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

intruding-mulberry

Fat ol’ intruding mulberry

next month.

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

feb-daffs

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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Inauguration Day

I think I’ll get a haircut first.

A curiosity of this curious presidential transition is that so many folks invest affection amounting to adoration in Mr. Obama, and dislike amounting to hatred in Mr. Trump. The President of the United States is, after all, just a guy we hire to do things, not a term limited demigod, nor even an elected monarch. Obsessive focus on the president magnifies the importance of the job. Seems unwise.

Mr. Trump’s public persona (don’t know the fella, so I really can’t say more) appears to be vain, irritable, vindictive, and oddly ignorant. He’s easy to dislike. I didn’t vote for him, and  have low hopes for his presidency, though I do find some of his appointments diverting. There’s a great deal wrong; even a “successful” Trump administration can only make a start in undoing damage.

Most curious of all is the inability of the American Left to respond to Mrs. Clinton’s defeat with anything other than vicious invective. A prominent Hollywoody became notorious the other day for wishing a horrible though improbable death upon the Speaker of the House, probably over health care. Of course, it’s unseemly for a man who will probably never be concerned for his own health care, and who hasn’t struggled with the exchanges.  “Keep your

enrollment

Man trying to enroll  children

doctor”?  Well, no, not in the case I’ve been struggling with the last month or so. Far from it.  to speak thus about someone who has to attempt to fix an unworkable mess: but it’s typical of the heightened rhetoric that passes for normal. But it all poisons the waters of discourse.

So farewell to Mr. Obama. May Mr. Trump be a better president than I think he will be.

 

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Transition

Conservatives –

“Grandpa, what’s a conservative?”

“Oh, you know, our natural rights, free market economy, balanced budget, small government, Federalism as originally conceived, a few other things. Not Yosemite Sam in KKK robes.”ys

“Grandpa, what’s KKK?”

“I hope you never find out. Conservatives are holding their breaths, often their noses, sometimes their stomachs, as we await the opening of the Schrodinger’s box that is the Trump Administration. We hope for the best (and “best” in this case is not much, honestly. A little clean up, here and there. If you move into a really wrecked fixer-upper, clean up is only the first task.) Some of the appointments are ok, or at least amusing. Others, well, a few remaining classicists will recmessall, acta non verba.

 

It does help to have a little sense of humor, however bruised it may be after this election. Conservatives, by and large a funny crew, are getting ready to use *humor* when Trump disappoints. Perhaps even sarcasm. Humor works better than fainting couches, indignant boycotts, or even references to The Road to Serfdom.  Although that estimable work is, like Star Trek TOS and Animal House, widely applicable. In this vein, courtesy of Steven Hayward’s (quote: ” Buckle up: there isn’t enough WD-40 in our universe to keep the unhinged left from squeaking.”)   The Week in Pictures, and below the fold to spare delicate eyes, we may behold Donald Trump’s “Victoria’s Secret Service detail.”

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Morning People

People who sleep late  miss glorious sights. This morning’s sun rose in a pool of gold, lighting a fleet of clouds with yellow fire on their eastern edge. Spectacular and lovely and full of grace, if you were there to see it. Later, as common in winter, the clouds consolidated into a uniform blanket of grey. Rain may be coming. But O! What was there.

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Fidel Castro Dies

Remember this, eulogists:

Krushchev to Castro:

In your cable of October 27 you proposed that we be the first to carry out a nuclear strike against the enemy’s territory. Naturally you understand where that would lead us. It would not be a simple strike, but the start of a thermonuclear world war.

 

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Begone!

The presidential election recently concluded gave us curmudgeons the rare pleasure of being grumpy no matter the outcome. The contest between knaves and fools was unique that way.* I get to say for the next four years (or until he loses interest and resigns – attention span is a concern), “I didn’t vote for him.” Or for any of the rapscallions and members of the Villains, Thieves, and Scoundrels Union, local 12.

We’re now in the quite unusual situation of having absolutely no idea what to expect from the victor. Even more than usual with politicians, we must always ask, “Yes, but what does he really mean?” Mrs. Clinton is also a notable liar, but with a record of action which indicated a certain predictability. For many, it seems, a horrifying predictability. But the Question of the Hour is, “What will Trump Do?”

And the answer to date is, “Got me.” His appointments so far have ranged from “well, ok,” to “oh, no, please not him” – unless, of course, you are part of the progressive left, in which case the only response to any Trump appointment is to shriek loudly, run from the room, throw something, and dust off your stock of “Racist! Extremist!” response cards. Were he to renominate outgoing administration en bloc, the NYT/WaPo/HuffPo/Kos combine would react with suspicion, and Paul Krugman would write a column Expressing Concern.* *

To me, Mr. Trump is a walking enigma, without convictions or principles, a huckster and salesman, a performer, a player of roles without real center or foundation. This may work out passably if he takes reasonable advice – so far, there are signs he might. Or might not. Or it might turn out badly. Republicans in the House and Senate will have a difficult task, working with him enough to accomplish something, resisting artfully if and when necessary, all amidst a four year tornado of complaining and accusation from the Donkeys.

*Yes, yes, I know that Mrs. Clinton’s fans are blind to her faults and that in their eyes she is their precious ewe lamb. So, to his thankfully rare fans, is Mr. Trump. Though possibly not a ewe lamb. Anecdotally, I think at least some Trump voters chose him in a fit of self-disgust, closing their eyes, holding their noses, muttering, “no, not her,” and left the poll with a certain levity.

**Though I have hope that the Warrior Monk will accept the SecDef job, if only for the chaos and consternation it will cause among the Bad Guys, and possibly make Mr. Putin feel much like Lando Calrissian. Mr. Trump is notorious for altering the deal. That might have been a better name for his book, subtitled, “How to get what you want then kick your partner in the . . .”

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This Day

Today marks the 53rd anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis, among others. I first learned of Lewis some months after his death, in a magazine notice, probably an appreciation or obituary, in the winter of 1964.

In The Great Divorce, Lewis pokes some gentle fun at himself in imagining his own encounter with George MacDonald, whom he regarded as a sort of saving mentor. Minding his example, I’ll try not to exaggerate his influence on me. I’ll say, I never read an uninteresting sentence from him, or a boring one.

So rest in peace, Jack, and rise in glory, and know that I and millions more are at this time of thanks, grateful for your life, work, and witness.

It’s late, but:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_UvXe-of-s

 

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Eye on the Ball

Mr. Pence said that when he heard boos from the audience, he told his daughter, who was also in attendance, “That’s what freedom sounds like.”

Don’t get distracted by the President-elects ability to distract us with his tweeting. He’s a stage magician – watch the off-hand, not the one in the spotlight. Will he be able to sequester his business life from his new role?  Will he want to? Does he know he should? Who’s getting what job? No one should treat the man as a bumbling naif; he knows how to distract and misdirect.

And, for those who know it not, real conservatives, of which number Mr. Pence may be counted, are free speech absolutists. Tis better to be booed than to have one’s boots licked.

Now back to keeping an eagle eye on his boss.

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Freakout! Division!

There’s something in educator’s water that’s driving them to long letters about last week’s presidential election. Readers have been sending examples to Scott Johnson at Powerline: here’s his most recent example. This has spread to chairfolk of YWCAs and even to elementary school principals. Heavens to Murgatroyd.

A common theme is these screeds (besides some virtue signalling:  “I didn’t vote for Trump! It’s not my fault!”) is that the election was divisive, as if this is something unusual or rare. Goodness gracious me, any community of more than 1 is frequently divided, and I at least often argue with myself. Sometimes with acrimony. Communities fight. I believe that the collective noun for a group of Anglican liturgists is “a bicker.” Legend has it that St. Nicholas of Myra slugged the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicea. Yeah, the Santa Claus guy. What matters is the resolution to division, not that it happens.

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My Brain Hurts

Harnessed, the incendiary codswallop I’ve read in the last 24 hours would light North America, easy. One reason for #NeverTrump was always that he might win, and his horribleness used to paint conservative policies with the ugly brush. It’s already being done – Oren Cass has a little summary of today’s efforts, here.

No, Trump didn’t win because of some vast uprising of (mildly miffed) white men. He won because 5 or 6 million people who voted for Obama 4 years ago didn’t vote for Clinton. Where’d they go? Sure didn’t transfer their affections to Trump. If they’d voted for Clinton we’d all be getting ready for Hillary, so if you’re Most Seriously Displeased about Trump’s election, go look in the mirror. Clinton managed to alienate the coal industry, the entire state of West Virginia, lots of Catholics and Evangelicals, and most military veterans. Was she trying to lose?

No, he’s not marching us into fascism. Go read about the rise of dictatorships in Italy and Germany between the World Wars. Both countries had scant experience of democracy, both had large populations of idle and alienated young men used to being under arms, and both Mussolini (who was much admired here in the US in the post WW I era, btw) and Hitler were very skilled politicians and rhetoricians of a certain type. And young. Trump is 70, does not lead a citizen army of disaffected and militant peers, and has never demonstrated any real rhetorical skill. He’s presents other dangers, but not this one. For conservatives –

Wait a minute. I just realized that people who get their information from the NYT/WaPo/HuffPo bubble might not know what a “conservative” is – the writers there mostly don’t . Hm. Don’t know where to start. Small government, small taxes, free speech, yeah, yeah. I really suggest you read Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism (really, it’s lots of fun and gives a lot of clues about why crises are so important) and Amity Schlaes’ Coolidge (it’s really good and you’ll learn a lot about how a conservative president operates. And how Washington DC has been a problem for a looooooong time) concurrently. Take your time.

For conservatives, this election was like this Michael Ramirez cartoon – below the fold, because, well, trigger. See how nice I am?

I think I’ll spend the next few months in another century. Got recommendations?

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