The Miscellany February 10, 2017

When a public official begins a statement “It is an indisputable fact that (fill in the blank),” prepare for lies.

I have begun rereading The Lord of the Rings for the first time in many years. The first readings engraved it deeply in my memory and imagination. I read the Ballantine paperbacks to the point of disintegration, and I’m pleased to find that the first chapters are still fresh there as ripe apples newly picked. I am now spending several evenings with Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, a favorite section. I had forgotten this little bit:

If they looked up to the pale sky, they caught sight of queer gnarled and knobbly faces that gloomed dark against the twilight, and leered down at them from the high bank and the edges of the wood. They began to feel that all this country was unreal, and that they were stumbling through an ominous dream that led to no awakening.

Old Tom is an awkward character. He wandered in from another part of Tolkien’s imagination, but is entirely at home in Middle Earth. His role and function are deliberately obscure, but I think there are a couple of things to help get a handle on him. He’s fearless, and he is Master, and I’ll bet they’re entwined. And this might lead us off on a winding stream pondering how fear and the desire to dominate are entangled. 1 John 4:18 might be running around in the background, too.

Tom is also a gardener; within his self imposed boundaries all is well tended, fruitful, and peaceful. The movie-makers couldn’t figure out what to do with Old Tom, to their movies’ detriment. Losing Tom meant losing the Barrow Downs, and disrupting Tolkien’s carefully devised series of tests for Frodo. It’ll be on to Bree next, whetting an appetite for out of season blackberry tart.

Speaking of gardening, this week has been a roller-coaster of temperature, during which I’ve been able to work away at my own garden. The last few years have been necessarily restricted by various things, and the place is a mess. Soon, I’ll turn woodsman, or maybe hedger, to get the mulberry volunteers out of the honeysuckle hedge. And the wild grape. I’ve already found and cut most of the principal vines, and I should probably give each grape stump a spritz of Emergency Orange to help me find them when the growth starts


Fat ol’ intruding mulberry

next month.

New growth? Here’s some. These daffs have sent up probes to see what’s happening.


Quite a brisk discussion of nationalism and patriotism going on in National Review. Go ahead, risk ritual uncleanness and take a look. I’m sure we can scrounge some hyssop to purge you. There are more  rebuttals and refinements on the site. I do tend to agree with Mr. Goldberg that the words need a separate life. Levin makes the important and I think overlooked point that the American ideal is aspirational. More about that another time, maybe. Levin’s new book is atop my pile, and I plan to read it together with Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option for Lent. A little odd, but the Gaffer gets to be odd.

I have two working theories at the moment for President Trump. One is that he is, at heart, a moderate Democrat who found no room in his natural party, engineered a hostile takeover of the Republicans, has no real principles about government, but is proceeding along the lines that made his takeover successful, for the time being. Congressional Republicans are, I think, watching him warily, trying to get as much out of him as possibly before he does something hopeless. The other, which isn’t really contradictory, is that he is, simply, Mr. Punch, the Lord of Misrule, the embodiment of chaos.

Yikes. Note that as yet there are no complainants, so the University Police are stuck with investigating whether to investigate. I don’t know if there’s a “rape culture” – that’s sort of a mandatory trope – but if there is, it’s not separable from other aspects of culture, like the pervasive porn availability. Other stuff, too. So if there’s a problem, we could fire up the Wayback Machine and reinstate old measures – chaperones, say, preferably middle aged couples, at every party. No booze. Don’t like that? Hmm. Of course, it was my generation, carefully coached, that screamed to do away with anything smelling remotely of in loco parentis. An interesting book could be written about who those coaches were, and who coached them. Maybe I’ll do it.

The Daily Lectionary today brings us to Acts 19:21, interestingly relevant to our uproarious times. A wise magistrate settles a mass of unhappy, bellowing Greeks by reminding them that Paul and his friends haven’t committed any breach of peace. “If you think you have a legal but private gripe, sue them. If you think the law should be changed, do it properly. Otherwise, go home before the Romans get involved.” Rome had a short way of dealing with civil unrest. If you read the Authorized Version, it gives us a glorious word, “implead.” “Let them implead one another.”

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