January 14, 2016

Seven Quick Takes

Read interesting Time magazine piece on the Trump phenomenon. The gist is that Trump is simply ahead of the curve as far as “cutting out the middleman”, a term they call disintermediation. People don't want the media - or even political experience - in between themselves and their choice of candidate, and Trump does that via his rallies, Twitter, free media in which he speaks directly to the American people. They say Reagan did the same thing, which he had to since the media hated him.

The digital revolution is dismantling gatekeepers left and right: record companies (slain by music streaming), big book chains like Barnes & Noble (slain by Amazon and e-books), Blockbuster video (slain by Netflix), newspapers (killed by Craigslist advertising).  That which happened to the Catholic Church during the Reformation when the Bible came out in the vernacular and people decided to become their own priests, has come out now in politics. It's interesting to see the powerful liberal media humbled as decisively as the Church was in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Maybe they'll have a bit more respect for the idea of our dependency on intermediaries.


One of the interesting aspects of this election season is how the conservative “gatekeepers” in charge of policy purity, people like Ann Coulter, Limbaugh, and Laura Ingraham, have seemed so pro-Trump despite the fact that he appears to have no core convictions beyond a will to power. He makes Mitt Romney look like a “severe conservative”. And yet the gatekeepers of purity have mostly been coy.

Coulter is an interesting example. Her last book, on illegal immigration, has either made her a single issue supporter on building a wall, or maybe she wants immigration in the forefront for book sales (or both of course). Perhaps illegal immigration has been her pet issue for some time which might explain her utter disdain for John McCain.

And now we learn that she is insisting Ted Cruz (Ted Cruz! the tea party poster child) is not a natural-born US citizen and cannot be president despite saying the opposite in 2013. Her response? She changed her mind.  Does she have a touch of Trump fever?


The phrase "the inhumanity of man" is paradoxical.  It's like saying, "the non-wetness of water".  But, on the other hand, it's a tacit recognition of the inherent dignity of man such that he should not be capable of inhumane acts.


Wow, Herman Melville was startingly pessimistic. He says the man who sees truly is the pessimist, the sorrowful, the serious, the grim:
…The sun hides not Virginia’s Dismal Swamp, nor Rome’s accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth.
So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true, or undeveloped.

With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. “All is vanity.” All.
This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon’s wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing grave-yards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men; and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing wise, and therefore jolly;—not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon. But even Solomon, he says, “the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain” (i.e. even while living) “in the congregation of the dead.” Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.
He could flat out write though.


Zoo trip last weekend. We wandered pleasantly through the North American part, past chickens, sheep and deep-grunting goats,  pigs, miniature cows and caribou and then off to the lions. A sun bear was later sighted as well. A moose, sheep, and gorgeously-coated wolves. Side trip with the grandkids to an old plane where you could sit at the ancient controls, a bush plane from the 1940s, a Beech-18 prop via Middletown, Ohio.

Then at 11 it was time for the tour with an enthusiastic lady for a “behind the scenes” to tour the vet hospital, but no animals being worked on, just a bunch of empty rooms. I'm sure part of the appeal was simply that you coudn't normally go back there since it was employees only.  I guess it's for animal lovers what it's like a Catholic getting a tour of the papal apartments in the Vatican.

Sam was at his cutest, questions frothing from him like water from a fountain.


Am reading some of Susan Cheever's engaging history of drinking in America, which suitably whetted my whistle.  I'm always cheered by reading of those with drinking habits exceeding my own, as the 17th century Americans did. They drank morning, noon and night. Don't try that at home!

Cheever's book was borrowed from the library and I found myself loving the physicality of the book, which reminded me I read too much on Kindle and should occasionally pony up for the increased expense of buying print versions. I do miss, lately more than ever, the joys of reading a physical book with its wide margins and sturdy, tactile presence. There's a certain glamour to a well-produced hardback that the Kindle version can't match. And for the cover photo and design there's no substitute since the Kindle covers are tiny and in black and white. It's like the way old album art was big and beautiful in the '70s before tiny CDs and now online, streaming music took over.


Watched Meet the Press and have begun making my peace with the likelihood that Trump will be Republican nominee.

Patiently we'd put up two seemingly acceptable candidates: John McCain, war patriot and maverick who got along with many Democrat senators, and Mitt Romney, a blue state governor. And the thanks we got? Two whippings by a lightweight/no weight senator from Illinois named Barack Obama.

So there's understandably some feeling of simply taking our marbles and going home, of nominating whoever the hell we want, despite the recklessness.


Watched NY Times columnist Ross Douthat video on the web - he gave a lecture on the angst of conservative Catholics in the Pope Francis era. Fascinating. Then I found a rebuttal on the liberal National Catholic Reporter magazine. A reasonably effective one, making the  point that conservative Catholics have a blind spot in not seeing the link between materialism/capitalism and the sexual lack of restraint (porn, sex outside of marriage, divorce, etc..). Reminded me instantly of this remark in the Russell Kirk bio: "…the West had created a dreadful world, 'a world of frenzied producers' and a 'world of frenzied consumers.'… Rather than giving them control over the self, their education had only created insatiable longing."  Also reminded me of the Malcolm Muggeridge line about how “sex is the mysticism of materialism and the only possible religion in a materialistic society.”  I'd not really put together lust of the flesh being a cousin to lust for worldly goods.


Fareed Zacharia in the Washington Post asks why middle America is so self-destructive (obesity, alcoholism, drug abuse, all leading to high death rate spike in middle-aged whites only):
"The answer might lie in expectations. Princeton anthropologist Carolyn Rouse suggested, in an email exchange, that other groups might not expect that their income, standard of living and social status are destined to steadily improve. They don’t have the same confidence that if they work hard, they will surely get ahead. In fact, Rouse said that after hundreds of years of slavery, segregation and racism, blacks have developed ways to cope with disappointment and the unfairness of life: through family, art, protest speech and, above all, religion."
That neatly parallels a Flannery O'Connor quote I saw recently: "To expect too much is to have a sentimental view of life and this is a softness that ends in bitterness.”


I'm sorely tempted to get Jimmy Akin's commentary on the book of Mark after reading Jeff Miller's excellent review.  But I have so many other resources on Logos that I'm not sure it makes sense. An interesting dynamic is how I can't rule out grudge-holding on my part after Akin blocked me on Twitter. I should get a badge for this blog: "Banned by Akin!" As Trump as taught us, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

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