Coronavirus Chronicles, October 16

We did not find Cincinnati as given over to Biden as Columbus was. I therefore declare Cincinnati in every way superior to Columbus. They have quite an extensive collection of buildings from the 19th century in Cincinnati and, everywhere, the buildings are being restored. I have never seen so many ongoing projects to restore interesting buildings. Somebody is investing heavily. I do doubt that Cincinnati is unique in this.

The (sometime) Cincinnatian Hotel been around so long that the marble on the stairs, after the second floor, have been worn in a scoop the way I remember it in the central metro stations of Mexico City. It has many deserted places where you can read, and the public nuisance of music is so unobtrusively soft it is nearly inaudible—almost perfect. You know what people are getting wrong in this age of so many lighting options? The quality of the light. Light bulbs are haphazardly employed at otherwise coordinated hotels, so that you very seldom get warm light. When it happens, it is very nice, but it is obviously not being attended to in the kinds of places I stay at.

I don’t know if it is a defeat that I only stopped at one place expressing support for the racist organization Black Lives Matter or if it is a triumph that I only did once. I think if it were Columbus, I’d say it is a triumph, but in a place less given over to signaling such as Cincinnati, perhaps it was a defeat. Yes, I think Cincinnati is a great place, obviously one that is on the mend from former dereliction. I hope this moment is not a huge setback. During this whole raging moment of hypochondriac power, two very good coffee shops were located there.

Cincinnati is a very interesting city for walking in, if you like exploring the basic grid to see what’s on the street level. The central skyscraper part is not as soulless as it could be, and the nearer surroundings have the old architecture I mentioned. There was a section along Main St. defaced by the aforementioned racist organization, but it was not extensive. Are there too few ultra-rich white people in Cincinnati? Both Columbus and Cincinnati showed little damage in that respect. They seem poised for a swift recovery.

The difference between Cincinnati and Lexington, KY is that people are more given over to wearing masks in the street in the former than the latter. (I do find that the farther south one goes, the more overtly polite people become. I’m for a less ornate and more Scandinavian approach to politeness, personally.) Kentucky looks both empty in the highway stretches and prosperous in the urban setting.

The Individuated Hobbit, by Timothy R. O’Neill

I think the book is a hidden gem. I don’t think there are recent editions, though the early edition sells for over $100. The quiet, growing field of studies of Tolkien certainly holds its surprises: a treasure trove, a dragon hoard, among which this one was for me quite a find.

Timothy O’Neill published this work not long after The Silmarillion was published. He had, therefore, enough raw material to go on and had, moreover, quite an original idea. The idea was to present a sketch of psychological approaches first, select the Jungean next, and use this to explain the power of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. To explain, in fact, all of Tolkien’s published work. He succeeded.

That may seem off-putting to some, especially if there is no interest in Jung to begin with. If there is, at the very least what you get, if you are a devoted reader of Tolkien, is a way to understand the Jungean view. You get an explanation keyed to the figures and circumstances that you have already mastered. It is a quick way to explain something complicated since you already have a complex frame of reference which serves for an analogy. So at least this book does that.

But it also explains various harmonies and contrasts in the work, making it more intelligible. You don’t have to accept the Jungean view to do so either. I have read somewhat in the scholarly literature that attends The Lord of the Rings, and I have never yet encountered a better explanation for Beorn and Tom Bombadil. It really is extraordinary, and they are not the only LotR characters illumined by this book, not even the most illumined. His expression clear and witty, but that is probably owing to the fact that O’Neill’s grasp of the cosmos of Middle Earth, the point of each of the enormous list of characters is firm and clear. His is not a muddled mind. The book at least offers an interesting meditation on a beloved subject for those who desire that, like a good conversation with another person who cherishes anything Tolkien.

His last chapter is an apology for the whole enterprise of subjecting something so wonderful to a Jungean analysis. O’Neill is fascinated with the mythical dimensions that Tolkien’s work achieves, and the analysis explains something. It explains exactly what Tolkien wanted to do. Tolkien was a student of mythical literature, specially that of the northern world, the myth mediated to men by bards singing in mead halls or on firelit beaches under the stars, strumming their harps and singing in chants that rose to wails. Tolkien wanted to give what those things gave to ancient northern men to the generations that sit in arm chairs in houses with glazed windows and indoor plumbing. He wanted to reproduce the transmission of mythic lore, the mythic mind through the modern device of the novel. O’Neill describes Tolkien’s achievement as “the subcreator’s stream of consciousness flowing eagerly through the watercourses of primordial affect, and these images emerging into enchanting reality for him and for millions of readers.” He does this precisely, convincingly, exactly.

As for the Jungean aspect, the Jungean view is a feature of modernity, and as such it leaves behind something. What for Tolkien was much more than anthropology, but anthropology within an analogical cosmology, is stripped of that outer transcendence. There is a Kantian refusing of Metaphysics, or a substitution of psychology for metaphysics. The Jungean studies the microcosm as the only thing that can be understood. It is not entirely misguided to consider Man a microcosm, but I am pretty sure Tolkien would affirm the macrocosm which clarifies and substantiates what the microcosm gestures at. I do not understand Jungeans to affirm anything but an agnosticism regarding a macrocosm of metaphysics. The concern is microcosmic, but this still contains much.
The dualism of the Jungean does get annoying. Jung was famously curious about Gnosticism. I think his dualism is more of a Manichean approach, Manicheanism 2.0, a considerably improved approach. I call it an improvement because there is a predilection for the good that denies the absolute dualism which was the dominant feature of the Manichean system. The Manichees achieved an absolute dualism by refusing to take anything but this feature of absolute dualism absolutely seriously. This is why St. Augustine became disillusioned and was delivered by the Platonists. If you are going to think, you need an ultimate point of reference. If you are going to evaluate, you need to identify an ultimate positive standard. Manichees made that ultimate standard the fact of dualism, the ultimacy of positive and negative both, which denied them the power of really evaluating and so of having a viable intellectual system. The Jungean approach does not make that mistake. While it pulls heavily toward balance and harmony and complements and contrasts, it is relentlessly driven by evaluation. Its aim is evaluation, and so it must opt for light over darkness, coherence over confusion, and I think even male over female, oddly enough. And yet, throughout, the dualism persists. So much are the Jungean’s dualists that O’Neill expresses unease with the concept of the Trinity and then breathes a sigh of relief when the Blessed Virgin Mary is deified to form a more Jungean quaternity! It is too much for this old Platonist, never mind that I’m a Christian Platonist.

But the book seldom fails for all that. I only really found one failed conclusion in the whole interesting and engrossing book, when O’Neill summarizes the four ages of man in the whole cycle of Arda. One of the things that is lost in the Jungean approach to those four ages, which O’Neill interprets in terms of the development of the integrated self, is the gentle and pervasive regret, the never-ending sense of loss which is like nitrogen in the atmosphere of the air breathed inside of Tolkien’s mind. It is rather lost on O’Neill, as his asides about Elrond eloquently demonstrate. The fourth age is not the achievement of something lasting, but is for Tolkien a temporary respite from the long retreat. But then, that conclusion makes sense if taken for what it is: this is Tolkien appreciated by Modernity, and Modernity is obviously not adequate for Tolkien altogether.

I hope I haven’t given you the impression that O’Neill’s is an uninteresting book. It is a tribute to the power and ability of Tolkien. It draws you in, it is interested in the right object, and it stimulates reflection.

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Coronavirus Columbus

Because of the way my work is, I can spend days without driving the car. In fact, I only really need to drive it on Wednesday and Sunday to go to church. And with the car, the use of a facemask. I don’t think, altogether, I’ve had to wear one for more than a few minutes. Where I live, I could probably go without it if only I had the dignity of some I see who would not be embarrassed to be called out.

Now I’m on vacation though, and that has brought changes to my life. I don’t work, that’s one. I have driven for over 2 hours for three days running. And I’ve had a facemask on for longer than five minutes. I don’t know how people do it. By now most of the world is used to going about with a facemask uncomplainingly. I find that it is no way to breathe.

Parking overnight in the streets of Pittsburgh, I’m happy to say, is still something you can do. I have been in small towns in Colombia where it was not safe thing to do. Pittsburgh was chilly, and quiet, and they have a lot of Burger Kings. Cleveland was also cool, but it did not have anywhere the amount of fast food places downtown the Pittsburgh does. Cleveland is the less lively place. And yet, I think the difference between states is that the reductions for restaurants are more drastic in PA.

You get to Ohio and you know you’re in the Midwest: the roads are straighter and wider, the overpasses infinite, the land endless, and people who drive like its New Jersey really stand out. I like the way they drive in New Jersey, where it is rude to waste people’s time. It is not, as far as I have ever been able to discern, rude in the Midwest to waste people’s time by the way you drive. I am surprised how many distracted drivers there are texting or calling holding the phone up to their ear. The state patrol in Ohio explicitly warns that it will strictly enforce both speed limits and distracted driving. I think the solution is the self-driving car. I personally can’t wait. They can implement it in the Midwest most easily, and in other parts of the country, where the roads have variety and intrigue, wait till the AI is more sophisticated.

The glory of the Midwest is that it has a chain called Half-Price Books. I hit two in Pittsburg, one in Cleveland, and have four out of five to hit here in Columbus. It is my favorite way of getting books. Amazon is the worst way.

Columbus is a paradise for walking. Its crown jewel is the High Street, along which one can walk for five hours altogether if one wishes. It has all kinds of sections, all kinds of interesting things, and few dull moments. Columbus also has several wonderful and each distinct metro parks where I of old learned Greek and spent many a happy moment; these I haven’t seen replicated elsewhere. Along with that, the usual biking paths and river walks obtain. Columbus, I am sorry to report, has people going on said trails wearing facemasks.

It is good weather for walking here: early autumn, a warmer clime, steady winds keep the skies blue, and the passion of not just white people, but midwestern white people in coronavirus season makes for wide and clear avoidance that is amusingly ludicrous. They are not as friendly here as in our more rural PA districts. That allows uninterrupted solitude, and that makes the walking paradise.

Coronavirus Chronicles – September 21

The death of a supreme court justice in this superheated political moment is no doubt going to have an effect. Are we living through the darkest hour? Is worse to come? Hard to tell. Sometimes I’m as blackpilled as the guys at the American Mind. I don’t know who I find more baffling in this election, the Biden voters or the weird American idea that the thing to do is to vote your conscience: they believe it is imperative to vote but not in a way that will actually influence the outcome. I can understand being completely indifferent, I can understand calculation; I don’t see why the procedure is accorded reverence when it is practically indiscriminately inclusive. I find it exotic.

The way the Democrats keep rolling out changes certainly does credit to their ability to change. I don’t think it means they are adaptable. Perhaps the term I’m looking for is reactionary . . .

In the world the Coronavirus is still taken seriously. Israel is in a second lockdown. Britain meditates it. Colombia emerges from it. Mexico seems to be going under—plans to go there met with the sudden rise in ticket prices as the border closure was extended. Some of us left the March-April mindset for a more moderated one in May-June, and at this point it is almost hallucinatory to me to go to those sections of America where the full severity of the restrictions still apply. It varies according to regional enforcement, you know. I don’t think our town enforces the way other towns do. It seems that to have a college makes a difference.

Fall fell swiftly on PA. September last year was warm, and October clung on to summer temperatures. That is not the case this year. We have the cool and often not even 70s. No more of the 80s in view. Time to start thinking about sweaters and jackets. It is like the summer, which got switched on to blistering after a cool, wet spring, got switched back off right on schedule. It appears the Coronavirus is taking a toll on Thanksgiving plans. Is it too early to wonder about Christmas?

Coronavirus Chronicles – September 14

Well, the governor of the commonwealth’s approach to the virus has been ruled unconstitutional in a federal court. I wonder if he’s the only governor to get taken to court or if he did something other governors did not. Is it that this is where the Constitution was written, after all? He’s been retaliatory in confrontations with the counties, and perhaps what went around came around. It is not felt that he has distinguished himself overall. But this is probably not the end of the matter. These kinds of things do have repercussions for the coming election.

John MacArthur is making a stand against LA county. I think it is grand that he’s decided to take a stand. I’m reading Michael Anton’s book about this election and he starts out describing California. His argument is that California actually can and probably will get worse, and that that’s what can happen to all of us. Joel Kotkin has been calling it neo-feudalism. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t welcome feudalism, but I’m not entirely sure that I would. If you are free, you still have to carry the burden of liberty.

Speaking of being weighed down, what has happened to Home Depot? Was it always lagging behind Lowe’s? You go to Home Depot and you see employees standing around, no lines, not a whole lot of bustle. You go to Lowe’s and you have to wait in lines—the place seems to be booming. Was it always thus? We went to Home Depot for some mini-blinds and they only had a damaged box of the size required. We went to Lowe’s and the thing was abundantly available.

I leap now from domestic improvement to foreign. Israel, with all the political turmoil and the turning gears of geopolitical realignments, is looking at a second lockdown. They know it will cost them 6.5 billion shekels. You know who is handling the virus better than many? The Oriental Republic of Uruguay. I saw them on a very exclusive list of countries from which travelers are allowed to go to Iceland, where they feel they have the thing under control. I also saw that while the CDC has most of the world as high risk for catching the virus, Mongolia is only a moderate risk. Did you know if you go from PA to VT you have to spend 14 days in quarantine? You can do it on your own and just tell the troopers patrolling the border.

Coronavirus Chronicles – September 2

It almost seems, sometimes, that last February was in a parallel universe: so much has happened that it all appears a very long ago. It was the democratic primaries back then, the fiasco of Iowa’s digital caucuses, the Biden fizzle and the Bernie surge. None of that matters now. The things they were campaigning about don’t matter. The failure of the impeachment attempt doesn’t matter. Everything has changed. It had changed to coronavirus. Now it is about the mostly peaceful protests. It is as if somebody were changing the scenery behind Biden in an attempt to find a scenario in which he’s in some way plausible. There is one: another pandemic.

Some things are constant. Though the long-term strategy of delegitimizing the right is reaching the stage of unintended consequences, it nevertheless remains the official policy of the shouting classes. I am struck at how sclerotic it all is; how unyielding, how tactically inept. The coronavirus seems to have evolved into a political virus mostly, of a very virulent strain. At least in this country.

Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, by Zena Hitz

It usually takes a few decades (ten, perhaps) till a book can be declared a classic. No doubt any rule about waiting to declare a book a classic is routinely violated. If I had to pick one book to risk premature declaration about, it would be this one. I think Zena Hitz has written classic.

Lost in Thought is a book about the intellectual life. There are many such books. Hitz’s book is not just another one, except that it is in the long honorable tradition of fresh statements of a classic thing. It is the unanticipated emergence of something we have encountered elsewhere; the effect is that of a new appreciation that makes it both a timely and a timeless book.
The introduction is about ends and means. “But I do think it ought to be clear by the end of this book that contemplation in the form of learning is a robust human good, valuable for its own sake and worthy of time and resources.”

One of the problems she wants to hit is that of those things which regularly overwhelm the intellectual life and have at present overwhelmed it in the universities. This problem structures her three chapters.

The first deals with prosperity and how it distracts us from the life of learning. I don’t know where else I’ve seen such a good case made for the importance of giving lesser things up for the greater, short of Augustine’s de Doctrina or Jonathan Edward’s The Christian Pilgrim. It is an argument for the importance of askesis in a life of purposeful leisure. Most intriguing.

The second chapter meditates at length on Augustine’s Confessions. She draws out a distinction between the merely curious and the truly studious. This chapter is interestingly timely. Armed with that distinction, you will see the internet in a new light. The distractions of undisciplined curiosity can overwhelm the concentration and contemplation of learning directed away from opinion and gazing on reality. At some point Hitz straight-out indicts our contemporary education and the goals of religious people saying all we aim for is the assimilation of correct opinion. The objects of knowledge should be the focus of learning.

The last thing that can overwhelm the life or learning is the political. Here Hitz is at her most Scrutonian: the usefulness of uselessness. All three threats are a kind of prostitution, of taking that which should be an end in itself and sacrificing it as a means to lesser ends. “If intellectual life is not left to rest in its splendid uselessness, it will never bear its practical fruit. Likewise, the struggle for a just society is worthless if it costs us the fruits of justice.”

This book is balm, inspiration, focus, and radiant good sense. I think there is a world in which it does not become a classic. But I also think that is not a world in which the examined life exists.

Coronavirus Chronicles – August 18

I never thought, back in March, that the whole pandemic would still be a thing five months later. It was brought home to me how much people elsewhere are still living with it. We were in Philadelphia, and Philadelphians are all wearing masks all of the time. A few brave souls do not wear them outdoors, but even in parks, on Forbidden Drive along the merry Wissahickon most people have masks on their faces. Some cops gave me a look for not wearing one on the city sidewalks, but that was as far as they went. To me, Philadelphia is like another world. I hope there’s footage of it to show people in days to come. I saw a runner with no shirt on but nevertheless wearing his mask. Smokers make sure the mask remains conspicuous when it has to be set aside. Construction workers wear it, drivers in cars wear it, joggers do too; people stand in long, outside lines for government services, like the third world. I did see one woman declaring her independence near the liberty bell, no mask. Restaurants are closed. The McDonald’s on Chestnut Hill closed down: it didn’t have a drive-through. The Wendy’s by the hospital complex is a goner too. Other casualties don’t register as near to my heart.

We’re at the point where the voices I listen to are saying that Sweden was right in its approach. They didn’t lock down and are now ahead on economic recovery. South Dakota just turned down extra Federal funding. They did not lock down, and they’ve recovered enough to not need the funds. Time to think about emigrating to South Dakota.

The thing that’s making the rounds on the interwebs is Yoram Hazony’s article in Quillette identifying the heart of the present political problem in the USA. I think he makes sense. The problem is Marxism. Marxists want revolutions. They do not want diversity of ideas, but to demonize and eliminate their opposition. They prey on liberals, exploiting the inconsistency of utopian ideals and inherited assumptions. He lays it out quite plainly in The Challenge of Marxism. If you have not read it, do yourself the favor.

One of the interesting thing political candidates on the right can do nowadays is get footage of the worst sections of cities that have been run by Democrats for years, especially after this summer. I happened to listen to NPR news this morning just because I was in another city, and I was surprised how brazen it was. Bernie Sanders, it alleged, was just putting things with blunt honesty when he said that Trump was sending in federal troops to quell peaceful protests (even omitting the concession ‘mostly’). They also said that the FBI spying on the Trump campaign was a conspiracy theory with no basis in fact. Is the Trump campaign flummoxed? The cunning way they are responding to it is by saying that the Democrat-Media industrial complex is not just coming after him, it is coming after us. I wonder how many Republicans will see the appeal it has with the populace to have more feisty representation? I think many would say we need more feisty representation, and that this is Trump’s trump. I think that’s why keeping your experts on tap but not on top resonates.

We have a lot of dust and fog to go through before this election is over. The Coronavirus has disrupted what it was going to be. It still has a great potential to disrupt before we see the end of it.

Coronavirus Chronicles August 10

I think by now resignation to the unfolding of whatever calamity awaits us is ensuing. There are the feckless, the are the overwrought, and there are those who are resigned. There is not so much dread of what will happen as a desire to know the worst of it so that we can begin dealing with it as soon as possible. We are now seeing the closing of businesses on a more palpable scale.

Will this reduce the egregious overreach of our luxury crowded grocery stores? Will the corner store, such a staple of Latin American life come to the Hispanic crowded towns of PA, proliferate? And yet businesses have opened in this time, carried by the momentum of the time before. They do cater to vanities: upscale coffee, hair salons, craft breweries. I think American society can afford to be trimmed back.

At this point the thinking seems to be: what is it going to be? The prolongation of this all at this point seems the worst of it. How long will preventive restrictions restrict us? Where does it end? In the meantime, a lot of good thinking still takes place. It results in focused arguments, clearer explanations, better appraisals. Things have been shaken up and destabilized, but one of the results is that some things have been shaken into more stable configurations.

Urban centers are strangling themselves, no doubt of that. Can good come of that? Will they roar back when the amazing human organism has assimilated and defeated the coronavirus? Oh my cities!

Coronavirus Chronicles – July 24

Now the thing is the tightening restrictions because cases are spiking, at least in the news. I think people in general want to just push forward, but there are those who are alarmed and want to rein things in. When in doubt, we do what everybody else is doing. It is hard to resist that with any confidence.

At bars in PA, unless a person is ordering food, drinks are not available. The idea is to discourage people congregating unnecessarily. In NY, apparently, where there is a similar order, just getting a snack is not enough. I gather a lot of hot dogs are being sold as a new menu item.

WTS is reopening the library. That will be welcome after all this time. Research has been driven online, but it cannot always be that way. Not unless the way to keep librarians employed during the lockdown is to have them work full time on digitizing all the holdings. Wouldn’t that be an interesting outcome?

I listened to Niall Ferguson predict that the coronavirus would fade away from memory, so that in 2022 people will no longer remember these extraordinary moments. He thinks the big dam in China could burst and be the news event of the year. I saw some video on Twitter of the flooding in China. Perhaps it will rock the party and drain the coffers. We now know that the pull of Chinese money talks in ways that can displease the great American buying machine. What if they don’t have money though?

I hope whatever happens, that the Moon and Mars missions keep on track. We seem to have entered a new age for that, and I’d hate for it to peter out. My Chinese science fiction book suggested that navies are more suited and air forces to being the ones extending operations into space. But that’s when interplanetary space battles are fought on space going destroyers and frigates. Right now, it is a question of setting up operations very high in the atmosphere: hence Space Force derives from the Air Force.

Coronavirus Chronicles – July 18

Edward Feser just diagnosed our whole situation using The Republic. It is a lesson in reading an ancient text properly, understanding, not overstating, and drawing careful conclusions.

What is going on in PA right now is that the governor is trying to raise the restrictions as cases rise. 50% capacity is being reduced to 25% capacity for restaurants and such. Gatherings of over 25 people are banned. I’m not sure how that will be enforced. I’m pretty sure it is not going to phase most churches that came back as soon as they could in May or early June. There is a lot of pushback about what that will do to businesses in the lower reaches of government. Calls for resignation and suggestions of impeachment.

We are in a drought and heat wave right now. Floods in China, but not here.

We were in Arlington, VA, which is across the Potomac from Washington DC. What surprised me about that was seeing people wearing masks to walk around in the street, to drive, even to do exercise outside. People are really into social distancing there. Most white people will maintain a 10ft distance from anybody else, and they cross the road, walk on the lawns, do anything it takes to be far from others. Restaurants were thriving on a Monday night with expanded outdoor possibilities. In Georgetown itself, they have signs requiring masks out of doors. Arlington, VA is a big city nowadays. High rise apartments everywhere, with courtyards and shops along the bottom. A good urban setup. Interesting walking. Everybody in the DC area is out running, staying in shape. The streets are not crowded with cars; pedestrian traffic was good where I was. Lots of interesting walking to be done down there.

Outside of the metropolitan areas the virus concern is not quite as dominant. Even in restaurants staff aren’t always scrupulous about having the mask all on. I don’t blame them. At barbershops, with temperatures climbing into the 90s, people wait outside for their turn to get a haircut.

Coronavirus Chronicles – July 6

This morning there was a fire in the adjacent municipality of West Manchester which released toxic fumes. I didn’t find out about it till my phone clamored with an alert. The alert was to tell me that the shelter-in-place advisory had been lifted (the initial alert must not have disturbed my sleep). It is the first time I’ve seen that sort of alert, but it was the same mandate that was instituted back in March for the Coronavirus.

It makes sense to have a shelter-in-place alert if toxic fumes are billowing out of a fire. And it contrasts with the response in March. There is a large portion of the population that is not woke but is awake to the silly things we let our government get away with. They are indignant and disgusted. One of the effects of this is that there are more people that I know of more closely tracking what their representatives in government are doing than before. I certainly do not give the government today the benefit of the doubt the way I would have previously. They have squandered a lot of the capital of their personal credibility.

One of the things churches are dealing with right now is the use of facemasks. There are those who believe it is imperative, there are also those who are equally adamant about not wearing them. The thing has turned into a symbol, and it is lamentable that something like that should take on symbolic resonances. It seems to me that for something to become symbolic there is a narrative, a story which gives it momentum so that it can be a vehicle for meaning. The mandatory use of the facemask rather than the voluntary use of the facemask is the helium causing this balloon to rise. The narrative that colors the balloon, or gives it direction, is whether or not you trust or distrust the government. Is it looking out for us? Is it out to get us?

And the truth is that there are unquantifiable elements of both. Surely there is a lot of malevolence going on, but also a lot of clumsiness and stupidity. I think it is important to realize that these are different things! One is deliberate and the other is accidental, even if it the second is the result of perverse and obstinate choices: the wrong is not intended quite the same way. But the symbol kind of takes on a life of its own, and in our day when politeness has been distorted beyond being considerate of others to demanding consideration from others without first extending consideration, it acquires a certain power.

Anyway, people are thinking about how the government does things, and about the powers that are permitted to those in government. In PA, the governor alone can declare a state of emergency. As a result, he then posses a greater set of powers than otherwise. There is a real question now, as Pennsylvanians look at what other places do, about the wisdom of placing the power to declare a state of emergency in the recipient of the enhanced powers that result. And people are thinking about it, prodding representatives, and legislation is being ground through.

It also seems to me that we’ve reached the point in the excess of cancel culture that we can draw two conclusions: the first is that if you don’t stand up to the woke demands and you appease, they will not stop until they destroy you. They have made themselves into such a thing as has no possible end other than to obtain every petulant demand they can think to make. It really is the spoiled child mentality Richard Weaver spoke of, and the thing about it is that at the moment it has real political power. I think it is becoming increasingly apparent to the indifferent that succumbing is misery, and the only alternative is to resist. The alternatives are clear, and this is making for interesting new coalitions and bedfellows. The second conclusion is that because of all this a lot more people are being forced to be engaged, to do the difficult work of understanding, of thinking, of asking the question about how we got here. The answer to that question is suggested to me in an interview that William Buckley did with Mortimer Adler back in 1970: if you don’t educate people by reading the great ideas, if the great books are ignored, the only thing that can result is that people will not know about them. We have what the good we have because we have in the past figured out how to implement great ideas. And that is what we represent in the monuments that we have erected and why they are being targeted with unironic and blatant ignorance.

And so the disruptive coronavirus the whole world was primed for like a powder keg continues causing choices to me made. Good choices can be made, and I hope the moment keeps making them increasingly apparent. There is a lot of confusion, but I wonder if there aren’t pockets of clarity for more and more people.

Coronavirus Chronicles, June 26

The thing now is the second wave. Cases are spiking in some areas, and the politics roil accordingly. The Coronavirus is still out there, still getting people. But it isn’t the same feared thing it was. Belief in lockdowns is significantly lower than it was back in March.

PA is almost all in the green, with only one county still in more restricted mode. It is owing to the fact that Lebanon county defied the Governor earlier, and whether its statistics are higher or it is merely retaliatory I don’t know. When in Philadelphia the other day, it was inconvenient because you could only get takeout. The lines for fast-food restaurants in Philadelphia were unbelievable. We ended up getting a slice. It is one of the joys of Philadelphia that you have all these little pizza shops scattered everywhere where you can get a slice of just about anything.

Facemasks are being more insisted on, it seems. Not everywhere, not absolutely, but in some places more than others. I understand Walmart, very libertarian in this regard some time back, is buckling down to the requirement. I’ve been asked to put one on standing in the entryway of the library—you can’t get in further. I’ve been in places where not even the employees had one. Everybody has the plastic shield where interactions take place.

Most colleges plan to come back early and power through to Thanksgiving, and then provide an extended winter break. Westminster Seminary is going online for the coming school year.

Coronavirus Chronicles – June 20

The extraordinary lockdowns of March and April remain only in memory; I miss them already.* Fast food is still not opening dining rooms, but other restaurants are. Fast food, though, probably had somewhat of a boom and perhaps still does. The use of disposable cups and cutlery is common in real restaurants. Facemasks everywhere, and that dampens the enjoyment. We are over 80K coronavirus cases in PA, and while the Philadelphia area is still shut down, most of the state appears to be humming.

Now this whole police thing: I’m on the fence about it. I have lived in third-world countries and you can still live life there; it has its many good things. You can’t count on the police, but what you do is count on your neighbors; know them, greet them, do things with them, be wary. What’s so bad about that? And I think if things really degenerate in the USA, there are still more resources for preparing, educating, coping, and dealing with whatever happens. I know people don’t want to lose their liberties. Eh, I think it will be interesting with or without them. Lots of good conversations about it all. I think a lot of subterranean good is rumbling. Still, in preparation for things to come I’m reading Victor Frankl’s account of life in a prison camp. It’s good. I still need to read Vasily Grossman, but I’ve done well to keep up with my concentration camp literature.


*Here’s why I miss the old days of the early lockdown: I was exhausted, I was clogged up with my dissertation, and I was somewhat baffled on extracurricular reading. April was the month it all changed. I rested. It was a wonderful, cool month; I went to the rail trail and read all the books I had out of the library at school and I figured out the way to seriously get writing my dissertation. It seems like a dark time, as if the sun hardly shone back then in retrospect. I remember driving around after dark wondering if cops would pull me over to see if I had a legitimate reason for being out. But perhaps that was the effect of being at home most of the day and only out on Wednesday evenings. It was wonderful, like winter in Minnesota when it really is dark most of the time. Besides the other successes, we reconnected with some good friends, I figured out a steady stream of reading, and I discovered some new authors. I helped more in Colombia, time passed, and I was not left with regrets.

Coronavirus Chronicles – June 16

PA is reopening. Retail is humming, masks are as often seen as they are not seen. Restaurants are open but the masked attention and closed tables is off-putting. The backlash on our governor grows all the while; he has been keeping restrictions longer than many would like. It is clear there’s no going back to lockdowns. There have been protests in center square for the woke pieties, as well as one in support of the police. I think those who cannot think for themselves and who cannot say that what a person thinks matters have no worthwhile dignity.

What to make of this moment? A lot of people are black-pilled: the riots, the protests, Chop in Seattle, the Gorsuch exposure; North Korea. We live in such an age that we look back on the 1990s as an age of vitality. I go on reading. I’m grateful for all the books that still churn forth and are worthwhile. There is reading to keep up with for all that there is a lot to ignore. I have a backlog. Amazon is booming, and you know how that place started out? As a bookstore in the age of the book. If the age of the book has peaked, I’m glad I was born so close to it.

Early into this coronavirus thing I was exhausted, uninspired in my reading, and clogged in my dissertation. That is no more. The lockdown did not leave me with regrets but with a few solutions.

I don’t know what it helps to give way to despair. I sometimes still listen to Peter Hitchens, but as one would look at an orangutan in the zoo. I like the cheerful warriors like Ben Domenech and the people he often interviews. There is humor, there is grim realism, there is determination. They still enjoy themselves. I want these to be my people.

I’m watching Kenneth Clarke’s Civilization once again. Civilization collapsed once before, and in the interim, as part of the barbarity, we got the culture of the Vikings and of Beowulf of which we still dream. Of course, they did have to fade before being too much dreamed of. Clarke’s generous and humorous narration is full of insight. The only thing I wish is that he had had back then a bottle of water to moisten his mouth from time to time. The rest is perfect. His thing is that you know a civilization is exhausted when it runs out of confidence. Have we run out of confidence? What is great about this moment is that you have no idea what tomorrow will bring. We hope in a few years to build rotating space stations, to colonize the moon, and then move on to Mars. Once the frontier was the North Atlantic, then the Wild West. Now we have a new frontier. Is that a good sign? I don’t care, it is an intriguing destination.

Coronavirus Chronicles – June 4

Thunderstorms are ripping through Hanover. Rain was sheeting down. In that cataclysmic circumstance I saw the latest about the NYT Op-Ed. Looks like Tom Cotton is the one to finally break things irretrievably. Something is very obviously, irretrievably broken. It sends a message that the shadowbanning and deplatforming will continue until there is no dissent. The lines are being drawn between decency and petulance, and petulance has quite a following.

As I understand it from Twitter, my news source for now, at the NYT there are two factions. This is not unlike in the Democratic party. The retreating old-school liberals who still believe in at least maintaining a semblance of variety of viewpoints, and the kids who are coming into their own and must be obeyed. The kids believe only in being safe, and being safe means safe from anything remotely on the right. Look at the doublespeak that the word ‘violence’ has become. It is the end of an effete elite.

As the spectrum shifts, the kids will eat the old guard. I think it is evident what giving ground gets you from them, and the best thing is not to give ground at all. But who has a spine for it? What is curious to me is how the spectrum expands for the right. We now regularly have contributions to thinking on the right by homosexuals. Good, respectable stuff too, well-argued. The argument could of course be made that it is all tilting swiftly to the left. I think what is happening is that as the left radicalizes it shrinks. AS long as they remain a threat, all potential factions unite against them. Victor Davis Hanson thinks the Biden candidacy is an empty vessel. He makes it to the white house with a radical VP in tow, and then having been president for a few months, exits to continue his uninterrupted, terminal decline, along with all he represents.

We live in interesting times, and there’s no predicting the future, but I do think the left is collapsing and eating itself alive, its own worst enemy. It must overreach because it is now incapable of correction. And any wisdom remaining to those blighted regions has to be aware of that. The lockdown fatigue is over, indeed there’s a nostalgia for the frivolous world before it. The riots have held us for a week. People desperate for attention march and shout and do more harmless collective things, and among them are those who know how pointless that is and how late the hour. The lines are being drawn more clearly all the while. America has been avoiding a confrontation for a long time, but it seems increasingly obvious a confrontation will be insisted on.


Peter Sterry had theological anomalies. Here is a paragraph free of them:

The Resurrection and Ascension of our Saviour, have not abolish’d his Human Nature, which was a Vessel of so much Grace and Love to Man, as well, as of so much Glory to God. They have not swallow’d it into the Divine Nature. They have not taken away the Distinction of Essences between the Godhead and Manhood in our Blessed Saviour, nor the Distinction of Persons between the individual Soul and Body of Christ, and the particular Soul and Body of each individual Saint; as Notes in Musick, or Strings upon a Lute; so do all thefe remain distinct to Eternity, that the Harmony in Heaven may be more full.


Coronavirus Chronicles – June 1

I remember realizing, back in late March, a few weeks into the lockdown, that the confinement and privations of a long journey through space were not something I could tolerate. There was the novelty of the confinement then, the absence of so much world that I was used to, the call of the dim interiors of deserted restaurants. There was even the thrill at that moment of being out driving with no particular aim and wondering if that was a transgression. That strange moment has passed.

Much of all that the world was for me then is gone now. Now there is the realization that I have become habituated to the situation. The strangest part of that is that if I wanted to go to Mars, the long confinement would not be something to dread. I could do it; I’m persuaded it would not be harrowing to be confined for months and years. I can go to various places now, and I might go somewhere, but unlike before, I am content within. I have lost something, and that something was in many ways a hindrance.

Existence is a strange, strange thing.

Coronavirus Chronicles – May 30

Life is opening up in Hanover. Things are moving. Locked places being opened. Facemasked people mingling. Protests obtaining in center square over whatever it is we are worked up about presently.

The coronavirus is still out there, but there is a growing sense that the lockdown was overdone, and instead of just a global health crisis we now will also have an economic one. It gets politicized of course. The political take on the right is that the leftists are coming after our liberties. On the left, is that reckless and greedy people want to make money at the expense of the real wellbeing of the rest.

I think it is interesting what Jonathan Haidt says about how we make stories and interpret facts and events in light of those stories. I think it works out. What makes for people stewing over facemasks in a way they never do over, for example, ties? There is a story into which the facemasks fit. And it has become a symbol: there are hardly any images of Trump with a facemask; it is the look Biden assumes.

Churches are opening up. Some with more implementation of the guidelines, some with less. The mainline churches seem to be closed through the end of June, from what I can tell. Restaurants are starting to bud again: I’ve seen people eating on benches, leaning against cars, on picnic tables distributed on lawns and parking lots.

Colombia is locked down at least through July. They are actually expecting cases to spike in August. That means that people won’t be back to church anytime soon. But people who have to get out and earn something just to live do so, and in vast numbers because there are lots of them. Venezuela is out of gas, short on power and water, and dollarizing. Minimum wage is $4 a day. There is public transportation, but of difficult access. People wait in line most of a week for gas, and emergency vehicles also have to wait in their own lines. Power comes on in the capital 6 hours, goes off six, comes back six, and so on. Water is usually not on for more than half an hour. A country which is naturally rich in petroleum is importing gasoline, that is how mismanaged it is. Israel recently opened up and is considering a 2nd lockdown because of the resulting spike. Israel does full police-state lockdowns. They have enormous powers, but also a lot of enquiry and transparency to a degree where it is almost paralyzing.

I do wonder if a more fragmented political landscape in the USA would not be a benefit.

Coronavirus Chronicles – May 21

PA has 65K cases. Many counties are moving into the yellow phase, which is better than red and not yet green. Yellow phase allows groups of 25, and so I’m opening up our church. We might exceed that limit, but probably not. In town, people are coming out of the lockdown.

Looks like China is looking to lock Hong Kong down. Cold War II.

I was not surprised to see that Reno over at First Things seems to have had some kind of meltdown, poor chap! We are living in a time of such confusion. Has he gone down a road similar to that of the neocons who neverTrumped themselves? Will FT get a new helmsman? Unlike some of these conservative goons, Reno can think. I think conservative publications need sparkling editors or the result will be stodgy. One of the reasons I don’t read more conservative publications is that there’s so little of the joy of life in them. FT was carried of old by the sparkling wit of Neuhaus. You need to be a bit callous, a bit flinty to shower the sparks of wit in the rough and tumble of the public square, and I wonder if the more deliberative Reno has it.

I understand the big tech internet funnels are under siege. People have been trying now for years to find alternative gateways to the world of internet. But the problem is critical mass, it seems to me. Who wants to switch over to an alternative until everybody else does too? How do you do that? Do the big content providers decamp? Not sure how it will be, but I think it has to come about sooner or later. The internet funnels had a good run, let’s phase them out. Twitter serves up the internet to me, but I’m ready for an alternative. Maybe it is time to re-envision the browser, make it more widgety and modifiable.

I wonder if out of this we don’t get regions or independent states where people can disconnect from the wider world’s turmoil and hunker down around a few certainties. Places of sanity because they are not networked to all the frenetic data. Is that what Montana is like? Maybe they can convert some of those gigantic cruise ships into floating independent cities of a few guaranteed certainties . . . tossed by the waves and endlessly seeking harbor.