Ave Fit Ex Eva

Happy, holy and blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception!

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Immaculate Conception, El Greco, 1610. You can count on El Greco for weird and arresting colors and composition, and also for unusual insights into the emotions of the scene depicted. For example, study Mary’s face in the painting. 

This is a lovely and evocative feast. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a wonderful expression of faith understood through tradition and logic.

I was a little disappointed at mass this morning when the homilist stuck to a Sunday school level exposition of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. He first spent a couple minutes making clear that we’re talking about Mary being preserves from original sin, not Jesus’s divine conception or virgin birth, then explained how Mary needed to be kept free of sin in order to be the Mother of the sinless God – well and good.  But we left it there.

It was completely orthodox, something for which I suppose I should be thankful, especially given some of the homilies I’ve heard at this particular church (recently retired: a Jesuit, and a super-duper spirit of V-II priest.) But my mind went back to this little ditty, the sources of the text for which dates to the Middle Ages:

(Not the exact text Williametta Spencer used – I couldn’t find it – but close)

1. Gabriel of high degree,
He came down from the Trinity
From Nazareth to Galilee,
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

2. He met a maiden in a place;
He kneeled down before her face;
He said: “Hail, Mary, full of grace!”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

3. When the maiden saw all this,
She was sore abashed, ywis,
Lest that she had done amiss.
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

4. Then said the angel: “Dread not you,
Ye shall conceive in all virtue
A child whose name shall be Jesu.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

5. Then said the maid: “How may this be,
God’s Son to be born of me?
I know not of man’s carnality.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

6. Then said the angel anon right:
“The Holy Ghost is on thee alight;
There is no thing unpossible to God Almight.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

7. Then said the angel anon:
“It is not fully six months agone,
Since Saint Elizabeth conceived Saint John.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

8. Then said the maid anon quickly:
“I am God’s own truly,
Ecce ancilla Domini.”
Nova, nova, nova! Ave fit ex Eva

It seems those poor ignorant medieval peasants were getting markedly deeper theology in popular songs than one can nowadays expect from the pulpit.

The refrain is the key: Ave, the first word of the angel’s greeting of Mary, is made from (fit ex) Eve’s sin. The medievals loved the little accidental palindrome of Ave – Eva. In fact, they didn’t really believe in coincidences like this – they thought that the all-loving God would quite naturally use little associations like this to make His Love known.

For the Ave really is made by reversing the Eva. Mary is not the only Immaculate Conception, in the sense of the only person born without Original Sin. There are 4: Mary, her Divine Son, Adam – and Eve.

Eve, sinless and blessed with a personal knowledge of God, who walked with them in the cool of the evening, nonetheless chose to reject His will. By means of her ‘No’ to the will of God, all her children inherited a darkness of intellect, a weakening of the will, and a tendency to choose evil. And we all thus die.

Mary, also sinless and blessed – full of grace, even – and free of those curses, is thus able to respond to God’s call with complete freedom. By means of her ‘Yes’ all her children inherit the grace of salvation, and are likewise free to chose to do God’s will.

Eve, the mother of mankind, and Mary, the Mother of God and the mother of the all who follow her Son, are set in parallel for our contemplation. One chose hard but well, the other chose poorly. One was faced with a simple prohibition – don’t eat the fruit! – and could not trust God enough to obey. The other was faced with a huge unknown, and chose to trust God’s will anyway. Neither knew what would happen, but Eve hoped to become a god herself but becomes instead the mother of sin, while Mary loses herself in God and becomes the queen of heaven and earth.

When it comes to revealed truths, Thomists have from the beginning loved to argue from appropriateness – we may not be able to reason our way to a particular truth (that’s why it is revealed) but we can see that the revelation is meet and just. And thus it is with the Immaculate Conception: it is meet and just that, since sin entered the world through the choice of the woman Eve, that salvation should enter the world through the choice of the woman Mary; that, as Eve was sinless and thus perfectly free to choose, Mary must needs be sinless and perfectly free to choose; that, just as the result of Eve’s poor choice was death for her children, the result of Mary’s good choice is life for her children. As brothers and sisters of Christ, we are children of Mary.

The Immaculate Conception is celebrated as a great feast of Advent, because Mary’s preparation for the coming of Our Lord, and embrace and acceptance of the consequences of that coming, are meant to inspire and inform our own preparations and our own acceptance of the Lord. Our salvation is and has always been an unmerited gift. We must, like Mary, say ‘yes’ and be prepared to live out the implications of that yes in our lives.

The Harrowing of Hell, depicted in the Petites Heures de Jean de Berry, 14th-century illuminated manuscript By Anonimous – from en.wikipedia.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3170407

The final punchline is something often portrayed in medieval art: the Harrowing of Hell. Christ, during His time in the Tomb, is portrayed opening the gates of Hell and freeing those souls who had yearned for His coming but were not yet saved because he had not yet come.

The first two people out are always Adam and Eve. Thus, even Eve, our mother in sin, is saved by means of the ‘Yes’ of Mary, our mother through our being the brothers and sisters of Christ. To the medieval mind, the symmetry and beauty of such a resolution and such mercy was indeed meet and just, a magnum mysterium to be contemplated in awe.

 

 

 

 

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An Invitation to Solemn Joy

Yesterday, the family attended Mass at beautiful St. Dominic’s Church in San Francisco, one of the loveliest churches on the West Coast.

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The neo-Gothic style building is situated in a bit of a valley or hillside on the north side of San Francisco not far from the Presidio. It’s not a particularly large or imposing structure, especially when compared to the Cathedral or St. Ignatius in the City.

The interior, in particular, is very well done. A slightly yellow-tinted stone was used for most of the interior, which gives it a warmth. The many stained glass windows fill it with richly colored light. The woodwork on the confessionals and trim is beautiful German craftsmanship. The proportions are glorious yet still human scale.

I love the high altar in particular. The classic semicircular apse, raised a couple steps above the nave, with an ambulatory which provides access to the sacristy, has the effect of at once setting the sanctuary apart while also allowing people to walk around it easily. The altar piece features Dominican saints arrayed around the Crucifix and Tabernacle. The altar rail, although I suppose unused for decades, is attractive and, more important, still there.

The interior is at once joyful, playful, even, in that Gothic way, and completely serious. The result of all this, and the defining characteristic of St. Dominic’s, is that it is a special place, a place set apart. It could not be mistaken for any other kind of building.

St. Dominic’s is an invitation to solemn, almost stern, joy. In a way more definite than even a burning bush, everything tells you you are on holy ground. You should be silent and pay attention. Something Important happens here.

Built in the 1920s, this building is a concrete expression of the Latin Mass, and not just in having been built to facilitate the rituals. It shares an esthetic with the old Mass, and, much more – they share a spiritual mission.

Having recently been blessed to attend the Ordinary Form of the Mass in the way envisioned (and commanded!) by Vatican II – ad orientem and in Latin – it’s easy to imagine that the Novus Ordo, too, shares that same spiritual mission. It’s also hard not to conclude that the Ordinary Form as done 99.99% of the time in this neck of the woods – ad populum and in English, sure, but more important, with the sensibilities of a game show – does not.

The Mass as actually celebrated by the wonderful Dominicans at St. Dominic’s is, of course, beautiful and efficacious, and we are grateful for having been blessed to attend it. And the artistic and spiritual spirit of the building does seem to have a calming affect, inspiring a level of reverence sadly lacking in most parish churches. But the gap between architecture and the practice that architecture embodies was palpable. It would no doubt foment a revolution of sorts, but I imagine that, for some people, maybe many people, that if they started doing an ad orientem Mass in Latin there, they would never want to go back. They harmony of building and practice would call to them. They would know that they were home.

 

On Sacrificing Children to Educational Abstractions

One view I run across from time to time holds that all parents are morally obliged to send their children to public schools for the greater good. Googling produces:

If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person (From Slate, you’ll be stunned to learn)

There’s a Simple Solution to the Public Schools Crisis ban private schools! (Gawker – likewise shocking.)

Why not ban private schools? From some education blog doing its part to normalize the concept. Warren Buffet is a fan, bringing to mind a quotation from the otherwise forgettable I Robot movie:

Let’s complete our sources with the Huffington Post:  Warren Buffett Is Right: It’s Time to Ban Private Schools Well, that should about settle it. When such luminous examples of enlightenment and right thinking come thundering together like a herd of cliff-bound buffalo, what is a mere mortal to do but agree?

A smarter dumb person might refer such thinkers to the 1925 Supreme Court case  Pierce v. Society of Sisters, in which the Court stated that

Under the doctrine of Meyer v. Nebraska,262 U.S. 390, we think it entirely plain that the Act of 1922 unreasonably interferes with the liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control: as often heretofore pointed out, rights guaranteed by the Constitution may not be abridged by legislation which has no reasonable relation to some purpose within the competency of the State. The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

(Aside: interesting to note how the Wikipedia essay and a few other sources I looked at – they possibly all came from some one common source – ignored, or all but ignored, the passage above and its implications, but focused instead on how the court determined this law unconstitutionally put legitimate businesses – schools – out of business without cause or compensation. So, let’s talk money instead of the rights of parents and children? Hmmm.)

But we only like legal precedent when it backs up what we already favor – it is only to be ignored when it doesn’t. So I suppose this is unconvincing, and we must now rehash the ancient, ancient history of 90 years ago, when people were much less sophisticated and enlightened than they are now.

All this came to mind while reading a rather preposterous essay at something called the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal which, to be fair, seems to have its heart in the right place. The essay, A Letter to Conservatives: You Need College and College Definitely Needs You, applies roughly the same logic the above thinkers cooked up for k-12 public schools to public colleges and universities.

You can read it, if that floats your boat. Lots to talk about. Here, I’ll confine myself to just one little thing, something that often infects postmodern popular thinking when its pretending to be fair and is the unspoken crux of this pro state colleges and universities argument:(1) that, simply because the positions can and have been separated along a pre-existing political conservative/liberal axis, they must each be treated as equals, having equal weight and deserving of equal respect.

The thing is, state colleges and universities are not the voting booth, where we have an opportunity free from coercion to express our political beliefs by picking candidates and laws we like. Even more important, we spend maybe a few hours of our lives each year on voting, and even then only if we want to. Colleges and universities, especially if you don’t live at home, are all but 24/7 with comparatively rare and temporary escapes, for as long as you attend them. You won’t merely be harangued for a few minutes while you gut your way through the opposite side’s arguments in the voter’s pamphlet. Nope – teachers will harangue you in class, pester you with homework, grade you on how well you can regurgitate their views and otherwise force-feed you their positions.

And the college student is typically 18 to 22 or so, which is by no stretch a mature adult. These days, at least.

What if, say, one side is happy to argue with and make space for the other, while the other side attempts to exclude and silence their opponents? Forget the political associations for a moment. This isn’t traditional Republicans and Democrats here, who have (had?) some incentive to work together at least some of the time. This is between ideologues who believe their end is so wonderful as to justify any means, that the individual is nothing and the collective everything, who believe rights accrue to people only insofar as they are true believers, and even then only so long as those rights don’t interfere with the goal – and people who reject all those claims. The latter position welcomes argument; the former sees rational discussion as something dangerous to be shouted down, and those who insist on it to be vilified.

So, pretending like subjecting your kid to Marxists is just another learning experience, like a field trip to the sea shore, and at any rate is comparable to subjecting them to classical liberal education is mind-blowingly clueless, at best.

For example:

What about indoctrination by leftist professors? The lack of viewpoint diversity in the academy is definitely a problem. It frustrates me to see how ideologically-biased the social sciences and humanities in particular have become. Academia has long leaned left, but, as has been revealed in a number of recent surveys, this is increasingly the case. In some disciplines, it is easier to find a Marxist than a Republican. Classical liberalism is giving way to left-wing fundamentalism.

As a result, you feel like the college campus is not a welcoming place for your kind. But do you like the safe space movement on many college campuses you keep hearing about? Well, conservatives don’t need safe spaces either.

Your sons and daughters should go to college and take the full range of classes, even ones from Marxist sociologists. They will learn something. In fact, if your children share your conservative views, they will receive a better education than the progressive students who are getting their beliefs reinforced, not challenged. Your children’s thinking on important issues will become more nuanced and sophisticated.

Education is about expanding knowledge and being exposed to new ideas, not affirming existing beliefs. Plus, many college courses have little or nothing to do with political or social ideology.

Note how little concern is shown for the intellectual (or moral) fate of the already liberal kids being indoctrinated by Marxists – and learning not to argue and to condemn as hopelessly benighted any who are so unenlightened as to disagree. That’s presumed to be just dandy, except insofar as they won’t get quite as good an education as those conservative kids who take those same classes and – it is presumed – are immune to all the social and psychological pressure to conform such classes bring to bear. Mom and dad are presumed to have never taken such classes or heard of Stockholm Syndrome.

Anyway: a parent’s first loyalty and duty are to his kids, not the public schools nor the state control such schools represent. The Supreme Court has made that the law of the land! You’re not letting anyone down, and certainly not your kid, by refusing to send them to a public school, or state college or university.

(My kids were told they could go to any college they wanted, but if they wanted my financial help, it needed to be on the Newman List.)

  1. In the articles linked above, there is no pretense at withholding judgement: those who disagree – conservatives and other on the Wrong Side of History, one can safely conclude from who the publishers are – are dismissed with a sneer. Only the last essay, which is attempting to reason with conservatives, doesn’t do that – but it doesn’t sneer at the Liberal position, either.

The Popcorn Guy

Many years ago, my wife worked at a law firm that employed a man I’ll call the Popcorn Guy as an office gofer. He was slovenly and grossly overweight, but laughed a lot, and so seemed to get along, more or less, with the staff. They even gave him so sort of employee award at some company dinner or other. Management had nice things to say about the Popcorn Guy’s cheerfulness as they awarded him.

Being nearly as low on the totem pole as the Popcorn Guy, my wife had a different perspective. To her eyes, the Popcorn Guy was always angry about something, had a very difficult time taking even basic instruction, and was all and all not a pleasant person. Once, they got some sort of office popcorn maker to which one added oil as well as popcorn (hot air evidently not having been invented yet). The Popcorn Guy asks – doesn’t look at the instructions, just asks – how much oil to put in. Several people say some tiny amount, along the lines of a tablespoon or two. Popcorn Guy proceeds to put in several times that amount of oil, pops a bowl and eats the greasy results with no fear anyone else will want any.

Management wanted him to be some sort of jolly fat guy, a colorful and lovable character, and so they pretended he was and failed to see he wasn’t.  A little while later, he was let go. Don’t know what precipitated his firing, but it seems management’s view of the Popcorn Guy caught up with the understanding of those who actually worked elbow to elbow with him.

No profound insights or anything here, just an observation: not only are we sorely tempted to see what we want to see, we tend to understand people’s behaviors against whatever slot we’ve put them in. We’re able to reinterpret away behavior that would otherwise contradict our pre-judgement. At least, until we can’t.

My own interpersonal skills and impulse control, while within ‘normal’ ranges for a 20th century man, are not particularly good, probably below the mean (pretending here that we could measure such things numerically in some non-farcical way. But you get the drift.). I seem to function OK. But I sometimes wonder if my role isn’t something like the child who points out the Emperor is naked, not because I have any superior insight, but just because a lot of the posturing goes right over my head. Or I’m just kidding myself – it would be hard for me to tell, wouldn’t it?

Saw that our president was catching flak over having misspelled “Philippines” in a tweet, complete with grave ponderings over what it means that such a careless person holds the reigns of power. As a somewhat spelling-challenged person, I’ll point out that Philippines is not only a tricky word to spell, but it’s one of those evil words that doesn’t look wrong when you misspell it. Anyway, I have a difficult time extrapolating from misspelled tweets to Apocalyptic Danger.  Spelling errors in informal communications don’t shake the foundations of my world, even when the president makes them.

This brings to mind Dubya’s constant mispronunciation of “nuclear”. For people who assumed, contrary to all evidence, that Bush the Younger was singularly stupid for a politician, this common mispronunciation was maddening proof – a moron stole the election from Gore the Brilliant!! Woe and Ruin!! I, not really caring much beyond being happy that with Bush as president, at least the arrogant hypocrite tool wasn’t (I take comfort where I can), saw an Old Money Blue Blood Yankee with elite Ivy education playing a calculated card: my supporters, for most part, either mispronounce “nuclear” themselves or have loved ones who do so. Therefore, it will make me seem more like them (along with the fake-ish Southern accent and cowboy boots). That it will only infuriate those who would never support me anyway is also a plus – makes my opponents look like petty weasels to my base. Win-win!

As far as intelligence – an admittedly hard to define idea – goes, seemed to me that, of the presidents during my adult life, Reagan and Dubya were similarly intelligent – pretty darn smart, Bush the Elder was a little smarter, Clinton was very, very smart – and Carter and Obama were clearly less smart. I say this based on their actual achievements and having heard them speak *off the cuff*.  Let’s take them one by one:

Carter seemed completely overwhelmed as president from day one, like all it would take is a well-timed ‘boo!’ or a stiff breeze to cause him to collapse in a heap. What came out of his mouth off-script was often sheer nonsense. We – I include my 18-yr old self, who voted for him – tended to overlook that because he seemed like a good man with his heart in the right place. But objectively? A muddle-headed do-gooder (a dangerous type to have in power!) who was way over his head as president. His post-president role with Habitat for Humanity seems much more suited to his skill level.

Reagan got his big breaks by being tall, good looking and having a super-sized dollop of ah-shucks boyish charm. The intelligence kicks in when he played that hand to stardom, presidency of the Screen Actor’s Guild, governor of California and then the Presidency. Because, frankly, that’s just not that good of a hand. Thousands of people who never made it in Hollywood had that hand, and more. Reagan was also able to express himself very well on or off script. He seemed to have a deep understanding of where he stood on things, and was able to get it across. That’s no mean skill.

People loved or hated Reagan because he consistently said the big ‘No’: No, this whole Progressive thing isn’t on the Right Side of History, but on the murdering, impoverishing, enslaving side – as history itself shows. And they knew, in their hearts, it was true. Can’t get any more heroic/hateful than that!  And then he went and succeeded, pretty much. And the Soviet Union fell.

So Reagan has his own wing on Mt. Olympus or bolgia in Hell – take your pick.

Bush the Elder is by all accounts a very smart man, and an honest to goodness war hero for which he will always have my respect. His big break was being born into the Bush family. At least early on, there seems to have been a strong kicked-out-of-the-nest go-do-something-with-your-life ethic in the Bush tribe, with of course the advantage of old money being able to kick down doors. Again, as in the case of Reagan, that’s a good start, but not enough, at least at the Bush family’s level of wealth. That’ll get you opportunities and maybe promotions, but won’t make you a lot richer or get you elected to Congress. Bush played the hand he was dealt quite well.

Unlike Reagan (or even, to some extent, his own son), H.W. doesn’t give the impression of a clear-headed True Believer. One always suspects he’s not saying what he really thinks. I think that’s part of the reason he seems to babble off-text. All in all, I have the least clear impression of Bush the Elder than of any other presidents on this list, except that he’s not stupid by any stretch.

Clinton is the clear intelligence winner on this list, it seems to me. Very smart man. I will here mention what should be obvious: intelligence doesn’t equal goodness, or in fact have all that much to do with it. I don’t like smart presidents any more than less smart ones for that fact alone. It’s just one item in a mix.

Clinton got few breaks aside from being very, very smart, and charming as all get out, which gifts he played to the hilt. He gets the Don King ‘dug myself out of the damn ground just to reach the starting line’ award here. Both his academic achievements and the way he managed his political career speak of one very sharp dude. Greedy, unscrupulous, dishonest, manipulative, self-destructive – sure. But way smart.

Dubya seems like a pretty typical Ivy dude trying hard to pass as a normal human being. As the ‘nuclear’ story illustrates, I think there’s a calculated side to him that his critics seems to always miss. You have to be pretty smart to carry that off convincingly enough to get elected president, which he did twice. Plus the stories about him assigning nicknames to everyone shows a man with a clear grasp of how one reinforces Alpha-male status. You are what he says you are, no matter how playfully it may seem. Frat bro trick.

As hinted at above, I think Dubya really truly believes – something. If he were clear-headed enough to allow the thought to crystalize, probably something along the lines that he and his kind really, really need to be in charge – for our own good. Nothing scares people accustomed to generational leadership and control more than the idea that we don’t actually need generational leadership and control. But I’m not sure how Bush understands this, just that he seems motivated by convictions of some sort.

Aside: politics comes from culture which comes from family, so nothing could be more natural than for an old family to suppose that they must be in control, since 1) they and their peers are families; and 2) they are cultured and carriers and transmitters of culture. But a good, solid culture coming from good solid families doesn’t need for some elite to be in control of politics generation after generation. Politics exists as an expression of the need to protect and promote family and the community life that results from family. Once personal rights got severed from family and community rights and duties, we were doomed. How we reestablish those connections, if they can be reestablished, is the big question. Onward:

If it weren’t for Trump, Obama would be the president with the widest chasm between what people think of him – project on him, really – and what he really seems to be. My take is tainted, perhaps, by having spent far too much time in and around colleges and schools. What I see, and saw the first time I watched O in action, was every star pupil, every teacher’s pet, I’d ever known rolled up into one.

What I see is the Warren G. Harding of this generation, except without Harding’s humble self-awareness. Harding, it seems, was aware on some level that he had no business being president, that his wife and friends and cronies had put him up to it because, frankly, he looked and sounded like a president:

Warren Gamaliel Harding (1865 - 1923) - Genealogy
He had a lovely and convincing speaking voice as well. Critics often pointed out that he said empty nonsense very beautifully.

Obama strikes me as what happens when a kid has been patted on the head his whole life and told what a smart boy he is. He comes to believe it. Coupled with his good looks, photogenic family and decent (wildly overrated, IMO) oratory skills, all he lacked was Harding’s big break –  somebody else to decide he’d make a good president. Good for that somebody else, at least.

O is no better than Dubya at speaking off script. It is very telling how Dubya’s mistakes off the cuff were reported as harbingers of the End Times, while O’s equally goofy mistakes were nothing to be alarmed at. If we were honest, we’d know it’s very, very difficult when speaking off the cuff to keep it clean and clear. Most of the time, such stumbles should carry little if any weight. It’s a rare gift to not stumble around when put on the spot like that. (Netanyahu seems to have it, or just rehearses very, very thoroughly. Small sample size.)

The praises heaped upon Obama’s oratory and brilliance have seemed wildly hyperbolic from the start. This is a brilliant man and orator for the ages? Truly, projection in the service of wish fulfillment has no bounds.

Nope, nothing in O’s history or performance suggests anything above a high-normal intelligence – right about where I’d place Dubya. He’s a smart man, but nothing special, EXCEPT he grew up in an academic world, with an academic for a mom and grandparents, and academic aspirations and expectations.

Just as Dubya’s family expected him to get through school – Ivy, of course – and then get out and get on with making something of himself, O’s family expected him to do well in school – Ivy, of course – and then aspire to something approved of by academics. So he became a professor, then, after the degenerate hopes and dreams of modern academia, a community organizer.

As mentioned above, I’ve spent a lot of time around academics, both as a student and socially (I even stepped in to co-teach a college class once. I should tell that story sometime.) Since I got out of highschool, I’ve routinely signed up for classes wherever I could – my transcripts look insane! I’ve gotten credits from at least 7 institutions (off the top of my head). Hung around with a Stanford crowd for a couple years – choir – including a number of elite professors. And:

Academics – and there are of course exceptions – are among the most hypersensitive egomaniacs I’ve ever run across. This is in inverse proportion to the ‘hardness’ of their specialties: Math professors are comfortable in their skins, accounting profs can be. They know that their positions depend on objectively verifiable and valuable expertise. Business ethicists? (Yes, I had to take that class.) My sample brooked NO challenges, while of course presenting as laid back, open-minded and above all FAIR. Comp Lit? Right. These types know that, really, there are a lot of people who could do the part of their job of any value, and that they got that job only due to luck or the fact that they gave the hiring committee the most boxes to check off.

And don’t even go there with various ‘studies’ professors. Yikes. They know deep inside that not only did they get their job to fill some quota, nothing they know or teach has any intrinsic value to anybody. That’s why they’re so loud – can’t give the small quiet voice any chance to be heard.

So: when I meet academics – and, let’s be clear, I tend to like academics, they’re often very interesting if you get them talking – I start wondering. I don’t immediately go to: this is a member of the intellectual elite, to whom I owe some obsequious bows. I think: here’s a guy who might know something interesting about some narrow field or other, and, to paraphrase Chesterton, was smart enough to get the degree and dull enough to want it.

So, back to O. I’m not impressed that he was a professor of constitutional law. Of all the areas of law, that’s the one closest to philosophy and farthest from real life. Thus, susceptible to conquest by posers. Show me something. Second, give me a guy who has run a corner store in a iffy neighborhood over a community organizer, if I want someone who understand the downtrodden. So, not impressed. O would not dominate the faculty lounge, nor could time in the ‘hood be expected to teach him anything – he expects to teach them.

But what O did do, like Harding, is attract the attention of ambitious people. The people who run Chicago. People who know how to get things done. People who know *ahem* how to get people elected. Unlike Harding, O seems to believe his own PR.

Finally, Trump sure polarizes people, so that folks like me, who don’t think he’s either some glorious savior nor the the new He Who Shall Not Be Named, have to explain, it seems, why we don’t love or hate him the proper amount. Because, ultimately, he’s just a guy? Who will be president for at most 8 years? Who has given no indication he has any plans for internment camps nor mass deportations? (Unlike Antifa, which has announced its deep hope for a chance to kill a few tens of millions like other good Communists. But I digress…)

Cunning is the word that springs to mind when considering Trump. He’s certainly no dummy, as he will happily tell you. I worry more that he’s a true believer – in Trump. As mentioned in other posts, he went from old school New York liberal to crusading conservative with whiplash-inducing suddenness. What gives me the most hope: his ultimate agenda seems to be to stick it to the people who pooh-poohed him – and, frankly, I’m on board with that. As also mentioned elsewhere here, he seems to make the right heads explode.

And, if we accept spite and vengeance as the operative premise, the dude is very, very cunning. As far as intelligence goes, there are many different flavors, and looking to the one Trump is working with here, he’s a genius. He wouldn’t, and doesn’t, get any respect in the faculty lounge, but as a wheeler-dealer street-brawler type huckster, he’s absolutely brilliant.

The above opinions are worth what you paid for them.

The Fluidity of Blame

So, as they say, grab some popcorn. We all have front-row seats to Pandora’s box’s grand opening: Once the smallest cracks in the raw political power of the big shots in entertainment (and elsewhere – we’ll get to that) began to show, people who’d been silenced for years began to spill their stories of ‘sexual misconduct’ a catch-all term for any sexual activities that have yet to be normalized.

Not sure what it means to say that all that’s coming out now is what everybody already knew – I’d have to assume everybody except proper law enforcement agencies? Or are they in on this, too? (Sadly, one could easily imagine it. Think of the pressure that could be brought to bear on the Hollywood or even LA Chief of Police by a bunch of famous millionaires. The kind of people who throw political fundraisers for the right kinds of politicians. The kind of people who’ve made a lot of money off Kevin Spacey flicks. Not hard to imagine some aspiring actress or crew member being advised by the police to, in so many words, shut up and take the money. Not saying this is what happened, just that it’s not hard to imagine.)

Now this catharsis, if that’s what it is, has spread to other areas. Apart from his fine last name, I know nothing of this Judge Moore person, except that the Democrats of both parties loathe him and that, one month before the election that would put him into Congress allegations of sexual misconduct from 30 to 40 years ago have been raised. Reactions have ranged from ‘he should step down immediately’ all the way to ‘he should step down immediately if the accusations are true’.

Judge Moore has vehemently denied the allegations and pointed out the very convenient political timing and the fact that these women have had decades to make their accusations but did not. Unfortunately for him, the Hollywood situation appears to take the wind out of that last point. In Hollywood, the story goes, a climate of fear prevailed that only now (magically?) has been breached. Decades of silence in the face of such institutional intimidation is understandable and even to be expected. That no case (that I’ve heard of) has been made that Moore was part of such an institutional reign of terror seems to be missed.

I’m in no position to judge the believability of Moore’s accusers. Neither is anyone else, really – that’s what trials are for. That’s also the point: there will be no trial, or, at the very least, no trail before the elections. The accusers have no chance to make their case; Moore has no chance to clear his name. As I’ve said, I have no opinion on any of these folks, don’t know them from Adam and Eve. The situation, however, stinks.

What I wanted to address here today is strategy, and how the political divide is also of necessity a strategic divide. Moore takes the classic position: he denies the accusations. Politically, he forces people to either say: Moore is tainted, he must step down *even if* he’s innocent (that last part is optional – his enemies want him out, and don’t care if massive injustice is committed doing it) OR accusations are cheap, a man is innocent until proven guilty, and the timing of all this is very questionable at best and pure political character assassination at worst. Moore should carry on.

In other words, Moore’s strategy is to rely on personal responsibility – he either did stuff, or he didn’t. If he did, throw the book at him; if he didn’t, throw it at his accusers. In the meantime, stay the course and get into Congress. If the accusations prove true, you can throw him out. Moore seems confident (but of course he would have to to follow this strategy) that he will be exonerated.

But the other side is not playing that game. Weinstein, who never really denied the accusations, instead headed for 6 whole days of therapy somewhere out of reach of US law enforcement, to be cured of his sickness. Based on the miraculous cure Weinstein reported, Spacey, after the most tepid of excuses, headed for the same clinic. I expect similar scenarios – call it the Polanski Option – to play out over time.

Various articles have been published on the culture of Hollywood and even the culture of the 70s (Weinstein’s own personal absolution) to explain why these men behaved as they did. It’s the culture! Don’t blame *me*! I’m another victim here, just like the adolescents I sodomized!

These criminals are sick, you see, and not to be held responsible, or at least not completely responsible, for their actions. The culture the poor innocents were raised in made them that way! You don’t want to beat up on sick people who threatened, bullied and raped your daughters and sons – that would be mean! Instead, we need to fix the culture! Recalibrate the power dynamic! That’s the only real solution.

One is tempted to point out that Judge Moore’s approach is that of a man who hopes to be proven innocent. Whether he’s innocent or not, he would at least have to believe that the legal evidence against him is not overwhelming.  Weinstein, Spacy and the growing bandwagon of famous perps would only pursue the strategy they do if they knew the evidence was overwhelmingly against them. The day in court where their victims presented their evidence would likely be the last day they walked free for a long, long, time.

Here, Critical Theory in all its evil glory intersects with reality: if all unhappiness is the result of power dynamics, and if all rights result from how well one conforms themselves to true consciousness – how woke you are – then the only thing that matters is achieving and spreading enlightenment. Actions can only be judged by how well they further the Revolution. The individual is nothing, the collective is all, as Trotsky and other true believers have pointed out.

So, just as Stalin’s slaughter of millions of unarmed men, women and children cannot be judged evil in itself, but must be weighed against the glory of his ultimate goal – the dawning of the Workers’ Paradise – so Weinstein’s crimes – weaknesses, really – are more than offset by the good he does promoting Progressive causes – that old Workers’ Paradise, again.  (Can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, as Walter Durante, a non-egg, pointed out.)

So: I predict Weinstein will get a full or partial pass by a distressingly large number of people. Not much of a prediction, since it’s already happening. And that Judge Moore will be held in contempt even if he’s totally exonerated. Again, not much of a prediction, since there’s already an unquenchable hatred for the guy in many hearts.

One last point, one often evidently forgotten or forcibly suppressed: A system of law and justice only works when personal responsibility is conclusively assumed, where one can say if A murdered B, A is guilty of murder. If class determines blame, then all that needs to be done is to show membership in an innocent class – and repent from membership in any guilty classes (ah, the joys of intersectionality!). So, if Weinstein, Spacey et al can prove they’re on the Right Side of History ™ and grovel enough for being rich, white and male – well, all will be right as rain! Judge Moore, on the other hand, is white, male, heterosexual – the list of blame and evil goes on and on – and unrepentant. No mere facts could ever absolve him.

Image result for this little rat is guilty
This little rat is guilty!

We’ve reached the Cliffs of Insanity.

Updates: Airports & Atlanta & Reading

(Taking this up from yesterday evening.)

A. Sitting in the T Terminal (named after the fashion of D-Day, I suppose) in Atlanta International. I like Atlanta and its airport, mostly. Not getting a chance this trip to walk the long subterranean corridor connecting terminals A through, I dunno, Z? which has some interesting art as well as a bit of a spelunking feel about it. The narrower and darker-feeling  passages one walks between well-lit art areas and busy shuttle train stops are tiny little adventures, with few boring businessmen or travelers of any kind taking them. The bright and fast shuttle trains beckon, Siren-like.

At least, that’s how it used to be. Things have changed at ATL. I had several hours to wander T-Terminal, and found it had been remodeled. My memory, which also ain’t what it used to be, recalled that T had the best food options of all the alphabet terminals – e.g., a hip-looking place that dispensed good fresh salad, and, I think, a better than average burrito place. These are things you find out when you travel for business a lot. I did so a decade ago, not so much the last 5-6 years. My information is both dated and faded.

So I got a veggie footlong at Subway. Hate sitting in a ‘real’ restaurant by myself, and Subway was the next best thing.

Compare and contrast with SFO Terminal 2, out of which I flew to ATL. It’s been years since I’d last been there – I tend to fly out of Oakland – OAK – because it’s closer and smaller. But I’ll drive a bit for direct flights, and the cheap ones were out of SFO. Anyway, due to a confluence of forces (missed noon flight, next one out was a redeye), I was stuck there in Terminal 2 for a number of hours.

The food options were, frankly, awesome. They had, among other nice choices, very nice Mexican food, a sushi bar that always had a line, a gourmet burger place, two Peet’s, frozen yogurt – in short, all my on the road food whims were abundantly addressed. Ended up having marvelous fish tacos for lunch, and 5 hours later, a very good burger for dinner. I don’t recall anything remotely this nice from the last time I was through, but, as noted, it’s been a while and my memory is not Dante’s.

Don’t know what to make of this. Terminals get nicer, mostly, while the flights themselves get more like Greyhound bus rides without the gritty charm. The economics of all this are not transparent – while many travelers including me shop price first and foremost, leading to bare-bones flights, we evidently are willing to drop $30+ on fish tacos, guacamole & chips, and a beer? Or are the airlines competing for one set of customers – bottom feeders – while the shops and restaurants in the terminals compete for the money of the 1st and business class people? Airlines compete across a wide range of factors, so provide a wide range of options. But you couldn’t find a Taco Bell in Terminal 2, nor a sushi joint in T-Terminal. Whoever is leasing out terminal space seems to make a narrow call, intentionally or not, that attracts a set of retailers with a fairly narrow target market.

I’m sure MBA papers have been written on this. I’ve about exhausted my curiosity for now.

B. MARTA is one thing I like about Atlanta. As long as your destination is along that north/south corridor, MARTA’s hard to beat for convenience. So far, over the years, all but one of my Atlanta customers and conventions have been on that artery. I get to grab my luggage and walk to the ATL MARTA station, and, for a couple bucks, take a nice clean train to within a couple blocks of my destination. Sweet.

But mostly I like people watching & interactions. This trip, after my red eye, I was catching the train at 5:30 a.m. There was one man asleep – his feet were sticking out – and a couple more people who did not look like travellers.

(On the ride back, a woman struck up a conversation with me and three other conventioneers who were together because we were all heading back to California – she took MARTA to work from the airport, because it was easiest for her mother to drop her off there. So, even at the end-of-the-line airport station, it seems a lot of the passengers are locals.)

As train filled up over the next couple stops, I noticed I seemed to be the only white dude on the train. It was filled with black folks going to work or school. Later, the sleeping man awoke and sat up – the two of us were the only caucasians. Later still, as it filled up more, we lost that distinction.

Emotionally, this was like noticing I was the only bald guy – little more than a curiosity. Maybe if I lived there, and did this every day, it would seem different? As it is, it reinforced something I’ve noticed ever since I started traveling: race relations in the South are much mellower than they are in the North.  Again, small sample size and all.

I stood for a woman who was standing, motioning for her to take my seat. Instead, she mumbled something about getting off soon and gestured to another woman, who took the seat. Totally normal interactions. But then, a few stops later, after the first downtown stops where many people got off, the seated woman got up to leave and made sure I sat back down, and said thanks. Again, perfectly normal stuff, but not what I’d expect in, say, Chicago or Boston. Atlanta? Seems perfectly normal.  YMMV.

(Pretty soon, I may start getting the Old Guy deferral, and have women insist I keep my seat. Hasn’t happened yet, whippersnappers!)

C. Now back home. Read Lyonesse – Spring 2017 (vol 1) on the planes, most of the way through Storyhack Issue 1 as well. And I read some other anthology/collection on my Kindle, but can’t remember which one (I’ve got a dozen or more on there…) Anyway, some reviews coming up.

Also reading Writing the Breakout Novel, which is proving inspiring. Maybe I’ll get back to more ‘serious’ writing than just this blog. It would help, maybe, if I at least kept the blog moving… Aaaand – Nichomachean Ethics. Because I had this thought, and wanted to know what Aristotle thought about it, dimly remembered it was addressed somewhere in Nichomachean Ethics, and – you know. Now I’ve forgotten why I started, but feel committed to the reread.

Kinda stopped reading Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, only because it is long and was becoming somewhat repetitive, and I suspect I should have read Livy first. Discovered that Livy’s Histories are very long (even though the surviving version is some small fraction of the complete work!). Sooo – maybe later? Got a fair pile of half read books at the moment. Didn’t used to do this – I’d either read it, or stop. No twilight zone of half-read I’ll finish this eventually books. AHHHHH! I want to retire and read and write. At least 3 years to go.

A Further Comment on the Previous Post

Identity Politics, with its substance being acts of division into Us and Them, would invite its victims to hate not only the mother and father that gave them birth and then betrayed them, but by extension the very idea of  Family. David Warren explains how the breakdown of the family gives rise to identity Politics, which then further undermines the family.

But why stop there? Unfortunately, even when family has been destroyed babies keep getting made, albeit with decreasing passion and increasing clinical detachment. The betrayed and lied to child, learning to hate as one only can when love is denigrated and despised, turns in his pain to the very act of fruitful coupling itself, and hates it.

Gender Theory appeals to people who hate the fact that their existence resulted from good old fashioned sex. To the damaged child, denied an identity as the son or daughter of a real and present father and mother (and as brother, sister, cousin, nephew, niece, uncle, aunt and so on), any and everything else sexual must be preferred to that which gave birth to their pain.

Rather than marvel at and eventually enjoy all that traditionally surrounded sex – courtship, weddings, babies, whole webs of relationships upon which culture is built and politics tamed – the damaged child is merely enraged by them. All those relationships, denied the child and thus the forcefully unacknowledged source of his pain, must be burnt to the ground. Gender Theory is the torch.