and so on. If we enjoy the mixture, it must (and will) be taken regularly.

Tragedy provides not reassurance but calm through the completion of a mechanical progression. Its end is probative, for it is the disposition of all the variables (the code) stipulated at its beginning—mathematically, there is no remainder.

The journey of Oedipus begins because there is a plague on Thebes; it is the king’s job to conquer it. Without the initiating impulse (the stated problem), the play becomes merely a drama, it cannot be a tragedy, and we take away from it not that peace from recognizing the human condition but the lesson “Do not sleep with your mother.”

Can our current national emergency be viewed as perhaps a classical tragedy rather than as sordid drama? We see that the various factions are fighting over a disordered kingdom; each employs (to its own degree) the universal tools of indictment, incitement, appeal, reason, conspiracy, deception, and so on (assignment of these to taste). Considering ourselves as the dramatist, we can prognosticate an end: civil war, dissolution and chaos, conquest by a foreign power, return to a new and healthier polity actually based on the Constitution . . .

But such an end, to satisfy as tragedy, must be understood as the resolution of that specific problem absent the appearance of which we would not have a play. (Hamlet’s father dies.)

But in our case, what brought about the plague of Thebes?

The builders of the Tower of Babel suffered from hubris. They thought that they could aspire to heaven and raise themselves above human concerns, and that the various conflicting impulses of humanity would go away if we all spoke with one tongue. This tongue, of course, would be that of the builders, and I will leave comparisons with globalism to the reader. But it is no sin to be prosperous, and even the most committed Marxist wishes only to regularize (that is, reduce) the wealth and consumption of his neighbor.

What is the precipitating event or situation whose resolution would be one of those mooted above? We know our current pandemic came from China, and from trade with China. And every schoolchild knows that April showers bring May flowers, Mayflowers bring Pilgrims, and Pilgrims bring typhus.

The demagogues of the Left have discovered anew the ancient secrets of corruption, collusion, and decay, and, like all their predecessors, delight in their discovery: indicting their opponents for their own crimes.

We had, on April Fool’s Day 2020, two events warring for pride of place in our reconstruction of the tragic cryptogram: the pandemic, and the election of Donald Trump. But tragedy cannot have two precipitating events. (See the child’s excuse “I didn’t do my homework because the dog ate it, and my mother has the flu.”) Two explanations are none.

We must choose one, determine how the two are, if not identical, then conjoined (“My mother has the flu, she usually feeds the dog, she could not, the dog became hungry and ate my homework”), or discard them both and begin our work again, remembering Tolstoy’s admonition that the first or most apparent manifestation of an event is not necessarily the cause: The savage seeing the puffs of smoke first might conclude that they caused the locomotive.

The Left insists that our national disruption is caused by the election of President Trump, which affront would be resolved by his removal from office.

But if the successful results of their machinations brought us to civil war or economic collapse, then the effect would be out of adjustment with the supposed cause. (See the all too common explanation of spousal murder: You would have shot her too if you saw the way she looked at me.)

That message was fictionalized in Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand lived through the Russian Revolution, in St. Petersburg, and spent her working life, in fiction and nonfiction, writing about the horror.

Here is another report, by Alexander, Grand Duke of Russia, first cousin to the czar, from Once a Grand Duke (1931):

What was to be done about those princes and countesses who spent their lives going from door to door and spreading monstrous lies about the Czar and Czarina? What was to be done with that scion of the ancient family of Princes Dolgoruky who sided with enemies of the Empire? What was to be done with the president of Moscow University, Prince Troubetskoi, who turned that famous institution of learning into a radical campus? What was to be done with that brilliant Professor Milukoff, who felt it his duty to denounce the regime in foreign lands, undermining our credit abroad and gladdening the hearts of our foes? . . . What was to be done with our press who met with rousing cheers every news of our defeat on the Japanese front?
The message on Nebuchadnezzar’s wall was “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

Trump Mania is not a message, but a key, serving to obscure an underlying message.

The key (the accusations of the Left) disguises an underlying terror—operating here just as the near-psychotic, immobilized by a terrifying, free-floating anxiety, extemporizes specific phobias in an effort to gain some control.

“It is not that I am losing my mind in unnameable panic,” he thinks, “but that Martians, or mice, food additives, or Jews are trying to destroy me.”

The Left’s loathing of Trump differs from their other attempts at constructive phobia in this: He is not an event, a phenomenon, an attitude, or a group, but an actual human being.

He has supplanted previous attempted solutions to panic, but universal and vicious loathing comes close, in its virulence, to revealing the key, and thus the presence of an underlying code.

He is a mere human being who has the temerity to disregard the taboo.

In the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, some brave soul might speak up for one accused of witchcraft; but no one would have dared to say, and few to think, “There is no such thing as witchcraft.”

The Left’s hatred of Trump reveals their code. They here are like the ghoul Rumpelstiltskin, whose power disappeared when the victim said his name.

Trump is loathed because he is feared, and he is feared because he named the monster.

The Monster is the zeitgeist, that is to say, the Left.

May 13, 2020

Who Was that Masked Man?

Kind of mesmerizing to see masks becoming controversial before my very eyes. R. R. Reno has decided to die on this hill which is riveting in a train wreck sort of way.  My kingdom for a mask!

A more common sense idea can hardly be found as the whole object is to prevent spitting/coughing/sneezing on someone or some thing (which can then be touched and spread that way). Sounds like a plan.  It’s almost like the anti-maskers didn’t get the memo that there’s a pandemic going on.

And a lot of the whining is from the right end of the spectrum which is surprising as there’s generally more caution and forbearance than our liberal siblings. (Or used to be.)

Conservatives in theory are supposed to have respect for the wisdom of experience which - in the case of our Asian brothers and sisters - is hard-won via their bouts with SARS and such. That they wear masks suggests we ought have the courage to face that maybe they know something we don’t.

In the past we buckled to the man and wear seatbelts nowadays at no great cost of courage and manliness. Let’s hope we can do the same with masks. Hell, Jesse James wore one didn’t he? He not manly enough?

I’m all for opening the economy and for opening churches and a mask is not something we should be worried about if it works towards the goal of opening churches and economy.

May 07, 2020

Flannery O’Connor’s Thoughts

Excerpts in the New Yorker, from Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journal:

I do not mean to deny the traditional prayers I have said all my life; but I have been saying them and not feeling them. My attention is always very fugitive. This way I have it every instant. I can feel a warmth of love heating me when I think & write this to You. Please do not let the explanations of the psychologists about this make it turn suddenly cold. My intellect is so limited, Lord, that I can only trust in You to preserve me as I should be.

Contrition in me is largely imperfect. I don’t know if I’ve ever been sorry for a sin because it hurt You. That kind of contrition is better than none but it is selfish. To have the other kind, it is necessary to have knowledge, faith extraordinary. All boils down to grace, I suppose. Again asking God to help us be sorry for having hurt Him. I am afraid of pain and I suppose that is what we have to have to get grace. Give me the courage to stand the pain to get the grace, Oh Lord. Help me with this life that seems so treacherous, so disappointing.

Please let Christian principles permeate my writing and please let there be enough of my writing (published) for Christian principles to permeate. I dread, oh Lord, losing my faith. My mind is not strong. It is a prey to all sorts of intellectual quackery. I do not want it to be fear which keeps me in the Church. I don’t want to be a coward, staying with You because I fear hell. I should reason that if I fear hell, I can be assured of the author of it. But learned people can analyze for me why I fear hell and their implication is that there is no hell. But I believe in hell. Hell seems a great deal more feasible to my weak mind than heaven. No doubt because hell is a more earthly-seeming thing. I can fancy the tortures of the damned but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God. It is natural that I should not imagine this. If we could accurately map heaven some of our up-&-coming scientists would begin drawing blueprints for its improvement, and the bourgeois would sell guides 10¢ the copy to all over sixty-five.

Freud, Proust, Lawrence have located love inside the human & there is no need to question their location; however, there is no need either to define love as they do—only as desire, since this precludes Divine love, which, while it too may be desire, is a different kind of desire—Divine desire—and is outside of man and capable of lifting him up to itself. Man’s desire for God is bedded in his unconscious & seeks to satisfy itself in physical possession of another human. This necessarily is a passing, fading attachment in its sensuous aspects since it is a poor substitute for what the unconscious is after. The more conscious the desire for God becomes, the more successful union with another becomes because the intelligence realizes the relation in its relation to a greater desire & if this intelligence is in both parties, the motive power in the desire for God becomes double & gains in becoming God-like. The modern man isolated from faith, from raising his desire for God into a conscious desire, is sunk into the position of seeing physical love as an end in itself. Thus his romanticizing it, wallowing in it, & then cynicizing it. Or in the case of the artist like Proust of his realizing that it is the only thing worth life but seeing it without purpose, accidental, and unsatisfying after desire has been fulfilled. Proust’s conception of desire could only be that way since he makes it the highest point of existence—which it is—but with nothing supernatural to end in. It sinks lower & lower in the unconscious, to the very pit of it, which is hell. Certainly hell is located in the unconscious even as the desire for God is. The desire for God may be in a superconsciousness which is unconscious. Satan fell into his libido or his id whichever is the more complete Freudian term.

Perversion is the end result of denying or revolting against supernatural love, descending from the unconscious superconscious to the id. Where perversion is disease or result of disease, this does not apply since no free will operates. The sex act is a religious act & when it occurs without God it is a mock act or at best an empty act. Proust is right that only a love which does not satisfy can continue. Two people can remain “in love”—a phrase made practically useless by stinking romanticism—only if their common desire for each other unites in a greater desire for God—i.e., they do not become satisfied but more desirous together of the supernatural love in union with God. My God, take these boils & blisters & warts of sick romanticism.

It is the adoration of You, dear God, that most dismays me. I cannot comprehend the exaltation that must be due You. Intellectually, I assent: let us adore God. But can we do that without feeling? To feel, we must know. And for this, when it is practically impossible for us to get it ourselves, not completely, of course, but what we can, we are dependent on God. We are dependent on God for our adoration of Him, adoration, that is, in the fullest sense of the term. Give me the grace, dear God, to adore You, for even this I cannot do for myself. Give me the grace to adore You with the excitement of the old priests when they sacrificed a lamb to You.

I have been reading Mr. Kafka and I feel his problem of getting grace. But I see it doesn’t have to be that way for the Catholic who can go to Communion every day. The Msgr. today said it was the business of reason, not emotion—the love of God. The emotion would be a help. I realized last time that it would be a selfish one.