C. S. Lewis wrote about peer orientation? Certainly not by that name.
But recently, as part of my C. S. Lewis retrospective, I came upon a passage in Mere Christianity that immediately brought to mind the epidemic of children taking their culture and direction from peers, rather than from parents or other adults, which has been going on in our society for at least three generations.
What Lewis was actually writing about was the central tenet of Christianity: what it is and what it is not.
The central Christian belief is that Christ's death has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start. Theories as to how it did that are another matter. A good many different theories have been held as to how it works; what all Christians are agreed on is that it does work.
As part of his explanation of one of those theories, Lewis likens God's work in us—enabling us to repent, reason, and love—to a teacher who helps a child learn to write by holding the child's hand and forming the letters with him. Later he writes [emphasis mine],
I have heard some people complain that if Jesus was God as well as man, then His sufferings and death lose all value in their eyes, "because it must have been so easy for Him." Others may (very rightly) rebuke the ingratitude and ungraciousness of this objection; what staggers me is the misunderstanding it betrays. In one sense, of course, those who make it are right. They have even understated their own case. The perfect submission, the perfect suffering, the perfect death were not only easier to Jesus because He was God, but were possible only because He was God. But surely that is a very odd reason for not accepting them? The teacher is able to form the letters for the child because the teacher is grown-up and knows how to write. That, of course, makes it easier for the teacher; and only because it is easier for him can he help the child. If [the child] rejected him because "it’s easy for grown-ups" and waited to learn writing from another child who could not write ... (and so had no "unfair" advantage), [the student] would not get on very quickly. If I am drowning in a rapid river, a man who still has one foot on the bank may give me a hand which saves my life. Ought I to shout back (between my gasps) "No, it’s not fair! You have an advantage! You’re keeping one foot on the bank"? That advantage—call it "unfair" if you like—is the only reason why he can be of any use to me. To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?
Rejecting the help of those who are stronger than ourselves is what we have been doing for decades. We turn for help and advice—for the very shaping of our lives—to our peers, and we not only tolerate, but encourage, the same in our children. Unlike all generations before the 20th century, we do not acquire our culture from our parents, but from agemates who have no more experience, knowledge, and wisdom than we ourseves. We ignore history, throwing out all mankind has learned from the beginning of human life on earth, on the grounds that the benighted, ignorant savages that came before us have nothing to say to our modern world. The latest TED talk or Huffington Post article gets more respect and attention than the wisest writings of the past.
No wonder we're in a mess.
Sandwiched between 3:14 (Pi Day) and 3:17 (St. Patrick's Day) is
3:16 (Greatest Love Day)
John 3:16, that is.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
In honor of which I present this beautiful anthem, John Stainer's God So Loved the World. No, that's not our choir. But Porter and I have sung this many times and it's one of our favorites.
I've never seen the show, The Bachelor, never wanted to see it, still don't want to see it. But even I have to admit they did something right on their recent "live finale," whatever that was. Try to ignore the inanity.
Hear that piano? That's Mirko Tessandori. If you don't blink, you can even catch a few glimpses of him.
South African deep-sea diver Rainier Schimpf was diving with a crew that was documenting a sardine run in the waters east of Cape Town. Suddenly the water around him started churning, and he found himself sucked into the mouth of a Bryde whale. All was dark. He held his breath.
The whale later spat him out, unharmed.
“Nothing can actually prepare you for the event when you end up inside the whale," remarked Schimpf. Jonah would agree.
You can read the story and see photos here.
I appreciate living in this time and place. I know I've sometimes said that I think I was born in the wrong century, but in truth I'm glad to be in the era where we have antibiotics, smoke-free plane flights, and respect for women. That said, I'm shaking my head more and more at our modern American culture (and I'm not sure Europe is any better).
Born in the early 1950's; laboring through most of my education under dress codes that required me to wear a dress or a skirt to school every single day; learning from my voluminous childhood reading that boys are smart, strong, and have adventures, while girls are intellectually inferior, weak, and interested only in clothes and romance; having been the "first and only girl" in my Boy Scout Explorer troop, high school stage band, physics classes, and who knows what all else—I've witnessed quite a bit of change, much of it for the better, when it comes to how our society views men and women.
But now I think we've taken a few steps backward. A walk through the toy department in any major store reveals that children's toys are nearly as sex-stereotyped as they were when I was a child, and much more so than when our own children were young.
Even worse, if you deviate in interests, abilities, or goals from the norm for your sex, you're not just a bit odd—you risk being labelled "transgender" or at best "confused about your sexual identity."
Why can't we acknowledge, and celebrate, the fact that interests, abilities, and goals are broadly spread among males and females, without snipping that spectrum up into labels and diagnoses so that almost no one feels normal? The issue of making differences into diagnoses is much bigger than sex stereotyping, but the gender dimension happens to be especially big these days.
Here's an article about a Viking warrior's grave, assumed for more than a century to be that of a man; it was discovered in 2017 that the body is female.
When researchers announced in 2017 that the warrior was actually female, they received a lot of pushback—surely the archaeologists had made some mistake? Perhaps they tested the wrong body?
Now that's an attitude that could have been from the 1950's. A strong leader? Must have been male.
The following, however, is clearly from 2019:
The ensuing conversation raised questions about the role of women in Viking culture—as well as how Vikings understood gender identity. Unlike other Viking women buried with weapons, this person wasn’t wearing typical women’s clothing or jewelry.
“In this grave there is nothing that we archaeologically would interpret as female,” says [Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson, who co-authored the 2017 paper about the discovery].... “It’s not a typically male costume either probably because it’s very high status…but there is nothing indicating a woman, there are no typical finds that we link to women.”
There is speculation, then, that the woman must have been "transgender," an issue the author addresses in a more recent paper.
As for the warrior’s gender identity, Hedenstierna-Jonson and her colleagues write, “There are many other possibilities across a wide gender spectrum, some perhaps unknown to us, but familiar to the people of the time.
“We do not discount any of them.”
So. In the 21st century we have moved on from the archaic idea that only men can be strong leaders, not women. But what have we moved on to? The idea that women still can't be strong leaders, because if you are a strong leader, you must be someone who isn't really female, but something closer to male on the spectrum.
Is that progress? Not for women.
If you think backseat driving is annoying, you should try backseat navigating.
We were with a friend, driving through unfamiliar streets and anticipating a delicious Thai dinner. As the one with the shortest legs, I was in the back seat. I usually prefer that position, as both our friend and my husband enjoy keeping up a lively conversation and that's much more convenient if they're both in the front. In the back seat, I can read, or think, or just enjoy the ride, which is generally my preference.
But it doesn't work for navigating.
We had just entered a tricky part of the route, where many turns happened in a very short period of time. I tried to interrupt the above-mentioned lively conversation to give directions. Not only were they not listening to my directions, I became convinced they weren't even hearing me, since every time I jumped into a break in the flow of words, our friend would talk right over me.
Finally, in utter frustration, I raised my voice and cried, "CAN YOU ALL PLEASE STOP TALKING FOR A FEW MINUTES AND LISTEN TO MY DIRECTIONS?"
My husband slammed on the brakes and brought us to a screeching halt.
No harm was done: we were in a residential area and it was safe to stop. But chaos reigned and some not-so-happy words were exchanged for a few seconds.
It wasn't until we were at the restaurant waiting for our meal that some light was shed on what had happened there. Our friend was not being rude when he talked over me: he had left his hearing aid at home, and he truly did not know I was talking.
And it wasn't till we were home (after a delicious lunch) that I figured out why my husband had slammed on the brakes. I had thought he was angry. But picture the situation: You're driving on unfamiliar roads, you are trying to pay attention to someone with a loud voice who is talking in your right ear, and you aren't quite hearing what the softer voice is saying from behind you—until that voice suddenly becomes a shout: "CAN YOU ALL PLEASE STOP TALKING FOR A FEW MINUTES AND LISTEN TO MY DIRECTIONS?"
What does your brain hear?
It hears the one word, "STOP!"
In retrospect, it was funny—it just took us a while to realize that.
What did I learn?
- Just because someone raises her voice, it doesn't necessarily mean she's angry (though she might be a little bit)—maybe she's just trying to be heard.
- Just because someone doesn't respond to you, it doesn't necessarily mean he's rudely ignoring you—maybe he's hard of hearing.
- Just because someone does something that appears to be an outburst of temper, it doesn't necessarily mean he's reacting in anger (though he might be a little bit)—maybe he thinks he's responding to an emergency situation.
And one more thing: Don't try to navigate from the back seat.
Not long ago, Ancestry.com added a new feature to their DNA services, where for an additional $10 they will analyze your existing DNA sample for certain genetic traits. It's not nearly as extensive as that offered by 23andMe, but for $10 I thought it worth checking out.
The verdict? Interesting, of questionable use, somewhat confusing, and mildly amusing. I'm posting our results for the few family members who might be interested, and for anyone else who wonders what the $10 will get you.
Bear in mind that having the gene for a trait does not mean that you actually have that trait, since genetics is complicated! Many different genes may influence the trait, and environment is often a factor as well. As I understand it, current DNA tests can give you a good general picture, but not the whole story. As the site says,
Sometimes your trait doesn't match what your genes say—that's totally normal. Genes don't always tell the whole story.
What the Ancestry.com Traits testing told me I can often confirm—but not always. They hedge their conclusions with "probably" in most cases. I've listed what Ancestry says, followed by my commentary. In some cases this may be more information than you want to know; you have been warned.
- Cleft Chin Yes. I see no evidence thereof. Maybe too small to notice.
- Finger Length Index finger longer than ring finger. Maybe. It's hard to measure, and harder still when fingers are affected by arthritis.
- Earlobe Type Attached. I can confirm that.
- Earwax Type Wet. This one is more complicated than they make out, I'm certain. The two types are "Wet and sticky, yellowish to brown in color)" and "Dry and flaky (gray to tan in color)." Ancestry says, "Dry earwax is common in Asian and Native American populations. Just about everybody else has the wet variety. But in practice, I—with no measurable Asian or Native American ancestry—have primarily what they describe as "dry." But not exclusively: occasionally it's more like the wet, though not sticky, and nothing like that of others I know whose earwax is clearly of the wet-and-sticky variety. So there's a lot more going on here than a single genetic marker.
- Eye Color Light eyes. No surprise there—blue.
- Freckles No freckles. They got this right, too.
- Hair Color Lighter hair. Yep. Not now, but I was blonde as kid. My optometrist confirmed that: I have a blonde fundus. Even Miss Clairol can't fool an eye doctor.
- Hair Type Naturally wavy hair. Where did that come from? My hair is straight as can be. I remember my sister having somewhat wavy hair until her first haircut, so maybe I did then, too. But after that the only waves in my hair came from the painful overnight application of curlers—until my mother gave up on making me into someone who thought it reasonable to endure pain just to conform to society's standards of beauty. :)
- Hair Strand Thickness Average. I suppose so. Never thought about this one much. The gene variant for "thick hair" is "almost nonexistent in people of African and European descent," so when the hairdressers tell me (as they frequently do), "You sure have thick hair!" they must be talking about something else.
- Iris Patterns I should have furrows, crypts, and rings in my irises. I'll take their word for it; I find it hard to tell, though my irises are certainly more complex than I thought.
- Male Hair Loss Low chance of hair loss. Too bad we didn't have sons; I hope our daughters inherited the gene (which their father has, too) and passed it on to their sons.
- Skin Pigmentation Light to medium skin tone. No surprise here.
- Unibrow Yes. Oops, they got that one wrong.
- Asparagus Metabolite Detection No. Well, half right As with the Earwax Type, it's more complicated than it seems. What they say, exactly, is this: your DNA suggests you might not notice a distinctive smell when you pee after eating asparagus. This is correct; I do not. However, they also say the following:
When your body digests asparagus, it produces a chemical called asparagusic acid, which breaks down into compounds that contain sulfur, which is notoriously stinky (think rotten eggs). Some people can smell this in their urine after eating asparagus; others can’t.
Scientists used to think that asparagus caused some people to produce bad-smelling urine, but it turns out that it’s probably not the stench but the ability to smell it that varies. The inability to smell is called “asparagus anosmia.”
I'm inclined to think that the new theory is wrong, since I cannot smell the distinctive odor in my own urine after eating asparagus, and neither can Porter. You might think that the quantities of asparagus eaten make a difference, but even when I eat a lot, we don't notice the smell, and when Porter eats the tiniest amount of asparagus, we both know it! So we can both smell it, but as far as we can tell, only he produces detectable "asparagus pee."
- Bitter Sensitivity No. This is a test for the ability to taste the bitterness in glucosinolates, which are common in vegetables like brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale. This may explain why I don't understand people who have an averson to kale....
- Cilantro Aversion Yes. Boy did they get this one wrong. I love, love, love cilantro! But my grandson may have received this gene, since he says cilantro tastes like stinkbugs. (Don't ask me how he knows the taste of stinkbugs.)
- Sweet Sensitivity More sensitive to sweets. If this is true, I taste sweet flavors more intensely than people without this variant. Maybe. I do find that baked goods like cakes and cookies can do with a lot less sugar than the recipe calls for. But that doesn't change the fact that I love sweetness!
- Savory (Umami) Sensitivity Less sensitive to umami, or savory flavors. Maybe this is why I never get "Chinese restaurant syndrome." I love the "umami" flavor in foods, but am not noticeably sensitive to monosodium glutamate (MSG).
I'll give an abbreviated version of Porter's results. For some reason, he has one more trait (Birth Weight), added recently, which I don't see in my results yet.
- Birth Weight average-sized newborn. His birth certificate doesn't have birth weight information, so we'll probably never know.
- Cleft Chin Yes. Wrong—as far as we can tell.
- Finger Length Index finger longer than ring finger. As far as he can tell, they are the same length.
- Earlobe Type Unattached. Wrong—Attached.
- Earwax Type Wet. Right.
- Eye Color Light eyes. Right—hazel.
- Freckles No freckles. Right.
- Hair Color Darker hair. Right.
- Hair Type Naturally wavy hair. Wrong.
- Hair Strand Thickness Average. Probably right.
- Iris Patterns He should have furrows and rings in his irises. Who knows?
- Male Hair Loss Low chance of hair loss. Looks right so far. :)
- Skin Pigmentation Light to medium skin tone. Right.
- Unibrow No. Right.
- Asparagus Metabolite Detection Yes. Right.
- Bitter Sensitivity No. Probably right.
- Cilantro Aversion No.
- Sweet Sensitivity More sensitive to sweets.
- Savory (Umami) Sensitivity Less sensitive to umami, or savory flavors.
Verdict? I don't see any use for it, but it was a fair $10 (each) worth of entertainment, to have done once. Coming up? We grabbed a set of 23andMe tests on a Black Friday special, and finally sent them in recently. We'll see if they're any more enlightening.
I have a new favorite cooking show, and no one is more surprised than me. It's called Struggle Meals and features a crazy young person (probably one of those Millennials, born on Bastille Day in 1990, somewhere between our youngest daughter and our oldest nephew) whose audience is a world vastly different from my own, a world of potty-mouthed youngsters who claim to be struggling financially yet who almost never cook at home, preferring restaurant food, most often in take-out or food-truck form, because they "don't have time" to do otherwise. They probably also pay for cable TV, but that's a rant for another time. In any case, I'm clearly not his intended audience.
But hey, food is food! Cooking is cooking, and Struggle Meals is full of great ideas. Frankie Celenza is highly entertaining (if also, like much of his audience, a bit of a potty-mouth), and the Struggle Meals shows are short (five to fifteen minutes) and to the point. The link above takes you to the YouTube channel, but if you have access to Facebook, you can follow Struggle Meals there, with the advantage that the comments always include recipes for his featured dishes.
The point of the show is that inexpensive, high-quality, homemade food is within reach of almost everyone. Each show features the creation of (usually) three attractive, healthful meals on a theme (such as wraps, chicken, coconut, breakfast, street food, etc.), all of which can be prepared with minimal effort for under $2 per serving. And without special equipment: for example, he uses the "Struggle Whisk 9000"—a fork. Or "Struggle Plastic Wrap"—a plate on top of a bowl.
One feature of most of the shows is his famous "packet drawer," which is where I first got the hint that his audience lives on take-out food. Frankie has one kitchen drawer dedicated solely to those tiny packets of soy sauce, sugar, butter, mustard, mayonnaise—even sriracha—that usually come in excess with take-out orders. This is "free flavor" and he makes liberal use of it, a significant savings of both money and food over tossing them into the trash. "Normal people" won't have this resource, but that doesn't hinder the recipes—nor the fun—in any way.
Here's an example, Episode 1 of the first season. Warning: gratuitous violence in the introduction. I've learned where to close my eyes.
Words of wisdom for our time from one of my favorite columnists, "back in the day"—economist Milton Friedman:
One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.
A Preface to "Paradise Lost" by C. S. Lewis (Oxford University Press, 1942)
When C. S. Lewis writes a preface, it isn"t just a few pages stuck on the front of a book. His A Preface to "Paradise Lost" is itself a book. It's not one we have in our large collection of books by and about Lewis, but I was able to find it in PDF form and read it on my Kindle.
Confession: I have not read Milton's Paradise Lost. I'm sure my education is the worse because of that omission, and I could certainly see books that my teachers did inflict on me that Milton should have replaced. When, if ever, it will climb to the top of my current, very long reading list, I don't know. But at least now it is on my radar, and I know that I am better prepared for having read Lewis first.
I only have two quotes, not because there isn't much more of value in the book, but because the format made it a lot harder to keep track of them.
How are [the] gulfs between the ages to be dealt with by the student of poetry? A method often recommended may be called the method of The Unchanging Human Heart. According to this method the things which separate one age from another are superficial. Just as, if we stripped the armour off a medieval knight or the lace off a Caroline courtier, we should find beneath them an anatomy identical with our own, so, it is held, if we strip off from Virgil his Roman imperialism, from Sidney his code of honour, from Lucretius his Epicurean philosophy, and from all who have it their religion, we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate. I held this theory myself for many years, but I have now abandoned it. ... How if these are not really the most important elements in the actual balance of the poem we are reading? Our whole study of the poem will then become a battle between us and the author in which we are trying to twist his work into a shape he never gave it.... I do not say that even on these terms we shall not get some value out of our reading; but we must not imagine that we are appreciating the works the old writers actually wrote.
Fortunately there is a better way. Instead of stripping the knight of his armour you can try to put his armour on yourself; instead of seeing how the courtier would look without his lace, you can try to see how you would feel with his lace; that is, with his honour, his wit, his royalism, and his gallantries... To enjoy our full humanity we ought, so far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times, and on occasion to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed. You must, so far as in you lies, become an Achaean chief while reading Homer, a medieval knight while reading Malory, and an eighteenth century Londoner while reading Johnson. Only thus will you be able to judge the work "in the same spirit that its author writ"....
We must therefore turn a deaf ear to Professor [Denis] Saurat when he invites us "to study what there is of lasting originality in Milton"s thought and especially to disentangle from theological rubbish the permanent and human interest." This is like asking us to study Hamlet after the "rubbish" of the revenge code has been removed, or centipedes when free of their irrelevant legs, or Gothic architecture without the pointed arches. Milton's thought, when purged of its theology, does not exist. Our plan must be very different—to plunge right into the "rubbish," to see the world as if we believed it, and then, while we still hold that position in our imagination, to see what sort of a poem results.
This puts me in mind of the way I've heard that actors prepare for their rôles: To play Richard III one must as much as possible become Richard III. I see why acting can be a spiritually dangerous profession! I read recently of an incident where actor Michael Weatherly was accused of making sexually inappropriate comments to one of his coworkers. No matter what one might think of his supposed comments, I don't see how anyone can be shocked that he might say something inappropriate given thirteen seasons of total immersion in the NCIS character Tony DiNozzo—whose stock-in-trade was just such language and actions.
In all but a few writers the "good" characters are the least successful, and every one who has ever tried to make even the humblest story ought to know why. To make a character worse than oneself it is only necessary to release imaginatively from control some of the bad passions which, in real life, are always straining at the leash.... But if you try to draw a character better than yourself, all you can do is to take the best moments you have had and to imagine them prolonged and more consistently embodied in action. But the real high virtues which we do not possess at all, we cannot depict except in a purely external fashion. We do not really know what it feels like to be a man much better than ourselves. His whole inner landscape is one we have never seen, and when we guess it we blunder. It is in their "good" characters that novelists make, unawares, the most shocking self-revelations. Heaven understands Hell and Hell does not understand Heaven, and all of us, in our measure, share the ... blindness. To project ourselves into a wicked character, we have only to stop doing something, and something that we are already tired of doing; to project ourselves into a good one we have to do what we cannot and become what we are not.
It is worth noting that elsewhere Lewis praises George MacDonald for being that very rare writer who can portray goodness much better than evil.
The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981)
It may seem as if I've copied the whole book, but is a lot of value in those 463 pages. It's too long, perhaps, for anyone not a Tolkien fan, but it's a fascinating look not only into the life and mind of the creator of The Lord of the Rings, but into his times and society as well.
Herewith only a small sample.
An American publisher showed interest in The Hobbit, adding that they would like more illustrations and suggesting the employment of good American artists. Tolkien was amenable but had one concern:
It might be advisable, rather than lose the American interest, to let the Americans do what seems good to them—as long as it was possible ... to veto anything from or influenced by the Disney studios (for all whose works I have a heartfelt loathing).
At any minute it is what we are and are doing, not what we plan to be and do that counts.
[C. S. ] Lewis is as energetic and jolly as ever, but getting too much publicity for his or any of our tastes. [One publication], usually fairly reasonable, did him the doubtful honour of a peculiarly misrepresentative and asinine paragraph.... It began "Ascetic Mr. Lewis"—!!! I ask you! He put away three pints in a very short session we had this morning, and said he was "going short for Lent." I suppose all the stuff you see in print is about as accurate about Tom, Dick, or Harry. It is a pity newspapers can't leave people alone, and don't make some effort to understand what they say (if it is worth it): at any rate they might have some standards that would prevent them saying things about people which are quite untrue, even if not actually (as often) painful, angering, or indeed injurious....
Both the sexual and the sacred [curse] words have ceased to have any content except the ghost of past emotion. I don't mean that it is not a bad thing, and it is certainly very wearisome, saddening and maddening, but it is at any rate no blasphemy in the full sense.
I include the following fan letter excerpt simply for the name of the school, which will have meaning to our family.
Dear Mr Tolkien, I have just finished reading your book The Hobbit for the 11th time and I want to tell you what I think of it. I think it is the most wonderful book I have ever read. It is beyond description ... Gee Whiz, I'm surprised that it's not more popular ... If you have written any other books, would you please send me their names?
John Barrow 12 yrs.
West town School, West town, Pa.
Jive and Boogie-Woogie [are] essentially vulgar, music corrupted by the mechanism, echoing in dreary unnourished heads.
The appalling destruction and misery of this war mount hourly: destruction of what should be (indeed is) the common wealth of Europe, and the world, if mankind were not so besotted, wealth the loss of which will affect us all, victors or not. ... There seem no bowels of mercy or compassion, no imagination, left in this dark diabolic hour. By which I do not mean that it may not all, in the present situation ... be necessary and inevitable. But why gloat! We were supposed to have reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted. The destruction of Germany, be it 100 times merited, is one of the most appalling, world-catastrophes.
Pages 122-123 (from a letter to his publisher)
The thing is to finish the thing as devised and then let it be judged. But forgive me! It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other. I fear it must stand or fall as it substantially is. It would be idle to pretend that I do not greatly desire publication, since a solitary art is no art; nor that I have not a pleasure in praise, with as little vanity as fallen man can manage (he has not much more share in his writings than in his children of the body, but it is something to have a function); yet the chief thing is to complete one's work, as far as completion has any real sense.
I write only because I find it easier to say such things as I really want to say. If they are foolish or seem so, I am not present when they fall flat.
This university business of earning one's living by teaching, delivering philological lectures, and daily attendance at "boards" and other talk-meetings, interferes sadly with serious work.
My work did not "evolve" into serious work. It started like that. [The Hobbit] was a fragment, torn out of an already existing mythology. In so far as it was dressed up as "for children," in style or manner, I regret it. So do the children.
I avoid hobbies because I am a very serious person and cannot distinguish between private amusement and duty.
I am affable, but unsociable.
I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and always have been; and I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment of animals.
I find that many children become interested, even engrossed, in The Lord of the Rings, from about 10 onwards. I think it rather a pity, really. It was not written for them. But then I am a very "unvoracious" reader, and since I can seldom bring myself to read a work twice I think of the many things that I read—too soon! Nothing, not even a (possible) deeper appreciation, for me replaces the bloom on a book, the freshness of the unread.
[The completion of The Lord of the Rings] still astonishes me. A notorious beginner of enterprises and non-finisher, partly through lack of time, partly through lack of single-minded concentration, I still wonder how and why I managed to peg away at this thing year after year, often under real difficulties, and bring it to a conclusion.
In 1958, Tolkien and his publisher were considering a film proposal that eventually fell through.
[The story line document] is sufficient to give me grave anxiety about the actual dialogue that (I suppose) will be used. I should say [Morton Grady] Zimmerman, the constructor of this s-l, is quite incapable of excerpting, or adapting the "spoken words" of the book. He is hasty, insensitive, and impertinent.
He does not read books. It seems to me evident that he has skimmed through the L.R. at a great pace, and then constructed his s.l. from partly confused memories, and with the minimum of references back to the original. Thus he gets most of the names wrong in form—not occasionally by casual error but fixedly (always Borimor for Boromir); or he misapplies them: Radagast becomes an Eagle. The introduction of characters and the indications of what they are to say have little or no reference to the book....
I feel very unhappy about the extreme silliness and incompetence of Z and his complete lack of respect for the original (it seems wilfully wrong without discernible technical reasons at nearly every point). But I need, and shall soon need very much indeed, money, and I am conscious of your rights and interests; so that I shall endeavour to restrain myself, and avoid all avoidable offence.
In another letter, Tolkien sets out in detail some of his objections. I fear he would also apply the following judgment (as well as many others that I won't take the space to quote here), to Peter Jackson's version, had he had the chance to see the film that is now nearly synonymous with his book.
He has cut the parts of the story upon which its characteristic and peculiar tone principally depends, showing a preference for fights; and he has made no serious attempt to represent the heart of the tale....
When I published The Hobbit—hurriedly and without due consideration—I was still influenced by the convention that "fairy-stories" are naturally directed to children (with or without the silly added waggery "from seven to seventy"). And I had children of my own. But the desire to address children, as such, had nothing to do with the story as such in itself or the urge to write it. But it had some unfortunate effects on the mode of expression and narrative method, which if I had not been rushed, I should have corrected. Intelligent children of good taste (of which there seem quite a number) have always, I am glad to say, singled out the points in manner where the address is to children as blemishes.
Children are not a class or kind, they are a heterogeneous collection of immature persons, varying, as persons do, in their reach, and in their ability to extend it when stimulated. As soon as you limit your vocabulary to what you suppose to be within their reach, you in fact simply cut off the gifted ones from the chance of extending it.
There was a great tree—a huge poplar with vast limbs—visible through my window even as I lay in bed. I loved it, and was anxious about it. It had been savagely mutilated some years before, but had gallantly grown new limbs—though of course not with the unblemished grace of its former natural self; and now a foolish neighbour was agitating to have it felled. Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate.
Well here comes Christmas! That astonishing thing that no "commercialism" can in fact defile—unless you let it.
Years before I had rejected as disgusting cynicism by an old vulgarian the words of warning given me by old Joseph Write. "What do you take Oxford for, lad?" "A university, a place of learning." "Nay, lad, it's a factory! And what's it making? I'll tell you. It's making fees. Get that into your head, and you'll begin to understand what goes on."
Alas! by 1935 I new knew that it was perfectly true.
The "protestant" search backwards for "simplicity" and directness—which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain. Because "primitive Christianity" is now and in spite of all "research" will ever remain largely unknown; because "primitiveness" is no guarantee of value, and is and was in great part a reflection of ignorance. Grave abuses were as much an element in Christian "liturgical" behaviour from the beginning as now. (St. Paul's strictures on eucharistic behaviour are sufficient to show this!) Still more because "my church" was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history—the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set. There is no resemblance between the "mustard seed" and the full-grown tree. For those living in the days of its branching growth the Tree is the thing, for the history of a living thing is part of its life, and the history of a divine thing is sacred. The wise may know that it began with a seed, but it is vain to try and dig it up, for it no longer exists, and the virtue and powers that it had now reside in the Tree.
I have only since I retired learned that I was a successful professor. I had no idea that my lectures had such an effect—and, if I had, they might have been better. My "friends" among dons were chiefly pleased to tell me that I spoke too fast and might have been interesting if I could be heard. True often: due in part to having too much to say in too little time, in larger part to diffidence, which such comments increased.
Pages 401-402 (written in November 1969)
What a dreadful, fear-darkened, sorrow-laden world we live in—especially for those who have also the burden of age, whose friends and all they especially care for are afflicted in the same way. Chesterton once said that it is our duty to keep the Flag of This World flying: but it takes now a sturdier and more sublime patriotism than it did then. Gandalf added that it is not for us to choose the times into which we are born, but to do what we could to repair them; but the spirit of wickedness in high places is now so powerful and so many-headed in its incarnations that there seems nothing more to do than personally to refuse to worship any of the hydras' heads.
I am wholly in favour of the "dull stodges." I had once a considerable experience of what are/were probably England's most (at least apparently) dullest and stodgiest students: Yorkshire's young men and women of sub-public school class and home backgrounds bookless and cultureless. ... A surprisingly large proportion prove "educable": for which a primary qualification is the willingness to do some work (to learn) (at any level of intelligence). Teaching is a most exhausting task. But I would rather spend myself on removing the "dull" from "stodges"—providing some products of [B to B+] quality that retain some sanity—a hopeful soil from which another generation with some higher intelligence could arise. Rather—rather than waste effort on those of (apparently at any rate) higher intelligence that have been corrupted and disintegrated by school, and the "climate" of our present days. Teaching an organized subject is simply not the instrument for their rehabilitation—if anything is.
Dost thou ever feel thus toward thy neighbour—“Yes, of course, every man is my brother; but how can I be a brother to him so long as he thinks me wrong in what I believe, and so long as I think he wrongs in his opinions the dignity of the truth?” What, I return, has the man no hand to grasp, no eyes into which yours may gaze far deeper than your vaunted intellect can follow? Is there not, I ask, anything in him to love? Who asks you to be of one opinion? It is the Lord who asks you to be of one heart. Does the Lord love the man? Can the Lord love, where there is nothing to love? Are you wiser than he, inasmuch as you perceive impossibility where he has failed to discover it? Or will you say, “Let the Lord love where he pleases: I will love where I please”? or say, and imagine you yield, “Well, I suppose I must, and therefore I will,—but with certain reservations, politely quiet in my own heart”? Or wilt thou say none of all these things, but do them all, one after the other, in the secret chambers of thy proud spirit? If you delight to condemn, you are a wounder, a divider of the oneness of Christ. If you pride yourself on your loftier vision, and are haughty to your neighbour, you are yourself a division and have reason to ask: “Am I a particle of the body at all?” The Master will deal with thee upon the score. Let it humble thee to know that thy dearest opinion, the one thou dost worship as if it, and not God, were thy Saviour, this very opinion thou art doomed to change, for it cannot possibly be right, if it work in thee for death and not for life.
George MacDonald, A Dish of Orts, "A Sermon"
The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan Books, 1980; talks originally given from the 1930s through the 1950s)
Once again, this is not a review—though I highly recommend the book—but a collection to replace the sticky notes I had affixed to this book as I re-read it recently. With some comments. The emphasis is my own.
From "Learning in Wartime"
A cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren.... Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.
There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarrelling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that the seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favourable conditions never come.
From "Why I Am Not a Pacifist"
Why I am not a fan of the movement to "not impose our moral and religious values on our children, but leave them free to make up their own minds."
Human beings must be trained in obedience to the moral intuitions almost before they have them, and years before they are rational enough to discuss them, or they will be corrupted before the time for discussion arrives.
We have seen that every moral judgment involves facts, intuition, and reasoning, and, if we are wise enough to be humble, it will involve some regard for authority as well. Its strength depends on the strength of these four factors. Thus if I find that the facts on which I am working are clear and little disputed, that the basic intuition is unmistakably an intuition, that the reasoning which connects this intuition with the particular judgment is strong, and that I am in agreement or (at worst) not in disagreement with authority, then I can trust my moral judgment with reasonable confidence. And if, in addition, I find little reason to suppose that any passion has secretly swayed my mind, this confidence is confirmed. If, on the other hand, I find the facts doubtful, the supposed intuition by no means obvious to all good men, the reasoning weak, and authority against me, then I ought to conclude that I am probably wrong. And if the conclusion which I have reached turns out also to flatter some strong passion of my own, then my suspicion should deepen into moral certainty. By "moral certainty" I mean that degree of certainty proper to moral decisions; for mathematical certainty is not here to be looked for.
It may be asked whether, faint as the hope is of abolishing war by Pacifism, there is any other hope. But the question belongs to a mode of thought which I find quite alien to me. It consists in assuming that the great permanent miseries in human life must be curable if only we can find the right cure; and it then proceeds by elimination and concludes that whtever is left, however unlikely to prove a cure, must nevertheless do so. Hence the fanaticism of Marxists, Freudians, Eugenists, Spiritualists, Douglasites, Federal Unionists, Vegetarians, and all the rest. But I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made, just as the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race.
From "Is Theology Poetry"
We should distinguish Evolution in the strict [biological] sense from what may be called the universal evolutionism of modern thought. By universal evolutionism I mean the belief that the very formula of universal process is from imperfect to perfect, from small beginnings to great endings, from the rudimentary to the elaborate, the belief which makes people find it natural to think that morality springs from savage taboos, adult sentiment from infantile sexual maladjustments, thought from instinct, mind from matter, organic from inorganic, cosmos from chaos. This is perhaps the deepest habit of mind in the contemporary world. It seems to me immensely unplausible, because it makes the general course of nature so very unlike those parts of nature we can observe. You remember the old puzzle as to whether the owl came from the egg or the egg from the owl. The modern acquiescence in universal evolutionism is a kind of optical illusion, produced by attending exclusively to the owl's emergence from the egg. We are taught from childhood to notice how the perfect oak grows from the acorn and to forget that the acorn itself was dropped by a perfect oak. We are reminded constantly that the adult human being was an embryo, never that the life of the embryo came from two adult human beings.
This lecture was given in 1945. Read the next paragraph and try to imagine what Lewis might think nearly 75 years later.
When I first went to Oxford the typical undergraduate society consisted of a dozen men, who knew one another intimately, hearing a paper by one of their own number in a small sitting-room and hammering out their problem till one or two in the morning. Before [World War II] the typical undergraduate society had come to be a mixed audience of one or two hundred students assembled in a public hall to hear a lecture from some visiting celebrity. Even on those rare occasions when a modern undergraduate is not attending some such society he is seldom engaged in those solitary walks, or walks with a single companion, which built the minds of the previous generations. He lives in a crowd; caucus has replaced friendship. And this tendency not only exists both within and without the university, but is often approved. There is a crowd of busybodies, self-appointed masters of ceremonies, whose life is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude still exists. ... If an Augustine, a Vaughan, a Traherne, or a Wordsworth should be born in the modern world, the leaders of a youth organization would soon cure him. If a really good home, such as the home of Alcinous and Arete in the Odyssey or the Rostovs in War and Peace or any of Charlotte M. Young's families, existed today, it would be denounced as bourgeois and every engine of destruction would be levelled against it. And even where the planners fail and someone is left physically by himself, the wireless has seen to it that he will be ... never less alone than when alone. We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
I have wanted to try to expel that quite un-Christian worship of the human individual simply as such which is so rampant in modern thought side by side with our collectivism, for one error begets the opposite error and, far from neutralising, they aggravate each other. I mean the pestilent notion ... that each of us starts with a treasure called "personality" locked up inside him, and that to expand and express this, to guard it from interference, to be "original," is the main end of life. This is Pelagian, or worse, and it defeats even itself. No man who values originality will ever be original. But try to tell the truth as you see it, try to do any bit of work as well as it can be done for the work's sake, and what we call originality will come unsought.
I fell in love with Penzeys Spices the first time I walked into their Pittsburgh store, many years and ten grandchildren ago. What an enormous array of herbs, spices, and extracts of excellent quality, as well as their own superb spice blends! I couldn't say enough wonderful things about Penzeys, in person and here on this blog.
You may or may not have noticed that I don't do that anymore. My interactions with the company have left a bad taste in my mouth, and when your business is selling food ... that's not a good situation.
Once upon a time I stocked up on Penzeys products whenever we visited our daughter in Pittsburgh. I put myself on their mailing list, and in between times would sometimes place an order through the mail. But imagine my joy when Central Florida finally got its own Penzeys store! We generally visited once a month, to take advantage of the free spice coupons in the catalog, and of course we almost always made other purchases as well.
Ah, the catalog. In each one, Bill Penzey wrote an enjoyable little column about spices, food, cooking, and family. I used to like reading that, almost as much as I enjoyed the food & family stories contributed by customers. But gradually, that changed. Politics started to infuse the catalog, first in Bill's column and then in the customer stories he chose to include.
Well, I don't usually discriminate against great products based on the political opinions of the company. I continued to drool over the catalog, skipping Bill's column. When I did read it, I was usually sorry I had. We continued our monthly visits to the store, where even the employees rolled their eyes at the political turn the company was taking.
And then Penzeys closed our store.
I understand that companies must make difficult economic decisions and sometimes stores must be closed. I'm okay with that, even if it makes me sad. Their lease was up, and rents are high in the area they had chosen to open their store. What my anger flowed from was the implication on their sign that they would soon be opening a new store in the area, though I certainly was looking forward to that.
You see, in his political writings Bill Penzey consistently positions himself and his company as the defenders of the common people, the little guys, the poor and needy ... you get the picture. He's always denouncing people and businesses that make decisions based on what he perceives as selfishness and greed. Yet he decided to close a store and reopen elsewhere just to get his company out from under an expensive lease, leaving his employees—the little guys, the poor and needy common people—high and dry. They could not afford to wait for the opening of a theoretical new store: they needed job. Given all Bill Penzey has said about what other people should do with their money and in their own businesses, I would have expected his company to bite the bullet, forgo some profit, and at the least not close the existing store until a new one, nearby but in a less expensive neighborhood, was ready to provide jobs for their displaced employees.
They did not. That moves the scenario from necessary business decision straight to hypocrisy. And as it turned out, it has been four years since they closed, and there is still no sign of a Penzeys store any closer than Jacksonville.
On top of that, despite my many attempts at communication—before and after this event; whether contribution, compliment, or complaint; by e-mail or postal mail—I never heard back from Penzeys. It was worse than writing to a politician and expecting communication!
Since then, Bill Penzey's political rants (which now come to me by e-mail rather than printed catalog) have gone over-the-edge extreme. The hypocrisy, the hate-preached-as-love, would almost be funny—if it weren't so sad.
The following incident did make me laugh, at least until I started wondering what tax advantage the company might be angling for. Last Friday, the mailman delivered a box of excitement: my most recent Penzeys order. Penzeys packages often come with a freebie or two tucked in, such as sample-sized envelopes of herbs or spices (my favorite) or something advertising the store or one of Bill Penzey's pet causes. Here's one of the latter that came this time:
It's a sticker, no big deal except for the waste when it ends up in the landfill. What makes it bizarre is how it appeared on the packing slip, which you can see below, with some prices I've circled in red.
For this sticker, which I didn't order, they charged me $6.95, then "discounted" the price at the end. What kind of pricing is this? Who in his right mind would pay $6.95 for a sticker, let alone one not even worth sending to grandchildren? And what's the point? Some sort of shady accounting practice or tax benefit?
Amusing in a different way are the accolades Bill Penzey gives himself by first (1) making an extreme political statement, then (2) offering an extraordinarily good sale, 'way too good to pass up, then (3) bragging that his customers clearly endorse his political beliefs—just look at the spike in sales!
But do you know what? I still buy his spices. Not nearly as much, not nearly as often. As I said, the company now leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But the taste of the spices is still wonderful. I don't believe boycotts to be generally useful, and in most cases I choose businesses by quality and price without asking about politics.
Penzeys' reputation for quality is no doubt why they feel they can get away with repeatedly and consistently alienating half their customer base. It puts me in mind of what a math professor friend said about Harvard University years ago: The quality of education at the school has gone down significantly; students are no longer getting what a "Harvard education" used to mean. Harvard is living on its reputation. And that will be slow to die, because the Harvard reputation will still give Harvard graduates' résumés a great advantage over others. More importantly, it will continue to attract the best students, which will give them both the "iron sharpens iron" benefit and an unbeatable network of connections for the future. You can't live forever on reputation alone, but if you have once been great, you can fool yourself and others for a long time.
I believe Bill Penzey is fooling himself. As long as Penzeys' spices are perceived as superior—and many of them really are—even the spurned, denigrated, vilified half of his customer base will not flee en masse. But many—like some students who forgo applying to Harvard—may decide that the difference is not worth the cost. The love and the loyalty are gone.
This blog is my storehouse for a good deal of miscellany, since combined with Google's search capabilities, it's a good way to find things at some future time when I've forgotten them, despite assurances to myself that of course I wouldn't forget that.
Smart Lock is a feature on the Galaxy S9 (and other phones too, I'm sure, but this is the one I know about) that allows me to lock my phone yet not have to deal with the inconvenience of unlocking it every time I pick it up. You tell the phone that certain places are trusted, such as home, and it won't require unlocking when you're in that place. Yay! It worked like a charm—for the first few days.
Then, as charms are wont to do, it became fickle. I found myself having to unlock my phone all the time. It was driving me up the wall. I tried this, that, and the other thing, all to no avail. Finally, I took the problem to Dr. Google. There I found a suggestion that the poster said was crazy, but effective:
I, like most people, had accepted the phone's suggestion of my home address for a trusted site. I don't know if it's Google's fault or something else, but people have found that to stop working after a few days, as it did for me. Who knows why? The secret, they said, was to edit the home location and move the marker a bit to reset it.
That didn't work for me. Perhaps I didn't move it enough, but since Google warned that doing so would affect the location of my home in several other of its applications, I didn't want to move it too much.
Instead, I took a different approach. I set up a second trusted site that was in the correct location, but not associated with my address—it's known to the system by its latitude and longitude. That worked perfectly.
Until it didn't, and I was back to having to unlock my phone every time.
I opened the SmartLock settings again, and added yet another trusted location—the place that my phone apparently thought it was, right then.
And that worked, until it didn't. The pattern seems to be this: For a day, my phone would stay unlocked. Sometimes I'd get more than one day out of it, but generally the next morning I'd wake up back at Square One.
Actually, not quite back to the beginning—I'm gradually accumulating a collection of trusted places around our house. Despite the fact that SmartLock claims to be trusting a fairly large circle around a given location, that's not they way it's acting. The trusted places on my list show differences by 0.1" in either latitude or longitude. I hoped that eventually I'd have all the bases covered....
I'm still hoping that, but it seems to be a very slow process. Apparently the latitude and longitude measurements have a finer granularity than what is displayed. The process I have settled into is this:
When I first open my phone in the morning, I must unlock it. That's what I would expect after a long pause in use. But then the next time I try to use it, the phone is locked again. So I go into the SmartLock settings and add a new trusted place—wherever the phone thinks it is. After that, the phone is good for the rest of the day. I must do this every day.
It's a pain, and it shouldn't be that way, but it works for me. For now. I'll update this if I ever figure out something better.
UPDATE 2/7/19 There is hope that my phone will eventually learn that our home is a safe place. Today began with the usual problem: I opened the phone and needed to unlock it. The same thing happened the second time, but I was too lazy to go through the process of adding a new Trusted Location. Somewhere along the line—third or fourth time, maybe?—the phone opened with no need for unlocking. Was that because I was at that point in a different room of the house, one the phone recognized? Who knows, but it gives me hope to keep observing and experimenting.