Apr 112016

The home gardener has a miserable life.

Yearly we are deceived by catalogs, magazines, and websites into thinking we can get the same results. We see gorgeous vistas at public gardens, blooms in every pot, not a brown spot to be seen. We return to our little patches, where our roses are leggy and spotty, blooms puny, and where do I get irises like the ones I just saw, anyway? We don’t see the swarms of laborers and volunteers, the cunning photographers, the horticulturalists, the mobs of persuaders.

March was unusually warm, very lamblike, but got surly toward the end, and the first part of April has down downright leonine, a series of shrewish grey days. Today, though, has been mostly smiles. I spent some time hacking grey mulberry and wild grape out of the hedge – wild grape is a water pump this time of year. I found one ancient vine that I savaged, and marked for return visits. Tomorrow, perhaps, I shall apply myself to the grill.

 Posted by at 1:08 pm
Apr 062016

After getting the GC onto the school bus, I took a stroll over to the nearby drug/convenience/not-quite-general store to get some razor blades.  I don’t buy them often.  I found that I no longer have a clue which blade to get.  The packaging and appearance have entirely changed, and all of them cost astounding amounts.  A mistake would be out of the question.  So what to do? Grow a beard?  O might then be mistaken for a preacher man, and we can’t have that.  Join one of those cheap razor clubs?  Well, maybe.  Research Is Needed.  Retiring in defeat, I went home.

 Posted by at 9:19 am
Mar 022016

I’m much too mopey right now to comment coherently on Super Tuesday. So I’ll comment incoherently. Maybe someone will nominate me for President.

We were recently reminded, just the other day, that “what the heart loves, the will chooses and the mind justifies.” In other words, we want what we want, pursue it heedlessly, and make excuses for it. Politics isn’t rational. Eight years ago lots of folks persuaded themselves that an ordinary Chicago politician planted firmly somewhere on the left end of the political specturm was a saintly miracle worke. Lots of them cling to that image today. He’s performed at about the level you’d expect an ordinary Chicago politician to perform, but that’s irrelevant. The heart wants what it wants. So this time round, Donald Trump becomes the focus of discontent. It’s sad-funny to watch intelligent but emotionally driven folks trying to bend their minds into hoping that a Trump presidency would be other than, at the very best, unpleasant.

Is Trump a Donk mole, a Clinton-launched MOAB designed to clear a landing zone for Hillary’s Marine 1? There is incidental evidence. He’s been far more Donk than Heffalump in his public remarks over time; political conversions, like religious ones, are usually followed by a period of study and mentoring. This seems absent. Most Heffalump politicians are free speech absolutists, overwhelmingly so. Trump is not. Likewise, most Heffalumps are somewhere on the “pro-life” spectrum. Trump is not. In recent days, he has quoted Mussolini approvingly, and flubbed racially charged situations in ways that a serious Heffalump politician would not.

Trump and Mussolini? There are quite a few similarities, in fact. The bluster, the brawny and ignorant nationalism, the womanizing, are shared traits. It’s long forgotten, but for a while Benito was all the rage in western democracies. The press lavished him with love and attention. Familiar?

And by the way, two essential texts for this election cycle are Jonah Goldberg’s  Liber al Fascism – it’s not just name calling! – and Philip Jose Farmer’s rambunctious, vulgar, somewhat psychedelic novella, Riders of the Purple Wage. If either of my readers is a progressive, take the risk of reading Liberal Fascism to see where you came from. Farmer shows us where we going. #3? Paul Johnson, Intellectuals. One word summary: ick.  ”Intellectuals,” not the book.

What if it’s The Donald v Hillary? If The Donald isn’t that MOAB? Hillary will try to stand above it all, gratingly issuing platitudes and occasionally barking like a dog. The Donald will be attacked by swarms of Hillary attack-bots. The Donald will ignore the ‘bots, and attack Hillary viscerally. It will be appalling.

What, exactly, for voting purposes, is an “evangelical?” I don’t have a clue.

At the moment, Marco Rubio doesn’t seem to be a closer. Intelligent, promising, genial, but not a closer in an election. If one’s priorities are (1) beat back Trump and (2) Beat Hillary in November, the path this morning seems to me for Rubio to Nobly Withdraw, throw his support to Cruz, and relentlessly and in detail attack Trump. I might feel differently tomorrow. Someone needs to sit Kasich down somewhere and explain very gently that he’s not going to be Vice President.

Since it’s the season of the heart, my new hope for 2020 is Sasse/Haley or Haley/Sasse, based entirely on these tweets:

Sasse: “The Presidency is not our national embodiment of Nietzschean Will. It’s just one of 3 co-equal branches of govt.”

Haley:  ”“@realDonaldTrump, Bless your heart.”

It’s a good idea to take cover when a Southern woman says that.

 Posted by at 6:34 am
Feb 222016

This is the question Stephen Vincent Benet put in the mouth of Daniel Webster’s shade in “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” An ideal Webster, and an ideal Union, but still. How would we answer today? Perhaps, “Like a drunken sailor on a three day binge.”

H/T Steve Hayward  http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2016/02/the-week-in-pictures-scalia-awesomeness-edition.php

H/T Steve Hayward


Jay Nordlinger has put it best, I think:

We are a nation of 300 million people. The two frontrunners are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It would be hard for me to think of two people less suited to the presidency in mind and character — especially character — than those two. But, in a democracy, the people get their way. And elections tell us a lot more about us than about the candidates.

To put it another way, the fault is in ourselves, not our stars.

Poor Heffalump Party. With a winnable election in front of them, a deep bench of possible candidates, they find the nomination process hijacked by the platonic archtype RINO. A narcissist, a master manipulator, a bankrupt even more times than a bridegroom, a braggart. They must all be wondering what happened.

For their part, the Eeyores seem to be  intent on giving us a choice between two flavors of Socialist, Mild and Extra Spicy. Was there no one else in the bullpen? And I don’t mean Cherokee Warren. I guess that Madam will be nominated, if the SEC primaries take the wind out of Comrade Muppet’s sail. But heavens to Betsy, how did we get here? There’s a task for a meticulous historian of some 50 years from now.  At a start, you cannot do to civic education what we have done over the last half century without something like this.

Pray that in 50 years there is still a Union to listen to the explanation.

So Happy Birthday, George.

Feb 192016

I am blessed with a long honeysuckle hedge on the south border of our lot. In May, it blooms profusely and sweetly, and is the home to a family of cardinals and some other birds. It tends to get too big, though, and is also shelters invasive mulberry trees and wild grape. The wild grape is merely annoying, picks hard to reach spots for its base, and weighs down the honeysuckle branches from August on. Mulberries grow prodigiously and insistently, and its no use trying to gather the fruit since the birds get it first – and scatter the seeds. Nor am I interested in sericulture, and any Pyramus and Thisbe stuff is right out. So it’s a good use of a mild winter to do some pruning. One cannot win, in the sense of exterminating the pestiferous invaders, but one can get ahead of them. So armed with pruning saw and clippers, I plunged into the twiggy, thistly hedge.

Mulberry wood is soft but gooey, but several trunks were severed – I’ll be back soon, I hope, with a drill and some salt – supposedly, drilling 1/4 inch holes in the trunk and packing them with salt will kill the roots, by dehydration, I guess. None too soon. The sap is rising in the mulberry trunks, though not yet in the wild grape. They can spurt like a hydrant when spring get going. There’s quite a wind today, enough so that the tangle of grape vine at the top of the hedge acts as a sail, bending branches down (and into my face). I noted a fuzz of leaf buds atop the neighborhood trees. And my work clothes are full of thistles. A few years ago, neighbors thought it might be fun to attract finches with niger seed. The neighbors are long gone, but the thistles persist. I don’t mind the goldfinches, when we see them, but wish I could confine the thistles to the alley. I’m going now to pluck the thistle pods from my shirt.

 Posted by at 1:49 pm
Feb 042016

It’s tempting to emit political noises these days, isn’t it? But I’ll leave the mire of narcissism to others. Too easy to get stuck in that quick sand.
Recently, on my weekly trawl though the local library for my granddaughter’s dozen, I picked up a curious collection of early stories by G. K. Chesterton, The Club of Queer Trades. I guess that, these days, Unique Trades might be a better title. To the best of my knowledge, which is considerable but not exhaustive, this is a pioneer of the “club tales” genre. It was first published as a collection in 1906 – I’m guessing (but do no know) that the stories were first published in magazines or newspapers.
The “club tale” is an amusing, and, I suspect, rather technically difficult genre. Lord Dunsany is often credited with its invention, but his Jorkens stories began in the 1920s. Wodehouse’s Mulliner stories first appeared at about the same time. The “club tale” has been very popular in science fiction. Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart are amusing and influential. There are a lot more.
The developed club tale format seems simple but is not. The author’s point of view is first person, but usually passively records the stories told, again in the first person, by another. The story is told in a comfortable place, a pub or club. The teller, Mr. Mulliner or Brigadier Ffellowes or Henry Purvis,  takes over a minor character’s remark, complaint, or observation, and tops it with a far more elaborate story of his own, so elaborate and odd that it is indistinguishable from fable or tall tale – but the story teller claims a degree of special knowledge and experience that gives the story credit. Chesterton does not do that here; his narrator (amusingly named Swinburne – droll, that) is a full participant in the stories. The principal actor, however, is Swinburne’s friend, Basil Grant, an eccentric retired judge, aided by his impulsive but omnicompetant brother. The conceit that the stories share is that there is an actual club whose criterion of membership is that members be the inventors of their trade. These, I won’t tabulate – they are inventive and sometimes startling, and would probably be regulated out of existence today. To our loss. I can imagine, and could use, a firm that one might employ to intercept wasters of time. Or innocently distract power seeking politicians.
There’s far more action than in the later form of the club tale, often involving chases on foot or by cab through London and its suburbs, melees, madness and eccentricity, dens of thieves, and purblind vicars. The retired judge may or may not be the only sane man in the group but he is probably the most rational.
It’s interesting to see Chesterton’s Chestertonian voice nearly completely developed here, early in his career. And I’m strangely prompted to consider a club tale in which both the authorial narrator and the story teller are unreliable narrators, each fibbing, misleading, or deliberately omitting vital pieces of the story. Hm.

 Posted by at 10:37 am
Jan 182016

I’ve been playing with bread.  It’s winter, after all.  Can’t garden.  This one is pretty good, so if you dabble in making your own, it’s pretty simple and it turned out well.

First, start with King Arthur Flour’s Buttercrust recipe, here, down at the bottom.  It’s pretty good itself, but I wanted a loaf that was a tad healthier, and would make enough for two smaller loaves.  I modified the flour to:  1 cup fed sourdough starter, 1 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour, 1.25 cups white wheat flour, and .75 cups millet flour.  I modified other ingredients proportionally, and gave the dough a long first rise.  Then divide, gashed, and let rise in the pans.  The resulting loaf was tasty, firm enough for sandwiches and toast, and lasted pretty well.  The millet gives the loaf a slightly golden color.  I haven’t tried it as french toast bread, but it’s probably good for that, too.


 Posted by at 9:00 am
Jan 152016

So long as you progress fast enough it seems a matter of indifference to him whether you are progressing to the stars or the devil.

G. K. Chesterton wrote those words sometime before 1905, still a young man, but an accurate enough description of the leadership of The Episcopal Church for the last 40 or 50 years.  Now that leadership has been sent to sit in the corner for three years to ponder its behavior.

A summary of Episcopal Church misbehavior, especially over the last dozen years or so, would fill a largish book, so I won’t rehearse it here.  Its behavior to its conservatives has been rude, its theology muddled, its ethics invisible.  So maybe a time out is overdue.

Will it do any good? We won’t know for a while, actually.  The time out restricts TEC participation and vote in a number of international Anglican committees and fora.  It  lets TEC blather on as much as it wants.  There’s no hint about what might happen when the time out expires.  It seems there’s to be a committee to keep an eye on TEC responses (all together now:  ”Nobody expects the Anglican Inquisition!”  Someone -CJ?-should run a pool on the first TEC lefty to shout “Inquisition!”)

Is it a good thing?  I’m usually a half-full sort, so I’ll guess, yeah, if it’s a beginning not an end.  It gives the Canadian Anglicans a chance to step back from their own brink, and it gives the Archbishop of Canterbury a tool to restrain his own impetuous lefties.  It also gives the other Anglican entity in the US, the Anglican Church in North America, some time to put its own house in order.  It’s still a work in progress.  Lots to do.

Jan 112016

Wheaton College, that Evangelical dynamo, has gotten itself in trouble with the Opinionifiers by talking about firing Larycia Hawkins. Hawkins became famous for 1) wearing a headscarf “in solidarity with Muslims,” and 2) saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. #2 is of the greater weight with her employer, #1 with those Engines of Publick Ignorance, the Mass and Social Media. I have some minor sympathy for the position of the College: boundaries are important, as the miserable condition of my birth denomination, The Episcopal Church, shows. It fell into the hands of professional obfuscators who have made it difficult to describe what an Episcopalian believes, if anything. So it’s nice to see some sort of boundary defense. The #2 issue is interesting but maybe not determinable. For many Christians, the uniqueness of Jesus is foundational, and the common opinion, spread around for years by many, that Allah and Yahweh are sort of the same, strikes at that uniqueness. So it’s not trivial.

Watching the firestorm, it struck me that it might be amusing to revive an old technique: the Publick Debate. Let the Professor (pro) and the President of Wheaton (con) argue formally the question: Resolved, that the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are one and the same. Some ground rules would have to be worked out: perhaps the source material should be limited to the Scripture of the two faiths alone, and no appeal to other authority or hermeneutic allowed. Some sort of boundary, anyway. A jury (the number 11 comes to mind somehow) would determine the winner. The jury perhaps could be made up of Wheaties Wheaton graduates now on the theological or philosophical faculties of other schools. How would they be selected? Would a bare majority be sufficient for a decision, or a supermajority? Details, details. And then there’s the question of a debate moderator: what fun there is to be had there. A neutral site might best be found, to minimize the risk of lightning strikes.  If Hawkins is found to make a reasonable, approximately scholarly, argument on behalf of her opinion, she gets to keep her job. If not, well, she needn’t worry. Someone will hire her. In any event, the issue would have been (we hope) capably aired, the National Press would have had to retire to their dictionaries and encyclopedias, and a jolly good time would have been had by the rest of us.

Jan 042016

Some weeks ago, I took my granddaughter to the ‘pumpkinfest’ thrown by her school’s PTA. No pumpkin chuckin’, alas, but they did hire a balloon twister. So what did the kids stand in line for? Swords and guns. The gym was soon full of balloon mayhem. Observing them whale away at each another, I thought, “The eschaton isn’t going to get immanetized tonight.” Yeah, I really did. Sorry about that.

The great Gene Wolfe had a novel out in October. A Borrowed Man is set in a near future North America. It’s a technologically proficient society. Environmental concerns have been mitigated – the sky is clear, the air and water pure, population drastically reduced, human cloning is common, and some sort of deep brain scan allows memories to be downloaded into clones. The narrator  is such a clone, a ‘copy’ of a writer of mysteries and science fiction from an earlier time. At a guess, the original lived maybe a century from our own time, and died maybe 50 years before the time of the story. This is the story of his adventures.

The air may be breathable, the water drinkable, yet the world is unpleasant. The police are brutal. The countryside is littered with wrecked towns inhabited by near-feral packs of poor people. These poor are not fed. The clones, although fully human, are considered property, and may be disposed of willy-nilly. “Library clones,” such as the narrator, maybe disposed of if they are not “checked out” often enough, and the disposal process is cruel. Though Wolfe doesn’t state it clearly, the behavior of the narrator, the actions he does not take, his ready assent to the rules of being a library clone, suggest that they are to some degree conditioned, their freedom of will shackled. This is dystopia. Technology masks the evil and patches the cracked surface, no more. The world of A Borrowed Man is similar to those of Home Fires and An Evil Guest. Human evil persists.

A Borrowed Man shares a bit of the background to William Gibson’s The Peripheral from last year. A catastrophe has nearly exterminated humankind, but high technology emerged that allowed just in time to allow “1 percenters” and wealthy nation-states to survive and accumulate immense power. The surviving 1 percenters are mostly horrible. Their horribleness is barely constrained by governments that are themselves complicit with these horrible people. Through yet another mysterious technological marvel (The Peripheral is full of McGuffins and Alien Space Bats), some of the more minimally decent people gain access to an alternate time line that exists just before the tipping point into catastrophe (it should be pointed out that there are multiple such time lines, most of them kept as private playgrounds by very bad people). They place high technology into the hands of ordinary but clever people who may be able to prevent or divert the catastrophe. It’s deus ex machina stuff. Gibson asks us to believe that a technologically enabled underclass can bring about a better outcome; a bit Marxist, that. I think that the human record is that our normative state is to seek the unconstrained exercise of our will, so I doubt things would actually work out so happily. Gibson tends to work in loosely-bound trilogies, so we will have to await the eventual outcome of the alternate time line until Gibson himself observes it.

Gibson builds up his world through detailed descriptions of things and people and their relationships. In his later style, Wolfe hints, but does not tell. Anything may become significant, even a color, and maybe not until a fourth or fifth reading.

I find it intriguing that, in The Peripheral, much of the action of the protagonists in the earlier, alternate, timeline, is directed to making room for family life: this is a bit similar to the efforts of the protagonist-characters in his previous group, beginning with Pattern Recognition. Similarly, the clone narrator of A Borrowed Man makes arrangements that he hopes will prolong his existence a bit, and make his life bearable.

One could go on. Utopias and dystopias are staples of fiction. We write them and read them out of a sense of human bent-ness. It’s all around us, visible and stark, but we tend to close our eyes, or concentrate on only a part of it. Wolfe’s dystopia seems somewhat more dire: both give us depopulated worlds. Gibson’s is the result of a concatenation of errors, some preventable. I fear that Wolfe’s depopulation was a  deliberate, a Stalinist,  act.  Humankind has shown itself capable of all varieties of horrors; technology seems to magnify but not improve our natures.

 Posted by at 9:21 am