Friday, August 19, 2016

Flashback Friday: Staying connected

At dinner [Wolfe] started on automation. He has always been anti-machine, and on automation his position was that it would soon make life an absurdity. It was already bad enough; on a cold and windy March day he was eating his evening meal in comfortable warmth, and he had no personal connection whatever with the production of the warmth. The check that paid the oil bill was connected, but he wasn't. Soon, with automation, no one would have any connection with the processes and phenomena that make it possible to stay alive. We would all be parasites, living not on some other living organisms but on machines, arrived at the ultimate ignominy."

- Rex Stout, writing about Nero Wolfe in A Right to Die

Originally published April 18, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Classic Sports Thursday: The Greatest and a Scottish Clambake

A full length of a FINA regulation long-course swimming pool is 50 meters, or just over 164 feet.  The length of a short-course (indoor) FINA pool is 25 meters, or just over 82 feet, about 10 feet shorter than a FIBA basketball court (just two inches short of 92 feet).

Michael Phelps is now regarded as the greatest Olympian of all time, both Ancient and Modern, with more victories in individual competition than anyone else.  But this incident at the 2012 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, the European equivalent of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am for celebrities, put the greatest Olympian ever's accomplishments to full fruition.

At Kingsbarns Golf Links in Scotland, which next year will host the Women's Open Championship, Mr. Phelps, playing as an amateur with Paul Casey, made his second shot on the sixth, a driveable Par 4, 53 yards away with a putter.  This shot ended up as one of golf's most memorable shots of the year.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Big Entertainment, and Ted Cruz Was Right

Ted Cruz Was Right.  A 1992 Dan Quayle reference to the glorification of single mothers led to rampant criticism of his "family values" comment, and a few months after he left office, a few magazines called "Dan Quayle Was Right."  Of course, he son later ran as a Tea Party conservative and served a term in the US House.

Taking that same thought, we heard Ted Cruz's "New York (City) Values" when referencing Andrew Cuomo and the values of New York City, citing the "heartland versus urban enclave" difference in values that we have seen in election results and the warning that Everett Dirksen gave following the Supreme Court striking down the Great Compromise at the state level in the Reynolds case.  He specifically called out certain cities that would become "city-states" where the rest of the state lost its entire voice to that one city, which over 50 years later, has come true.  California (San Francisco and Los Angeles), New York (NYC), Illinois (Chicago), Minnesota (MSP), are among states that are controlled by these few cities where abolition of the Great Compromise means those cities overrule the rest of states.

The absurd legislation we see coming from California on "sexual freedom," the attacks on Christianity, and the entire push of erotic liberty is coming from just those few cities.  Whereas in the era before Reynolds, the smaller counties, equally represented in the upper chamber, could stop the dangerous bills, now with representing only from that large urban enclave, the other communities are no longer allowed to be represented.  Think about it when you consider how striking down the Great Compromise at the state level has allowed Los Angeles County and Marin County to force down their views on sexual freedom when the entire state has opposed it, thanks to decisions that prevent states from being run the same way as the US Senate.

Ask the 30 states whose marriage laws were overturned by New York City judges.  We were not given a fair voice.  The voice of just the few cities has absolute control.  What might our Founding Fathers that developed the Great Compromise have said?

Big Entertainment.  A recent scan of videos from both political conventions had me wondering aplenty.  The page for the Public Television News Hour (which is not even the same as the old McNeil-Lehrer days) posted more DNC entertainment than RNC entertainment.  The RNC's house band at the Quicken Loans Arena was not publicised, but on the News Hour's video pages, they showed notable DNC performances by superstars.    Meanwhile, Big Entertainment, and with apologies to Mr. Cruz, "Hollywood Values," was rampantly siding with the Left.  At least eleven mega-star hits were performed by original artists, showing effectively Big Entertainment's siding with the Left with every huge hit and star on their side.

It's not even close, sadly, and this showed the bias of the media by showing every major DNC hit performance.  For someone who has sung in front of Gov. Sanford at his final official lighting of the state Christmas Tree, I can say that the Big Entertainment of the DNC may have its target audience (all femme pop hits), maybe it's age, demographic, or just the appreciation of classical masterpieces that have dulled away my senses to the modern pop music that I may hear working out, but never anywhere else!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Here come da judge

I realize we're constantly being admonished nowadays to be non-judgmental; "who am I to judge?" should strike a familiar tone. But what exactly does that mean, and how does it fit in to our modern culture and lifestyles

You could write a book on that question alone, and probably more than one person has by now, but I'll simply remark that I've always understood the Biblical injunction against judging to be aimed more at one's soul than at their actions. "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get." (Matthew 7:1-2)

In other parts of the Bible, we're told not to worry about what others think of us as long as we act in righteousness for the Kingdom of God.* The suggestion behind it all is that the only opinion that really counts is God's, and He will judge each and every one of us based on what is inside us and how that has manifested itself in our thoughts, words and actions. As humans lack the ability of divination when it comes to reading a man's soul (with the exception of some extraordinary saints), I read this as telling us we should not judge one's character, one's soul, one's state of sin.

*Though we're also reminded not to engage in scandalous behavior which can cast aspersions upon our sincerity, or that of Christians in general. We may see this come into play in the next few paragraphs.

At the same time, however, we're also told to admonish our brothers and sisters who have fallen into sin (first making sure, of course, that we are not guilty of the same thing). For that to happen, it follows that we have some authority to draw conclusions about what a person does, based on that person's external behavior. We don't know for sure whether or not a person is in a state of grace, for example, or if they're possessed by truly evil thoughts and desires, but if they go around acting like a jerk, being impolite, doing nasty things to people, I think we could quite rightly infer from that behavior that this person, regardless of the condition of their soul, has some problems. And if we're that jerk, behaving that way with other people, we should expect that those kinds of conclusions are drawn. If we're a professing Christian, then this becomes cause for scandal, because by our own faults we encourage people to draw such conclusions. Again, being a jerk doesn't mean you're going straight to Hell (do not pass Purgatory, do not collect 500 indulgences). We don't know that.

But when we say someone is loathsome, when we deplore their actions and call into question the sincerity of their expressed values, what we're most often speaking of is this process of making a conclusion based on observed behavior. I think most of us are aware of that, and we aren't literally pronouncing judgment on someone's soul by saying something like that. "I find him grotesque, repulsive, etc." may be an inelegant use of language, it may be intemperate, but most reasonable people know what they mean when they say it, and most reasonable people know (or used to, anyway) what it means when they hear it. It means, "I find this person's actions to be [insert adjective of your choice]."

What I'm getting at with all this is that there's a lot of nasty behavior going on in social media, and in the circles which I frequent much of it is coming from the internecine conflict which our beloved Holy Father seems to have instigated, or at least brought to a head. Austin Ruse wrote about this very well in a recent article with reference to several Catholic bloggers who like to make grand pronouncements about people with whom they disagree. The question arises: how should one behave when finding themselves faced with such a person? Well, perhaps the best thing is not to find yourself in that position in the first place, which is why long ago I deserted the Catholic blogosphere in favor of the much more civilized world of classic television. I still run across these people, though; one can hardly keep up-to-date with current Church events without doing so. The political blogosphere is even worse. And as far as Catholics talking about politics - don't get me started.

It is not an exaggeration for me to say that I do, indeed, find the behavior of such people to be loathsome. In doing so, they transform themselves into loathsome individuals, and to draw such a conclusion based on what they've said is, in many cases, fairly temperate when compared to what these people themselves say and do. But am I judging them? Am I consigning them to the nether regions, where it's very hot even in wintertime? Of course not, and when they use the typical rhetorical tactic of attempting to turn the tables on anyone who disagrees with them by saying, in effect, "So's your old man!" they should be resisted.

What do I mean by that? Well, in fact, there often is no moral equivalence involved; calling someone loathsome is not the same as saying they're going to Hell. These people often are passing judgment on others, accusing them outright of sin, of not being true Catholics or even Christians. If they want to call someone names, then that's their right, and I'm not going to stress over it - except, as I suggested earlier, to advise them to by a thesaurus or something else that can help them expand their vocabulary. Their behavior certainly can be described as scandalous, and to the extent that they provoke intemperate responses in others, they deserve the lion's share of the blame. If one voices a negative opinion of this person's behavior - well, what other conclusion can you draw?

In the end, I don't know if I've accomplished anything with this. I vowed to write a certain number of words at this site this month, and this is part of it. I haven't engaged in any of these verbal fisticuffs, nor do I intend to, but I get highly put out when I read it, and I do think the people who do this are - here's that word again - loathsome. Am I judging them? No, and I'd thank you not to accuse me of that if you're tempted to. Am I drawing conclusions based on what I've seen, heard or read? You bet I have - and as long as such people continue to act that way, I'm going to continue to draw those kinds of conclusions.

For those of you out there who are like these people - don't you have anything better to do? For all that we moan about social justice warriors and how everyone's too sensitive and the world is filled with rage, it really is difficult to drive most people to anger. Mainly, they want to be happy and to be left alone. If these people worked half as hard at doing something good (or at least something benign), they might find their own world to be a much nicer place.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Sad news - Indy 500 driver killed in Kansas

For the second consecutive Indianapolis 500, tragedy has struck the Field of 33.  An accomplished driver who made multiple Indianapolis 500 starts has been killed in a racing crash.

Three-time “500” starter Bryan Clauson (#88 Dale Coyne Racing Jonathan Byrd's Catering Honda) died Sunday night from head injuries from contact after a violent flip at the Belleville (KS) Midget Nationals A-Main at the North Central Kansas fairgrounds in the said city.  On Lap 14 of the 35-lap A Main, during a battle for the lead the half-mile high-banked dirt track, Clauson, a three-time winner of the event battled Chad Boat, son of former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Billy, for the lead when, in a classic dirt track “jumping the cushion,” his midget climbed he armco guardrail, flipping violenly and hit by Ryan Greth.  Clauson was transported to a Nebraska hospital where he died the next evening.  Clauson is the fifth Indianapolis 500 starter since 2000 to be killed in a crash from a motor racing incident.

The Midget Nationals, since 1978, has been won by six Indianapolis 500 starters and five current NASCAR national series drivers, including three current Sprint Cup drivers (#5, #42, #88).

Thoughts and prayers go to the Clauson family.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Talk about an Olympian task...

It's come to my attention that the Summer Olympics apparently start tonight; Note that I say "apparently," because, well, you know - Rio. If you're not sure why that matters, let Charles Pierce remind you with this fine article from a couple of days ago. Now, when it comes to politics, I don't agree with Pierce at all, but he's still a helluva writer, and when he's right it's that much more entertaining. Anyway, read it all, but here are some highlights:

The Games should have been pulled from Rio a year ago. The Games should have been pulled from Rio on the entirely practical grounds that the government of Brazil, and almost all of its institutional public infrastructure, is a pile of splinters on the ground. The Games should have been pulled from Rio on the grounds of human decency because the optic of staging a plutocratic athletics hootenanny in the middle of some of the worst grinding poverty in any hemisphere is enough, in the words of the late Molly Ivins, to gag a maggot.

The list - I'd call it a laundry list, but I doubt any laundry could clean this mess up - of Olympic shortcomings reads like a who's who of calamity. Just a short list would include the following:

As I said, this is just a partial list; your results may vary. But at least there won't be a condom shortage.

I was in Chicago on the day that the Games were given to Rio; the country was still in the first flush of Obamamania, and everywhere you could see signs promoting Chicago as the obvious choice. We'd flown into town just a couple of hours before the voting was scheduled to be held, and the cost of watching on local TV as the city was eliminated on the first ballot was, as they say, priceless. As was the sight of all the discarded Olympics signs from the rally in Daley Plaza laying in the gutter later that day. But just because Chicago failed didn't mean the International Olympic Committee had to give the Games to Rio. What kind of an organization would do something that stupid?

Speaking of human sewage, let’s talk for a moment about the IOC. In addition to trying to sell the world on a Roger Corman movie masquerading as a sporting and cultural extravaganza, this pack of buffet grazers so completely bungled its handling of the Russian doping scandal that it managed to make Vladimir Putin seem like the wronged victim of capricious authoritarian regimes. That’s quite a feat.

Now, I know there are a lot of you out there who are probably looking forward to the Olympics. You don't care about all the politics behind the scenes; you're interested in the grace of the athletes, the drama of competition, the stirring human interest stories. And for your sake, I hope this things aren't so bad that the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat can still show through. However:

These are Games that never should have happened. No matter what glories we may see over the next 18 days, the Olympic Games of Rio remain a reckless operation run by people who never get near the social problems into which they have dropped their party. Almost as revolting as the Games themselves is the inevitable whitewash of all the problems that will occur if, somehow, the entire city of Rio doesn’t vanish under the waves over the next couple of weeks. We will hear nothing but amazing stories about “overcoming adversity,” and how the plucky Brazilians managed to pull off a logistical miracle after an (admittedly) rocky start. Then the world will leave. The favelas will fill again. The government will continue to be a phantom. The fishermen will keep getting killed and the flesh-eating bacteria will once again, well, eat flesh.

It almost makes American politics seem palatable, doesn't it?

Note that I say "almost."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The return of Bonds?

Bonds Wins Tour de France, Considering Run for the Roses

(July 26, 2019 – Paris, France) Astonishing sports history was made today when Barry Bonds, major league baseball’s controversial all-time home run king, broke through at the finish to win the 106th running of the Tour de France. Bonds, who celebrated his 56th birthday last week, was a last-minute and unexpected entry in the world’s most famous bicycle race, but easily outdistanced the competition to come away with the prized yellow jersey.

“I always liked bike riding,” said bonds after the 2,200 mile (3,540 km) race, while sipping on champagne at the Arc de Triomphe. “I’d been riding with my grandkids in the park recently, and I felt good, felt strong. Then I got a chance to meet some of the guys who ride in this race every year, and right away I knew they were my kind of people. So I gave it a shot.”

Bonds, who faced a deluge of questions – and a federal grand jury – about possible steroid use during his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record in 2007, once again refused to address rumors of steroid use in this year’s Tour.

“You guys are stuck on the same old [stuff],” he said, his voice rising. “You’re like a broken record. Get off it, you’re old news, find a new story, man.”

Bonds, who finished his major league career in 2008 with a total of 775 home runs, had been living in seclusion at his Maui home until recently, but hinted that sports fans may not have heard the last of him. “There may be more to come, depending on how my knees are feeling after this. In fact, I’m giving serious consideration to running in the Kentucky Derby next spring.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Opera Wednesday

I've mentioned in this space before that Verdi, unlike Mozart (for example) really knows how to end an opera, and one of the most exciting climactic scenes comes from Rigoletto, in which the bitter court jester Rigoletto finds out that his plans for revenge have gone awry - the contract he put out on his boss the Duke has backfired, resulting in the death of his daughter, whom he was trying to save from that very Duke.

Here's that final scene, with two of the very best: Diana Damrau and Zeljko Lucic, with the Dresden State Opera, conducted by Fabio Luici.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What is wrong with the pope, indeed.

From Rod Dreher last week. Read the whole thing, but the money quote asks the essential question:

What is Francis doing? Is this just the usual progressive Catholic see-no-evil dingbattery, or is there something else happening here? Again, how very odd for a world religious leader to deny the power of religion to mold the minds of men and to motivate their behavior. You would expect a vulgar Marxist to say all things are motivated by class and economic struggle and nothing but, but you wouldn’t expect a Roman pontiff to take that ridiculous and easily disproven line.

At a time when the world needs strong, realistic religious leadership to deal with the realities of Islamic terrorism (realities, I should say, that include the fact that most Muslims are not terrorists), Francis is offering jelly-brained liberal nonsense.

The picture above features a statue not only executing a facepalm, but beating the breast at the same time. I find this quite appropriate; as I've written before, I can't help but think of this pope as the pope of our chastisement - our "reward" for our lack of faith in action. Therefore, while we hide our eyes in horror at the latest pronouncement from the Vatican, we remember also to ask for forgiveness - because surely we must atone for our own role in the present state of the Church.

Speaking of all this, I suppose I shouldn't complain; if this post has gotten your attention, then it's a good time to remind you that my novel, The Collaborator, deals with many of the causes and effects of such a situation in the Catholic Church. To get your copy from Amazon, click here.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Throwback Thursday: What women want

Most of you are probably familiar with the stories that continue to come out, pointing to an "epidemic" (I think that's the word they used) of student-teacher sex affairs. Of particular interest to many was the number of female teachers who had become involved with young male students, many of them in their early teens. Some call these teenage boys "abused," others consider them "lucky." Whatever, clearly the answer to ending this scandal is to allow teachers to marry - wait a minute, my mistake; it's allowing priests to marry that's supposed to end sexual abuse of teenage boys.

Clearly, if we learn anything from this whole mess, it's that the theory that allowing priests to marry will eliminate the pedophile scandal is nothing but a red herring. First of all, it's not pedophilia but pederasty that drove the Church's scandal - that and a rejection by the priests involved of Catholic teaching.

This, however, is a matter for another day. What interests so many about this teacher abuse study is a fundamental question of human curiosity: what do these grown women see in teenage boys? There's something almost nauseating about the whole thing. What I find interesting about it is how this behavior contrasts so dramatically with how women used to behave, or at least how they were portrayed in popular culture. Forget for a minute whether or not that pop culture portrayal was an accurate one; what mattered, in order for the portrayal to be a successful one, was that it was plausible.

Nowhere is that more evident than in pulp detective fiction, especially that from one of the genre's masters, Mickey Spillane, and his greatest creation, Mike Hammer. Hammer is, to put it mildly, a chick magnet (as well as a magnet for bullets, fists, Commies, Mafia, and all sorts of other unsavory characters). And we're not talking about ordinary women here - just beautiful ones. Breathtakingly beautiful ones. Hammer, at first blush, would seem to be the most unlikely object of desire.

He is, by his own admission, not a handsome man. It’s true that women often meet him after he’s been beaten virtually to a pulp by some nefarious perp, who invariably winds up dead, either right away – in the “you should see the other guy” school – or later on, when Hammer fulfills his mission of revenge. It’s clear, though, that Hammer harbors no illusions about his own appearance, even in the best of times.

And yet women literally throw themselves at him. Within minutes of the initial meeting, they’re tossing off suggestions and bon mots at him that would make a sailor blush. To these invitations Hammer often reacts lewdly, taking advantage of some, disdaining others. It must be nice to pick and choose that way.

Hammer is by no means unique in the world of detective fiction. Philip Marlowe, for one, has the same, shall we say, problem (especially when he’s played by Humphrey Bogart), and easy sex with loose women is a staple of both pulp and mainstream mysteries. Even Nick Charles, he of the Thin Man series, is one of those men who women want and men want to be like. Nick is considerably smoother and more handsome than most of them, however, plus he has Myrna Loy to come home to, and so he remains above those kinds of temptation.

Nevertheless, what is it about these characters that causes beautiful women – far more beautiful than the men are handsome – to throw themselves at them with a speed worthy of a Puccini opera? The reason for this animal magnetism, implicit in the Hammer books, is a simple one: manliness. Hammer is a real man, not a fake – a man who knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and, most important, isn’t afraid to take it.

And this is what brings us back around to the central question asked at the beginning – why the epidemic of female teacher-male student affairs? What is it that these older women – some barely older, some much older – could possibly find of interest in these boys? One theory that I find plausible is that implicit in these actions is a rejection of modern malehood – the lack of manliness so prevalent in men today. As the metrosexual (if that term isn’t already passé) becomes a dominant archetype of the modern man, more and more women yearn for that old-style masculinity found in the likes of Hammer and others. Enough with men who seek to be in touch with their “feminine side.” To many women, this breeds doubt, uncertainty, an unwillingness to take the initiative – hardly qualities that make a man truly attractive. Hugh Grant may be the ideal man for those tissue-drenching chick flicks that Lifetime and Hallmark live on, but it’s not hard to imagine that a real relationship based on that Hugh Grant character would lead to frustration and exasperation before too long.

So, confronted with the lack of “real men” out there, and dismayed by the alternative - young men wrapped up in rude, crude and boorish Maxim-like behavior, women reject the choices presented to them by conventional society and instead turn to the raw material, the stuff that their dreams can truly be made of. In the handsome, virile boy in their classroom they find a boy eager to learn, eager to please, with much to offer in the physical sense; but also one not yet corrupted by sensitivity training. Perhaps he’s a rugged jock, or a boy who exhibits all the hesitant masculine boisterousness that teenage boys usually have. Or he’s untapped ground, one who can be shaped not by the demands of society to emasculate himself, but by the desires of a woman who thinks (however misguided) she can teach him how to be a real man.

This kind of thing is really nothing new however, as is shown by Richard Strauss’ comic opera masterpiece Der Rosenkavalier. The subject matter in this story, written in 1911 but set in 1740s Vienna, was the source of some controversy as well. In it, we have the Marshallin, a charming but aging noblewoman, who is involved with Octavian, described as “a handsome young man with an eye for beautiful women.” Through a series of impossibly convoluted twists and turns, Octavian loses his heart to the beautiful young Sophie, who herself is engaged to the inept and repulsive Baron von Lerchenau.

Although the Marschallin is captivated by her affair with Octavian and falls in love with him, she knows that eventually he will leave her for a younger woman - one more his age. Eventually, this happens, and in the heart-wrenching trio "Hab' mir's gelobt" she releases Octavian to follow his heart and go to Sophie, saying she loves him so much she only wants happiness for him, even if it is with another woman.

With this ending, Strauss hints at the natural law of things, that eventually people - especially young ones - gravitate toward those of their own kind, their own age. And I think that what people most strongly object to in these teacher-student affairs is the idea that the young are being robbed of their future, of their natural maturing into the world beyond their youth, in essence being trapped into a lifestyle (and the consequences) long before they're ready to accept - or even understand - that life. Thus, they are not victims of sexual abuse per se, but of the same kind of abuse that we see in advertising campaigns, in peer pressure, in a hundred different ways - the abuse of forcing children to become adults before they're ready. Some would say that the unfortunate, if not ironic, aspect of this is that in the teacher-student case this is often being done by women who refuse to grow up, who yearn instead for their own childhood, free of responsibility.

As I say, I’m no sociologist, so I don’t pretend that this is anything other than a theory that I find compelling. It also suggests, but doesn’t necessarily deal with, the immaturity that these women themselves exhibit, their own failure to grow up and act responsibly. It does, however, answer a great many questions. And undoubtedly it says a lot about the present state of masculinity – or the lack thereof – in the modern male. I don’t know if we should be more worried about this epidemic of schoolhouse abuse, or the cultural forces that may be playing a part in it.

Whatever the case, this whole phenomenon should cause us to look closely at what our culture has become - how we view childhood, what it means to be a "real man" (and how through our culture so many of the natural aspects of manhood are being stripped away), and how for so many nowadays, adulthood is something to be put off as long as possible.

Originally published December 13, 2007
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