Saturday, August 28, 2010

Over the Hump

I think we're over the hump with the summer heat. Here we are, pulling into the end of August, and already there's a hint of autumn in the air. Especially at night. The days are still warm, though milder and far more bearable than they were from mid July on through much of August. But the nights are getting downright cool. Down into the 50s, one night into the upper 40s.

We're over the hump. You can feel it. And summer is winding down.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Mysterious Case of Rod Dreher

I've been puzzled this past week by the suspension of comments and blogging at Rod Dreher's blog, on the John Templeton Foundation's new Big Questions Online site. And Rod's murky "clarification" the other day only deepens the mystery further.

For several years now I've been a regular reader (occasional commenter, mostly just a lurker) of Rod Dreher's blogging. I find Rod's writing engaging and often thought provoking, though I could do without many of his posts on culture-war issues. Odd: more often than not, I find myself largely in agreement with Rod on the issues. But I find myself puzzled, even disturbed, by the way that Rod returns to certain issues again and again and again and again, as if drawn with a nigh-OCD intensity to sledgehammer certain dead horses into flattened roadkill.

At the beginning of this year Rod left his old journalist position to become director of publications at the Templeton Foundation. He also left his old Beliefnet blog behind for a new Beliefnet blog, which about a month ago he left for yet another new blog on BQO, the same blog which after only a month has now been suspended. At each changing of the blogs, Rod announced that he was going to be leaving the culture wars behind, in line with the Templeton Foundation's non-partisan approach.

But somehow, each time, Rod's been drawn back to those issues again, as if he just can't stay away from them. Yeah, his new blog is mild compared to the old days, but still... Rod keeps drifting back to those same old same old culture-war issues, like a moth attracted to a candle flame...

It wasn't until this morning that I realized many of Rod's recent posts have been yanked, leaving on his new BQO blog only a few of his very blandest posts (and none of the three or four posts on which I've left comments over the past month, ahem). Hmmm, this lends a new weight to his "clarifying" remark: "With respect to this blog, we are reconsidering a style and format that will be more in tune with Sir John's forward-looking, positive, constructive ways to engage the Big Questions."

And now I stumble across a couple of discussions, by several of Rod's most frequent and most notable longtime commenters, as to whether the Templeton folks are clamping down on Rod for the continuing controversialist cast of his blogging. Hmmmm... I'm afraid that sounds terribly plausible. I only hope Rod Dreher comes out of it all right, and the Templeton Foundation can resist the temptation to blanderize or sack him.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Point of View

While I'm on the topic of my mother and her quirks... One of my mother's peculiarities which has always puzzled the hell out of me is, she always assumes that if she can see something, then anyone else can also see it. Even if they can't.

For instance, she will hold up a book to show me a picture on the front cover. Only she will hold the book with the front cover facing toward her. That means the front cover, which she is trying to show me, is facing away from me: all I can see, facing toward me, is the back cover of the book.

I will try to explain to her that I can't see the front cover, because she is holding the front cover (which she is trying to show me) facing away from me. This gets her all confused, and she just doesn't get it: after all, she can see the front cover perfectly well. The fact that the front cover is facing away from me, and that all I can see is the back cover, and that I don't have X-ray vision, just doesn't register on her. She just can't get it.

I will repeat to her over and over, "No, I can't see the front cover of that book, please turn it so I can see it," and she reacts with utter confusion, either doing nothing, or else turning the book so its front cover is facing more squarely toward her, that is, facing more perfectly away from me.

This is such a peculiar quirk, that I've long been tempted to suspect some wiring crossed in her brain, some kind of neurological dysfunction. Or at any rate, something very peculiar psychologically. But to her it seems perfectly normal: If she wants to show something to someone, she will hold it facing toward herself, never mind if that means it's facing 180° away from the person she wants to show it to.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nonstop Babbling

I'm away on vacation, and visiting my parents for a while. Yes, that means making the long drive from my home in deep rural America, to my folks' house in the city. It also means going from the near-silence of my daily routine to the incessant, endless, continual noise front which prevails whenever I'm around my parents.

Don't get me wrong. I love my folks. But one of the trials of being around them is enduring my mother's nonstop babbling. My mother talks. She talks all the time. She never stops talking. By this I don't just mean she talks a lot. By this I mean she talks nonstop from the time she gets up in the morning till the time she goes to bed at night. Always talking, scarcely pausing for breath. The only things that shut her up (for a little while) in the daytime are chewing food, taking a nap, or being in the presence of some alternative noise source such as radio or TV. With those exceptions, she literally never stops talking all day long for more than 10 seconds at a time. Literally.

I love my mother dearly, but after a few days of her constant babbling I find I'm going up the wall. In my usual life at home, I can go all day in a near unbroken state of silence-- never a noise intrudes, unless perhaps a pickup goes rattling by down the gravel road which runs past my place. To go from that to a setting where there is never more than 10 seconds of unbroken silence (and not even 10 seconds very often) is like taking a flying leap into a pool of ice cold water.

My mom has always been talkative, but only over the past 15 years or so has her talking become truly wall-to-wall. Doesn't matter if she has anything to say. Doesn't matter if anyone is listening. Doesn't even matter if there's anyone else in the room with her. If nothing else, she will keep up never-a-pause-for-breath color commentary on every detail of whatever household task is occupying her at the moment.

I really don't know. It makes me wonder if it's due to changes that may overtake the human brain as a person ages. I've known a few people like this in my time-- a few nonstop talkers, literally nonstop-- and it always makes me wonder.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Ideology That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Captain Obvious: "Liberalism leads to liberalism."

Liberal, in a huffy and outraged tone: "It does not! How dare you claim that it does?!"

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


We're now into that part of the summer which is defined by heat and humidity. Intolerable heat and humidity.

Yeah, I have air conditioning in the house, and it works, sort of. Long as I air out the house in the morning while it's cool. It won't really keep the house cool, but it will keep it from getting too intolerably warm. Though this system breaks down on a day like today when it was into the upper 70s outside already before 7:00 AM.

We're into that part of the summer where getting through the day largely means beating, or at least coping with, the heat. With soaring temperatures, and an even more soaring heat index. Yesterday I went out to the mailbox, and I remembered all over again why I've given up on my daily walks for the duration: I cannot imagine walking any distance outside beneath the heat of such a broiling, baking, burning sun.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Map and Territory

Is your viewpoint a map of a territory? Or is it only a map, scribbled and drawn freehand?

Why are you so concerned to influence, if not control, your opponent's map? Is that a way of planting a flag on territory? Or is it a way of planting a flag on, and colonizing, your opponent's map?

Why, if you are a traditionalist, are you so concerned to argue that your map corresponds to the territory? Why are you so concerned to argue that your opponent's map does not correspond to the territory? Are you truly concerned with the territory, or only with who gets to plant a flag? What makes you think that your flag, or any flag, is yours to plant?

Why, if you are a progressive, are you so concerned to argue that nobody's map corresponds to territory? Why are you so concerned to posit an unbridgeable disconnect between any and all maps and any and all territories? Why do you always grant yourself an unspoken exemption from this blanket disconnect, and why do you get so angry when someone points out your self-granted exemption? Is the game you're playing really anything more than a more roundabout and more dishonest version of the game the traditionalist is playing?

What if there's a territory, and our maps are most of the time at least fairly valid maps of that territory, but our flags are largely invalid, the flags of interlopers without a real claim? What if the territory is, by its very nature, like Antarctica-- a territory that admits of valid maps but not of valid flagplanting? How could either traditionalist or progressive bear to live in such a world?