Coronavirus Chronicles – February 22

Who wants to even hear about coronavirus?

Here’s a picture of the moment. Picture a roomful of highly trained people monitoring distant events using expensive, sophisticated technology. It’s NASA, and the events are taking place on Mars. And what do we see on their faces? Not one, but two kinds of facemask. I mean, these are people who can and have sent a ton of the most expensive research equipment ever to another planet successfully, control it, operate it at huge distances and enormous costs and effort, and  yet we can’t design something as obvious as a simple, single, working facemask? How about a room where the air is clean?

I have to wonder if the difference isn’t the object. Mars is a measurable and predictable object. However remote, it doesn’t present a moving target. At least not yet. The difference is that the coronavirus does. It is in motion because it is part of the game of political football. The poor virus is no longer just a disease, it has itself become diseased, colonized by unscrupulous lizards and mutated into something that has actually started stacking signaling on dedicated scientists. They had special, NASA designed facemasks to put on top of the apparently inadequate medical mask? NASA can do spacesuits and rockets but not facemasks?

Politically in the land of America, Biden gets weaker and Trump gets stronger.

The interesting economic thing this week was two-fold. Jordan Peterson tweeted out a link to Allen Farrington’s Bitcoin is Venice with three results. It went viral, is one. Another is that the meme is now laser eyes for those who see into the darkness of this present moment. The third is that cryptocurrencies appear to have been definitively explained. The alternative to fiat currency is non-fiat currency; the alternative to trust is verification that requires no trust. I am in no position to judge the essay’s veracity, but it made sense to me! The second of the two-fold (there was a three-point thing in the first fold) is that this comes from what is essentially a blog. Blogs are regaining power, just not under the old name: Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, Craig Carter and now Allen Farrington are recent such entries I have read. Blog posts is what they are. If the coronavirus makes blogging great again, I, for one, will be grateful for this also to the Chinese.

Rocketing to Mars

by Joel Zartman, assisted slightly by the poet Yeats

I

This is no planet for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees,
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

II

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
An automated suit, unless
bots wring their hands and ping, and louder ping
For every circuit of this high-tech dress,
Nor is there coding school but studying
Monuments of our own magnificence;
And therefore I have climbed aboard and come
To Mars’ main city at Olympus Mons.

III

O sages standing in the rocket’s fire
As in the heat shield of a wall,
Come from the rocket plume, perne in a gyre,
And be the coding-masters of my soul.
Consume my flesh away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of telemetry.

IV

Once out of orbit I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as engineering makes
Of exoskeleton and print enamelling
To keep the complex circuitry awake;
Beyond the hydroponic bough to sing
In blue lit passages beneath Olympus Mons
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Coronavirus Chronicles – February 2

It is a mask on/mask off kind of moment, isn’t it? Masks are still required and enforced, while the lizard elites grow more and more bold.

The official policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is still that consistent wearing of a facemask reduces the transmission of coronavirus. I am astonished how much this practice works as a point of etiquette as well.

I know one person that I’ve talked to who is interested in getting vaccinated—a person who studiously keeps to the guidelines. I know three nurses who are not interested in getting it—all of whom have been kept to the guidelines until life becomes one continuous blur of exhaustion.

I went to the dentist, where of course they have to follow the guidelines rigorously. I had to fill out a coronavirus form. I did not give it to my hygienist, and she did not ask for it, so I brought it home. I did wear a mask into the place, waited with it on, and then took it off for the purposes for which I came. This was my second coronavirus dental visit.

What else? The Crimea is running out of water and the protests in Russia spread. Did anything ever happen in Belarus? I haven’t heard. Protests in Holland and Denmark I hear. In Italy, the police joined the protesters!

In Washington D.C. there are still guards and fences, militarized ever since common people were last seen encroaching on the hallowed seat of undefiled government. I feel like going down and walking up as close as the military will allow, and then doing the Hunger Games thing with three fingers.

It is a time of proliferating network alternatives too. All kinds of new platforms seem to be rising, while the old titans still remain titanic. All kinds of spiders working on all kinds of webs. Even finance is having to look limber for the encroachments of a digital onslaughts. Events keep happening.

Coronavirus Chronicles – January 26

At this time last year I unfollowed Peachy Keenan on Twitter because I was tired at how much she was alarming over the coronavirus. Her constant theme was shut down the airports.

At this time last year, if I remember correctly, Jordan Peterson had decidedly dropped out of public notice for half a year and I was wondering where he was. It looks like he is back, though somewhat less combative by his own admission.

It makes me think of the circle of those who have conversations I want to listen to: he was having a conversation with Douglas Murray. I think of it in many ways as the John Anderson circle. John Anderson has interesting conversations with a repeating group of people, and they are conversations I want to overhear. For that I’m glad to live in an age of youTube and podcasting, for the access to the living voice of contemporary minds. Speaking of podcasting, a year ago the American Mind started The Roundtable. After a rough beginning, they hit their stride just in time for the eventful moments of 2020. They are always running a bit more alarmed than I am, but right now there are so many canaries falling silent in this coronavirus coalmine.

What else would it be though? Who could have predicted all that came of this last year? We certainly learn that pandemics bring mass hysteria. Nevertheless, I think those of us from whom the gift of prophecy has been withheld should not count the chickens of doom before they’re hatched.

I think, for example, after last year and heading into whatever the Biden administration bodes, the right is more combative, and this is good. There are lessons to be learned from that great catalyst, Trump our timely political entrepreneur. Angelo Codevilla did an assessment on American Greatness—of all places—that I found compelling. It leads me to reflect that American society appears to be rearranging itself in all kinds of ways and places, or accelerating a rearrangement that was taking place.

The constellations in which publications align are changing.

The status and appeal of higher education is another change.

I think grade and high school have to be undergoing some kind of change, even if it is only in terms of reinforcing what was already right, if not outright course corrections, even as the whole is obviously pulling in different direction.

What will happen in the churches? Apart from the one in which I find myself, most of the churches I have contact with are growing. But I wonder if that is the case overall. Still, I think a situation calling for more seriousness and gravity can only benefit true religion.

Politically, it has always seemed better to me instead of having a two-party thing to have more, to fragment the big parties. Perhaps that’s unamerican of me. It is probably wishful thinking on my part, but I’d like to see political fragmentation and the need for party coalitions, not coalitions within the parties.

Next election here is going to break records in terms of women vying for the nomination, and not just in terms of the possible candidates already getting poised. This transgender moment will have women up in arms.

One last bright note: already the poison of the moment has summoned up literary antidotes.

Coronavirus Chronicles – January 16

Well, though the virus is on the rise it also appears to be on the wane. Are we seeing the crest of the last wave? In Israel they appear to be confident they will soon come out of it. They’ve had an organized and competent rollout of the vaccine, and that from coming behind in that they were not the first to obtain it. But obtain it they have, use it they have, and ahead they apparently are.

New strains of the virus have arisen, and that news sounds ominous. We also know now that you can get the virus more than once. But even the possibly ominous news is not received with the same panic—from what I can tell. I think there is a certain salutary weariness with the situation. The ability cheerfully to ignore the experts is another consequence of this moment. It does sound like relaxed restrictions are both desired and expected.

In our county in PA, the government has put of signs that say that coronavirus is no joke. There’s an example of a competent response to the situation for you.

Speaking of competent responses, the inflection point in US politics of January 6 is overshadowing the coronavirus concern. There is a general principle that you get from reputable historians; it is that however polarized and far apart the people of any given time perceive themselves to be, they are in many ways fundamentally alike. I think that what is happening with the President of the United States shows how much the hysteria of cancel culture has mutated and has a strain going on the right. Public Discourse just changed its leadership, and they lead today with an apology to those who were first colonized, the never Trumpers. It really was an inflection point.

And there’s the Big Tech angle to all this. Are they rapacious oligarchs? Are they scared and finally see a way to purge themselves? I think many are scrambling, or trying to scramble. It’s hard to scramble if you’re so big. I think the natural end of tech monopolies has been accelerated, but I do think it was coming and we are watching them endeavoring to scramble. They are used to being big and dominant, but all of a sudden that is looking like a liability.

Mollie Hemmingway is urging calm rather than panic. In times of panic, it is good to remain calm. The positive note that seems to me growing in this moment is from Victor Davis Hanson, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, in short, that segment of commentariat as they react to the situation. There is an optimism that in moments shades into something not entirely unlike glee. There is also a growing number of cancel survivors, and they testify that there is thriving life after cancelation for the entrepreneurial. The inflection point is accelerating growing realizations and alliances, and that is making competent people who have learned to learn and are now in opposition cheerful.

The Biden administration is already gearing up. It looks to be a lumbering beast. I have a feeling these are times that favor those who are more nimble.

Living Authors of the Unexamined Life

There are quite a few gems in the literary world at this moment, and I wanted to list them. I have been thinking of cancelling out of Twitter. The problem is the discoveries I would miss. Should I subscribe to a literary quarterly instead? Is there one that’s worth consulting? I don’t know that the literary crowd always identifies things correctly. I wonder if things aren’t missed.

Is it that I’m idiosyncratic? Perhaps. Here’s what I’ve gained mostly in the past decade that I’m grateful for in terms of fresh novels.

Donna Tartt. This American author goes slow, a book every ten years or so. Her first book, The Secret History, is a rejection of the pagan allure of learning the classics. It is a rejection of that which looks down on Christianity from learned alternatives. In that way, it is a restatement of Augustine’s City of God. It is an intriguing, off-putting, gradual, explosive, and amazing book.

Her best book, I think, is The Little Friend, in which she tries something similar to the first but with a different revelation. Tartt is most like Flannery O’Connor in this book: it is about people in the raw, the strange a violent pulse of life in most anywhere and yet particularly that place of America.

I think her most difficult and least rewarding book is The Goldfinch. It goes to the city, to New York and Las Vegas, and this America is not the America of The Little Friend. It is nevertheless intriguing to follow her complex plots. One encounters characters in so many varieties. She is always going somewhere, the climax is worth waiting for.

Her style does not pander to contemporary expectations. She writes well, but not to draw attention to her skills. She writes in order to demonstrate how character is revealed in action.

Lev Grossman. Grossman, let me be clear, is a bit of an orc; he’s endeavoring to practice arts not entirely of disenchantment but of less rapturous and chastened enchantment. He is writing to disabuse those who were enchanted by Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. He has a new book out, one targeted at children, unlike his Magicians series, which perhaps will be more mild.

Grossman is a spectacular American writer. He can do things, amazing things with setting up scenes, placing details, understands dialogue, all that kind of stuff. He is a very good writer, and he figured out something about something that intrigued him in The Magicians which he explored thoroughly. He is also making a serious point. It is not a point I entirely agree with, but it is interesting to wrestle with. I do not recommend Lev Grossman to most people I talk with about books, but I really, truly enjoy his books. I haven’t read his latest yet.

Eugene Vodolazkin. Russian literature lives on in Vodolazkin. We have to read him in translation, but the translations work well. He brings his readers on serious journeys that illuminate something of the strengths of Russian culture. He is both building and retrieving in a ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ kind of way. There are three of his books available to us in English.

Soloviov and Larionov is one of his earlier works and intriguing, but it doesn’t quite add up to the other two. It plays with the themes of history and memory and Russian particularity. Still, I think this book is more useful for understanding Vodolazkin than as a novel on its own, though it is good. It anticipates Laurus without quite succeeding the way Laurus does.

Laurus is his masterpiece. It explores the Russian Orthodox phenomenon of holy folly. It is set in Medieval Russia, mostly, and is miles and miles away from most of our experiences. And yet it is close too, because Vodolazkin wants to open that up to us and succeeds. If you have any acquaintance with the history of the ancient Christian church, that of the fourth and fifth centuries, there are echoes in this of that: the undisciplined and spontaneous eremitical impulse that leads into monasticism. This book in our lifetime has signally enriched the literary heritage of this world.

The Aviator is entirely different and as intriguing. Just figuring out why it has that title takes the whole book, and it is a discovery worth making. The book is hard to describe without giving away the interesting discoveries that compel the reader’s interest. I have yet to read it a second time in order to see what it is like without them. If it is a worthwhile book, however, it will be the richer for having been read once, and so I am looking forward to it. It is about Russia, it is about Russians, it is about what there is in the subterranean Russian that existed long before and emerges after the Communist interlude.

Paul Kingsnorth. An English author, Kingsnorth is the most challenging writer in this list. His ability to do things stylistically is his great strength, which means the reader has to master his stylistic innovations. These are considerable. That he did not get a prize for his first book is a sign that the system for prizing is broken. The Wake is set in England after the Conquest and is written in an approximation of Old English that requires intense effort for a few pages to master (reading aloud, as when learning to hear poetry, is recommended). It is worth it. It is illuminating, in fact, how much Kingsnorth accomplishes. He takes us into the consciousness of an Anglo-Saxon landholder: his bitterness, his failure, his demons, his deep pagan roots. It is one of the most astonishing books I’ve ever read.

The Beast is the second book, and it is set in our time. One can see the stylistic antecedents from The Wake in this one; it is not, of course, written in a adapted Old English style. It traces the mental deterioration of the subject as he is alone. Yes, another eremitical kind of thing, this time with admiration of St. Cuthbert. It is a shame Kingsnorth’s sympathies are more with the pagan than with the Christian past (in contrast with Vodolazkin), but there is still this lucid comparison at the heart of the novel that is favorable to ancient Irish monasticism. It is also an extraordinary book in communicating the consciousness of a man reduced to a feral state and wrestling with his demons in a compelling way.

I have not read Alexandria yet. It is set in the future. Kingsnorth used to be an environmental activist and is still thoroughly pessimistic: the calamity, he believes, is about to strike any moment. Because he became disillusioned by the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of activism, while at the same time meeting many of the kind of people who still live a hardscrabble life where volatilities in the ecology have greater impact, he expresses a desire for an old pagan connection with nature and its forces. I find it an intriguing impulse, one that I think with the upheavals our machines are causing is likely to increase, rather than diminish.

Susanna Clarke. Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was a feat. We live in a world of proliferating genre fiction, much of it trivial or intolerable. But just because we are awash in a sea of mediocrity doesn’t mean that out of it objects strange and rare cannot emerge. In fact, I think in some ways the sea of bad stuff is to be expected and has to be sorted through. If people weren’t trying and failing, there would be nobody trying at all. I don’t think it is realistic in any age to expect the majority of what is attempted to succeed. Susanna Clarke earns her success through long and patient labor, and she does not settle for less.

What prompted this whole outburst from me is that I’m in the middle of her third book. The second was The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which is nothing but a collection of short stories continuing the time and place of JS&MN. But in Piranesi she has delivered something different that is still in keeping with her extraordinary abilities. She really wants to write in a remote and oblique way about religious themes, and their absence from our world. I ought not to stick my neck out too far, being where I am in Piranesi, so I’ll say no further at this point. It is looking to be a triumph though.

It makes me glad to live in times when unanticipated joys are still springing forth. This list is not entirely of the last decade, but it is mostly. I think that’s something. And to think my view is no doubt partial!

Fallout

There are those who are angry at how Donald Trump is being treated. “They aren’t coming after me,” he told a crowd some time ago, “they’re coming after you.” Many Americans believe this is true and they will stand by a anyone who will stand by them.

The problem for the right is that the experts have betrayed those who look up to them time and time and time again. This erodes confidence in their expertise and makes people think their expertise has dwindled to one thing: expertise in manipulation.

The thing about manipulation is, it doesn’t work when those who are being manipulated catch on. There are those on the right ready to offer Trump up as a whole burnt offering to placate the outraged decencies of this decent country. And yet, he has been more manipulated than manipulating in the eyes of many, and this is for him political capital. The clumsy scheming for which he lives rent-free in the minds of many is what he most brings out in anybody who opposes him. Beware of opposing him!

The notion that Trump is too toxic is for those who are unwilling to represent what they’d like to think of as the fringe but is in fact a large part of the USA. The problem with taking the moral high ground is that it is hard from that limited territory to find sufficient common ground.

There are those who think they oppose him out of courage and not from lack of prudence. What does it say about their fine principles, however, when because they are so scrupulous about their bedfellows that they find themselves in bed with the left’s outrage machine?

President Trump is earning still more capital, and I predict he will proceed entrepreneurially with it. Those who are disgusted with their fellow-citizens for following him are in full cry again. They want principles of leadership, integrity, decency! Why, after all, would anybody choose to be born in this country if it were not, after due consideration, solely on its merits as a land of decency? Donald Trump is more in touch with all the varieties of what America actually is. And his knowledge of their circumstances is for him political capital. He can be sidelined to the role of kingmaker, but only if there is someone who has the strength to stand up and take the abuse like he does. Are there conservatives who can when so many are ready to dish it out instead?

In politics there is of course a lot of manipulation. With the internet, we can even pick whose manipulation we prefer by tuning out all the rest. But to assume that the divide is between those who manipulate and those who do the manipulating seems to be a fundamental miscalculation. It is a miscalculation that those merely signaling about the moral high ground are doomed to repeat.

There are people who clean the floors, who hand coffee and breakfast sandwiches through windows, who dig up the streets, who still smoke in bars, who install solar panels, whose career is in call centers or in what is starting to look like another dead end: driving vehicles. Many of them are decent in many ways, but many of them fall below the high-minded ideal of American decency. Who, after all, lives an ideal? There are people who have only learned by trial and error how to spend and save money, who live in a chaos or borderline chaos of disrupted families and situations in which a pretense of decency eludes them, who talk about their first bankruptcy and can’t keep their closest relatives straight because there all too many factors going into the calculation. Even John Podhoretz acknowledges, Trump says to Hillary Clinton’s deplorables: I like you, I like you, I like you. People should learn from Hillary Clinton how little political capital there is in activating reflexes of disgust and fears of contamination.

Now there is another unscrupulous attempt to peel decent people away from Trump. The problem is that if it is not decently done, it is going to backfire.

The shifting of the spectrum is interesting. Robert George has been watching Tulsi Gabbard and predicts she will switch parties and run next time. She’s getting poised to do so. She’s the only appealing candidate the left had to offer last time, and she did not appeal that much to the left. It may be that this intellectual dark web political coalition might pull enough together to launch an alternative, and perhaps she’s the figurehead at the prow of their accelerating ship. Perhaps there will be a new political party that is more representative.

Coronavirus Chronicles – January 6

Lots of things going on right now.

  • Starship SN9 just static fired and should be destined for the skies maybe as soon as this weekend. From California, to Texas and next stop Mars.
  • The Democrats just wrested control of the senate from Mitch McConnel. No majority! That will make for some interesting tactical possibilities, one would think.
  • A guy in some kind of wild-Bill outfit got into congress and achieved his moment of glory, horns and all. Everybody is handwringing about the assault on the capital.
  • What appears to be an innocent bystander was shot by the police. Everybody is condemning the violence of the mob.
  • Must have been some mob, to storm the US capitol that way and sweep the security and bomb detectors and secret service and everything.
  • The headlines all over the world are roaring mayhem in Washington DC. The stain will probably never ever wash out from the purewhite fabric of this once great country.
  • The left is gleefully pouncing on it, hypocritically condemning while the horrified and infinitely manipulable right are pearl-clutching and . . . also condemning.
  • How Donald Trump turns this one to his advantage is a bit of a poser. And yet, my money is not on the scolds.
  • And the conspiracy theories multiply because people beyond shadow of a doubt believe there has to be someone masterminding it all.
  • The unexamined life is not worth leading.

Coronavirus Chronicles – January 5

Israel is in its third lockdown, England and Scotland are locking down fast, Germany is similar, and so on. Parts of Bogota are back to more lockdown, but the incentive this time around for everybody seems to be make better economic sense. These lockdowns are not as drastic. I do wonder if in some way they are targeted by political expediency more than scientific considerations.

I watch youTube videos of the streets of Bogota, the streets of Caracas, of Buenos Aires, Mexico City and St. Petersburg. Looks like facemask use is on the wane in Russia . . . where they are free? In Latin America the streets seem back to normal, but the masks are ubiquitous. I’m happy to say that lax mask discipline is still the thing in York Co.

In PA we just came out of a heightened restriction that blanketed the holiday season. You can go back to the restaurants that followed the governor’s directives—though you would have had options going to places which did not. Traffic never really dropped to the levels we saw in March this time around; stores didn’t implement all kinds of patchy and random approaches. By now we all know the drill.

The governor of FL is in the crosshairs of the media for being the most competent with the vaccines. He fights back, which is something learned, a new lesson and a positive sign. Our Trump is still fighting because he has never learned to do otherwise. And so another year begins.

Coronavirus Chronicles – December 23

I think the moment is revealing a lot of incompetence. It is what I find most striking in what I see and hear. We have mistaken privilege for competence, and we are learning that there really is a difference. We thought the credentials and certifications all meant more than we are seeing they actually do. Now we are looking at the hollowness of the shell. We are seeing the inside and it doesn’t have what we thought it did. Think about it: the USA is today a country in which a man such as our president, Donald Trump, no moral paragon, can stand up and indict the whole of Washington for its greed and incompetence with all the credibility of an Old Testament prophet. What a blast!

We are living the latest lockdown here in PA—all the way till January 4. The first one was due to panic. Now it is the idiotic repetition of what cannot give results because they do not know what else to do. People, however, know what to do. There is still competence to be found, just not credentialed or certified. The roads are not as deserted as they were the first time around; the government has not dared shut down as much as it did then; and, at least here, among those who are supposed to be shut down, not all comply. The outposts of resistance which began to bloom last May, continue spreading.

Speaking of which, at the American Mind they are talking about what we need to deal with next: the fact that in all the West there are now two competing and incompatible ideas of what a human being is. It does seem that the effect of the politics of our moment along with the coronavirus have accelerated the polarization this is causing. I don’t think the Biden years are going to be more quiet.

Coronavirus Chronicles – December 12

Some coronavirus season joy. This week saw the exhilarating flight of Starship Serial-Number 8. It is 9 meters in diameter and 50 meters tall. It is powered by methalox, and designed as the first completely reusable rocket—besides being among the largest rockets ever. The goal is to start parking Starships on the Moon and Mars soon, and eventually to come and go.

The problem with reusing all of a rocket is not simply the problem of landing it, but that of re-entry. Objects re-entering Earth’s atmosphere burn up. The way the Starship overcomes that is by re-entering belly first, its abdominal sections more thoroughly protected than Smaug’s but with heat shielding. Then the problem is righting the ship in order to use the engines to slow it down so that it touches the ground gently, right way up, and on its legs. The SN8, may it rest in pieces, managed almost all of it. It rose spectacularly on a bare minimum of engines, it descended laterally, belly first, and then reignited its rocket engines and swung itself over at just the right time. It nevertheless made contact with the landing pad more violently than intended and performed what in the industry is known as a rapid unscheduled disassembly. It was determined that the problem was with the pressurization of the tank fueling the landing burn. With insufficient fuel, the engines failed to provide the necessary thrust to slow the beast.

Which is a spectacularly successful first time test of a prototype! It outperformed your average rocket being launched all over the world if you consider that all these do is shoot up as far as they’ll go and then tumble back into the sea. Emotionally, it could not have been better, with the joy of waiting long months over, the frustration of several last-minute delays, the intrigue of the in-flight camera trained on what the engines were doing, the awe of the precise airborne maneuvering of this air-whale, and the celebratory conflagration at the end. Lots of people are fond of the SN8 as a result.

The bad news is that its successor, SN9, fell over not long after that in the construction bay. Everybody will be very happy if it makes it out and up and back again.

* * *

PA, like many other places in the world, is seeing an increase in restrictions over the holidays. Hospitals are full: apparently almost 14% of the population has tested positive for it. On the grounds that the hospitals are full and the staff is stretched there is cause for concern. On the other hand, nobody is talking about opening stadiums or bringing hospital ships into the harbor of the city of Philadelphia. The restrictions have shut down bars and all indoor dining for the duration of the holidays. There is much tail-gaiting going on in certain places. If you can do outdoors for football then, I suppose, you can do outdoors for beer.

I do think that at this point there are two considerations for Christians in this. First let me discount a third, though. I do not myself think the sixth commandment is at this point an obvious consideration. This may be due to the fact that I have during the course of my life not been plagued with bad health. I am not, when it comes to physical hazards, all that risk-averse and I take a more minimal than maximal view to the considerations the sixth commandment brings up. There are Christians for which the sixth commandment offers compelling considerations in this time. I think this is in large part due to the sensationalizing of the whole thing, the over-awareness creating a phenomenon similar to another exaggeration of the imagination: germophobia.

I think Romans 13 is a much more compelling consideration. What I don’t want is for some part of Scripture to lose its force because of this. Paul told people to submit to Nero and his government, a tyrannical empire. And, in the end, the highest consideration for any Christian is to keep a clean conscience before God. We will answer to his government, and defiling our conscience is much more important than whether or not we have civil liberties.

But I do think there are the stronger (as opposed to the weaker) in all this, and these are those who believe that we also need to defend our civil liberties. Not because having them is more important than a clear conscience, but because keeping a clear conscience means behaving with courage and intelligence in the face of creeping despotic tendencies. I do think we have ceded too much and I do not believe we do well to cede any more.

I don’t think the government of PA is malevolently despotic, though many of those who inhabit this commonwealth do. I think they are benevolently incompetent, and this mostly accounts for the whole. There is in all this too much, as Christopher Flannery put it in the latest Claremont Review of Books, of a “deference to the authority of opaque and demonstrably fallible science” that in good (informed) conscience cannot be tolerated. Some sense that precedents are being set, that opportunities are being tested, that the unscrupulous are gaining insight. While we still have the sense that ours ought to be limited government, we should challenge that which exceeds the limits placed on it. One thing was the emergency of uncertainty and panic that beset us in March, but to play the same cards in December is a telling presumption on the malleability of the populace. There is a coronavirus that has colonized the mutilated moral imagination of our moment, and the immune response of indignation and dismissal I think is warranted of people who insist, if not on being free at least on refusing to encourage despots.

At the same time, I do not believe our civil liberties are more important than a clear conscience. Civil liberties are of the temporal realm, and part of human government; a clean conscience is a matter with eternal consequences and a part of God’s government. God’s government is far more consequential than this fleeting moment’s human arrangement. And so I would urge the strong in this matter to be clothed in lowliness and meekness when dealing with their weaker brothers, those who do not see how they can do other than submit.

Coronavirus Chronicles – December 8

Well, people are being vaccinated. I think Russia was the first a few days ago, Britain is starting today, and even the massive and incompetent bureaucracy of our own administrative state is lumbering toward grudging approval.

We have learned many things in this time, haven’t we? The only way the problems of this swift year are not otherwise unprofitable is if we learn from them. Learn how persistent unscrupulous and incompetent people are at remaining in charge. I think we have learned that a long, concerted effort is always required to weed these growths. Learn to follow the money. Learn not to consider credentials the same as a real education. Learn to be more ready and even more eager for adversity. I’m thinking a lot about how much we live for prosperity, convenience, low-hanging fruit, irritation when comforts are lost, and all those kinds of things. These ways habituate us to character traits that then make us susceptible to tyranny. Of course, all these things were true before, but thanks to this year, I understand them better than formerly.

I read a good article in the CRB about the future of higher education. The author suggests that online learning will thin out the rank of bad teachers and make the option of good teachers and the best courses more widely available. He argues that there aren’t enough good teachers available for the demands made by the prevailing model. I think this also is part of realizing how many mediocrities persist and cling like parasites, debilitating the whole. He sees two problems to be overcome in higher education. One is that of obtaining credentials for studying with a patchwork of online courses. Surely that can be coordinated by means of the accreditation systems in place. Already the movement back and forth seems to me to be pretty fluid. The other more formidable obstacle is the social dimension of learning. I wonder if that’s not something that malls could be repurposed to do. How would malls attract students? Well, they could have libraries and such services for people who want to study. Can you imagine if your old J C Penney were turned into a standardized research library? Or a port for a subscription library with based on interlibrary loans? Also, look at how people use coffee shops. So open a mall with those kinds of venues, put in exercise facilities, put in coffee shops, put in pizza joints, put in stores with office supplies and electronics, put in high speed internet connections, and also provide the kinds of labs and the infrastructure that online learning doesn’t but that learning does require. Something like that. Instead of putting careerist administrators in charge of it, put it on a competitive business footing. Subject it to the market forces. And let them gather in those kinds of spaces with others who are studying the same things, or just others who are studying. Or people who want to be around books and coffee and pizza, the salt of the earth! And let the college outreach groups rent locales, the religious groups, the political groups, and such. The only thing we have to lose is college sports. Of course, you could be creatively readjusted as well, and branded, and marketed no doubt..

Coronavirus Chronicles – November 20

Well, I think in the contest between Turkey Day Authoritarians to eliminate Thanksgiving PA won. Godfather Cuomo is trying threats in NY, Newsom is shooting himself in the foot, but our wily governor and his able transgender assistant score. What did they do? Decree a quarantine for anybody coming from out of state to discourage attendance and then decree that face-masks must be worn even in homes if there are non-residents in attendance. It is not enforceable, but it will do what it needs to: discourage many plans. It works because there’s always someone who believes it is well-intended, because many Christians will submit as to proper authorities, because there are people who are sick of it and it conjures up apathy, and because there are those who really think there will be cops out counting the cars in their driveway. Multi-pronged.

It worked in our case. The plans are off. Well, it makes the workweek easier to schedule and accomplish.

I was wondering what to do about church. Do I tell people they have to submit? What I will do is just to ignore it. If anybody wants to wear a facemask, my policy has always been you are welcome to. I do not enforce the State’s declarations, they have no authority to tell God’s people to muffle the praises of God, at restaurants you can take your facemask off, at bars, to smoke, but the worship of God is less necessary? I think you could argue either way, and that is the whole of my reasoning: or my sheer ambivalence at this point.

Will the aftereffects of all these restrictions be a libertarian backlash? I have a feeling they will. There is apathy and weariness, but eventually there will be rest and there is also unchanneled resentment in all this. We have already known some explosions.

I observed recently that the facemask situation in the markets of York was a lax one. I had occasion to visit the market at Lancaster and noticed that the facemask discipline there is very thorough. No slipping masks, no brave souls in bare defiance, everything snug and even entry limitations. All is enforcement there.

Interesting also to see how much vagrancy they have in Lancaster. They have far more people begging at the traffic lights than ever. The vagrants stand out for their lack of masks and the carboard signs they carry. You don’t see that here. In fact, recently, the deadbeats that clustered around certain parts of Hanover first lost their comfortable seating and have gradually all managed to disappear.

I don’t think it is the colder weather. One thing the colder weather does for me, however, which I noticed in Lancaster where I had to wear a mask more than I normally would: the cold makes you glad for that thing on your face.

Coronavirus Chronicles – November 14

Apparently, we are in the middle of a third wave. What is also apparent is that panicking people about it doesn’t work the way it used to. There are certain places where people come together and as a result spread the virus: restaurants, crowded markets, public transportation. I don’t really hear anybody talking about shutting down restaurants—I still regularly attend them myself. The markets seem to me to be thriving and as crowded as ever. They say they require facemasks, and I would say there’s a high rate of compliance. But being casual about facemasks is another sizeable factor. What is interesting is that the posters on the doors also say “social distancing required” . . . because there is none of that happening in a market. It can’t be enforced and it can’t really be required, unless by required you mean that you agree that it ought to be done, that you have complied scrupulously, and will, upon opening the door and looking inside your market destination, turn around and go home since entrance would require you to pass by other people at distances measured in inches. If you require social distancing for yourself, stay out of the markets. Markets, though, are one of the greatest thing about York Co.

Public transportation? I tried and either did not understand the information about times and schedules or was misled. I do notice that the transportation hubs of York Co. seem to be as they always were. I must add , for the benefit of those who have never had the joy of being in York Co. PA, that the glory of this county is more in the markets than in the public transportation offered.

Here’s the interesting development in the public sector of Hanover: they closed down the municipality building. They say they’re doing it to prevent spreading coronavirus. Big official signs with our seal, the motto of which is Fiat Justitia. You would think that would be a place where masks and distancing could be enforced; but either it can not or it does not work.

Now, I am no libertarian, and I want government and services and all that. The result is that I am ambivalent about the municipality shutting down a building I have never had occasion to enter. They should render the services required if they are necessary, but if they can be dispensed with, why are they funded? I do find it curious that this is the lockdown the town has settled on.

* * *

Trump is fighting. His enemies are squandering. It is interesting that in every way they are consistently feckless. Trump seems to bring out of them what they most are. Is that true for all of us? And when will his streak of luck with dumb enemies run out? He is going to have more historians swarming over all this in decades and centuries to come than all his opponents together. I think he’s certainly hogged the history limelight.

* * *

Something unrelated, not about Trump, not about coronavirus, not about limelight: Fred Sanders spoke at Tenth in Philadelphia nearly three years ago and someone recently called attention to the occasion. He is a good explainer. I thought it very interesting that a Wesleyan (I understand he’s a Wesleyan—I am no authority however) should address a Presbyterian congregation on Ephesians 1:3-14. You can hear how he does it here, what he dodges and what he doesn’t. It is a very good explanation of what he does explain. Fred Sanders is a very, very good explainer.

Coronavirus Chronicles – November 7

Well, we are in the election limbo. Coronavirus lockdowns are all the rage in Europe, not so much here.

I took a walk in the warm autumn weather. The skies these days are blue, the trees while not brightly in color are all in color, and the harvest continues. They bundle the corn stalks into great cylindrical bales sometimes around here. There are fields with these precise formations of organic matter in the bright sun, and there are greying rows of nodding corn as well. We have been in an almost uninterrupted streak of highs in the lower 70s and cloudless days since September. We did have a rainy week of cold, but we’ve only had the one.

And in these serene conditions the coronavirus moment unfolds. I just went to the bustling Hanover market where no social distancing obtains. Lines for the butcher, tables all taken, money for goods exchanged. The Hanover authorities have not been using a heavy hand at all. Restaurants are more spacious, masks as everywhere present, but there is a bustle to it.

And in this serenity the election is contested. There are people who stood in line 4 hours to vote. I think if you made an effort to get out, wait patiently, and vote legally, then to you the contest is to be expected. It is part of the fight against the propaganda of the polls, the indecency of ideologies, and the brazen injustice of incompetent elites. There are those who are spending moral capital as if they could just print more at the Federal Reserve. I don’t think you can fool all of the people all of the time though. I think there are positive signs in all this, hope for the long struggle.

Here’s an interesting observation from Augusto del Noce’s excellent collection of essays. He suggests that the necessary intellectual cause for the abolition of slavery was individualism, that sense of the individual growing strong. He also suggests that if this diminishes, slavery returns. I find that intriguing and very plausible. Who do his new totalitarians enslave? Those who resisted them first. I therefore wonder if that’s not the dilemma for many at the moment: if the new totalitarianism is ascendant, do I want to pay the price? There is a factor in all this moment that will play a great part: the factor of courage present or absent.

Coronavirus Chronicles – October 31

Well, we very near the election. Here’s one thing that seems to be taking shape based on a dustup in the news recently: there is one side which understands that not everything can be controlled, and that the unexpected comes at you, and that you have to just ride on; and there is the other side. I look at the circles and distances and masks at a quiet little gathering for Biden and I look at the surging masses at a Trump rally: it is not hard to know which is which.

You know what makes a difference? Reading a printed periodical on all this. I just got my first of the Claremont Review of Books. I like the politics of the Claremont, but then I wondered if they and their associates at the American Mind weren’t getting a bit fringe on the alarm. But then I got the publication. It really makes a difference. It is also one of the luxuries of our times, being able to get a publication of this sort and have it to read. It is needed variety at least in my life. I wonder if part of coming out of this moment of new media options is not deliberating on what kinds of things you get where and for what. There is a leisureliness to reading something in print that doesn’t seem to obtain online, and it changes the atmosphere in which the things read about are received.

Violence is still on tap in the cities of the USA. I don’t know if they’re still protesting in Portland, but they protested in Philadelphia. I can understand it. There are huge sections of Philadelphia that are just like the third world: run down, dingy, trashy, unlovely. (Except that the stores in third world countries aren’t always as fatuously vulnerable: they have steel shutters and iron rails, they have security guards.) I am surprised that people who have to live in those parts of Philadelphia don’t riot more often. I know they do it when the Eagles win, but then, that’s not going to give them much of a chance to do so. In Bogota, riots and protests were a pretty constant thing. Just another routine event.

Here in Hanover we have a good mayor: things are getting fixed, patched, replaced, done. You know the place is prosperous when you have a choice of Walmarts. If you don’t feel like going to the one, you can go to the other. How many towns of 15000 can boast that kind of consumer option? And if you don’t want to do the Walmarts, do the Target instead.

Meanwhile, space is happening. Back when the lockdown started and we were just eating meals as usual, in order to change things up I started watching youTube videos. YouTube has its uses. I had several youTubers that I had discovered: a fixed-axle bicycle delivery guy in Bogota, a Venezuelan immigrant in Buenos Aires, and a Caribbean foodie in Barranquilla. Recently I added a guy who drives around Montevideo explaining the layout. Somehow from there I started watching space launches. That is the whole point of having youTube, folks. Engineering Today has good ones, Marcus House has great ones, SpaceX fans is somewhat hasty but curiously interesting, and there are more. There are sites that will tell you anytime a rocket is launched anywhere, and link to footage when available. Roscosmos is regularly shooting Sputnik rockets, the Chinese keep putting stuff into orbit, and there are a constellation of other countries doing so, beside the steady beat of Spacex and all its diminishing competitors. Spacex has made reusable rockets an expectation.

What else I’m into is videos of living in Antartica. It is part of straining toward winter, which I always do.

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?