It's about time for another word from my favorite Canadian lawyer, who is struggling to balance principles and parenthood. (12-minute video)
Maybe it's a good thing that my only Australian source concentrates on cooking. I hear the situation is even worse there.
Southwest Airlines has been getting some bad press recently, but we've recently had a wonderful experience.
I'm very disappointed that they caved in to pressure to implement a vaccine mandate for their employees. I would have respected them much, much more if they could have held out against this wrongful policy.
That said, I was impressed, and pleasantly surprised, by what happened to us.
We were scheduled to fly Southwest, and more than a little concerned about their recent cancellations, especially the news stories of people waiting several hours to get help, and not being able to reschedule any sooner than three days away.
Sure enough, the night before we were scheduled to fly, we received notice that our flight was one of the ones that was cancelled. Before we could even get through to the Southwest website, however, we receive another notification:
We have rebooked your flight for you.
Not only did it happen quickly, and with no effort on our part, but they had actually put us on a better flight than the one that was cancelled. It left three hours later, giving us a more comfortable start, yet arrived at our destination an hour earlier, because it was a direct flight instead of requiring a plane change in Baltimore. True, our new flight was packed to the gills and we were among the last five people to board the plane, but at that point we felt nothing but gratitude.
Kudos to Southwest for making a potentially terrible situation into something almost pleasant.
And many thanks to all of you who prayed for our trip!
Happy Columbus Day!
(On my calendar it is October 12, no matter what the USPS says.)
If you don't celebrate Columbus Day, have a happy day anyway.
So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport (Business Plus, 2012)
I can't resist a Cal Newport book. My first was How to Be a High School Superstar (published 2010), then Digital Minimalism (2019) then Deep Work (2016). If the advice in any of them is out of date, I haven't noticed anything major.
So Good They Can't Ignore You is—like the others—both strong and weak but filled with interesting ideas that are contrary to much conventional wisdom. This time Newport tackles the "follow your passion" philosophy of choosing a career that was popular when the book was written. I don't think the appeal of that idea has lessened, despite the great number of college graduates who thought they were doing just that but ended up with unmanageable debt and a job at Starbuck's.
Much of his thesis is just what used to be called common sense: The work you choose doesn't matter nearly as much as how you approach it; focus on what you can offer the world rather than what the world can offer you; work hard; cultivate excellence. If that sounds boring and Puritanical, read the book to find out how it turns out to be the secret to having a career that's enjoyable and personally fulfilling. Newport fleshes out the ideas nicely, if sometimes a bit too repetitively, with explanation, analysis, and real-world examples.
As with Newport's other books, this one is business-oriented, making it hard to apply directly to non-business careers like homemaking and rearing a family. In fact, part of me wonders if it's possible to do what's necessary to achieve the skills he expects without neglecting other important parts of life. However, it must be noted that the really intense effort he recommends works best when one is young, and leads to far more autonomy and flexibility than standard career paths. It is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth.
At present, the Kindle version of So Good They Can't Ignore You is currently on sale for $3.99. It's well worth the investment of your time and money, or a visit to your local library.
Point 1: What is the good of euphemisms? They enable us to express something without resorting to offensive words (whatever the offense may be). That's better for the ears and hearts of the listeners, certainly. But does it do anything for the speakers? If I say "darn" instead of "damn," what do I gain? Is the attitude of my heart any better for it? I think that's a good question to ponder.
Point 2: As I've said many times, of presidents from both parties: our chief executive deserves respectful treatment by virtue of the office he holds—not to mention as a human being. Chanting "F--- Joe Biden" like a football cheer is puerile at best. Moreover, it's probably worse than useless, venting people's frustrations without driving them to work toward changing the policies they hate. If I were President Biden, I would hear those chants and think, "As long as they're shouting and not actively working for my opponents, I'm okay with that."
That said, I have to admit that I find the whole "Let's Go, Brandon!" story hilarious. And maybe even a little useful.
Good humor can be an effective antidote to hate, and it's hard to say, "Let's Go, Brandon!" without smiling.
My constant prayer since the start of the development of the COVID-19 vaccines has been that the knowledge gained would lead to an effective vaccine against malaria.
When I last checked the Johns Hopkins site, the total estimate of COVID-19 cases since we started keeping track have been a little less than 237 million. (Just how accurate that guess is, is another issue.)
In that time period, there have been approximately 382 million cases of malaria, a debilitating disease that cripples economies, and preferentially kills young children.
But there is good news. While there is still much room for new vaccine-development techniques to improve the situation, there is now a vaccine for malaria. It was developed by GlaxoSmithKline* and proven effective six years ago. Finally, after futher testing, has been given the green light for mass vaccinations in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Effective," in this case, is only 40%—I said there was room for improvement—and requires a series of four shots, given at five, six, seven, and 18 months of age. In a part of the world where health care is often less than stellar, I imagine this will be a challenge to implement. But malaria is a much trickier disease than, say, COVID ("comparing them is like comparing a person and a cabbage") and this is a huge milestone.
Last Sunday we might almost have been on vacation, with visits to one church, two art museums, and a restaurant. Double or triple the number of churches and museums and we could have been back in Rome. Even the temperature was about right.
The church was our own Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. It has no great art masterpieces, but the building is really beautiful and we get to sing there. :)
The first museum was the Mennello Museum of American Art. It's one of our favorite little museums, perfect for a quick cultural break. This time we stayed a lot longer than we had expected. The current special exhibit (through November 7) is "Floating Beauty: Women in the Art of Ukiyo-e." I've learned through experience that art exhibits that make political statements are likely to be annoying, and worse, boring. That's what I expected here and I couldn't have been more wrong.
Here's the description of the exhibit, taken from the museum's website:
Examines historical perspectives on women and their depiction in art in Edo Period Japan (1615 – 1858). Made up entirely of woodblock prints created in the ukiyo-e style, this exhibition highlights female characters in literature, kabuki theatre, and poetry; the courtesans and geisha of the Yoshiwara district; and wives and mothers from different social classes performing the duties of their station, in order to gain some insight into the lives of women in pre-modern Japan.
The prints, on loan from the Reading Public Museum, were beautiful, and educational. Several were by Utagawa Hiroshige, recognizable because of the book of his art I created for our grandchildren back in 2015. Even though it does not depict women, the exhibit included one of the many prints of Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa. This is from the artist's series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, and immediately brought to mind our visit to Janet in Japan, where we took a long walk to another small museum with great richness of art, including the Thirty-six Views.
[Pandemic note: the website said we'd have to have our temperatures taken to enter the museum, but that wasn't true. They did, however, require masks inside.]
Our next visit was to the Orlando Museum of Art, across the street. Having been brought up on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it has taken me a while to appreciate Orlando's, which, I'm sorry to say, tends toward art that is modern, infused with politics, and—as I said—boring. But every once in a while they have a major success in my book, and this was one of those times.
Two new exhibits opened September 25. There is no ending date posted on the museum site—it merely says "ongoing"—but both are on loan from elsewhere, and excellent, so be sure to check them out if you can.
The first exhibit we saw at the OMA was Treasures from the Museum & Gallery at Bob Jones University: Five Centuries of Old Master Painting. I had no idea Bob Jones had such treasure. This is such a change from what OMA usually has to offer! Another big plus for me was the excellence of the descriptions that accompany the paintings. All too often in American museums I find these commentaries to be poorly written: filled with spelling, grammatical, and compositional errors; sometimes, when it's a subject I know something about, even errors of fact. These were all I could want in that respect, and provided accurate explananations of both the Biblical/Classical context of the paintings, and the symbolism so often present in such works.
Van Dyke, Rubens, and Tintoretto are among those represented here. And also this, Carlo Dolci's Madonna and Child.
I wonder if anyone else in my family will do a double-take at Mary, as I did. You might want to click on the image to enlarge it.
The second special exhibit is Connoisseurship & Collecting: Masterworks of European Painting from the Muscarelle Museum of Art. More great masters, more excellent descriptions, definitely worth seeing. We could have spent more time with it, but we were tired out from the first two exhibits and hungry because it was now going on three o'clock. As we walked out of the museum, we paused to pay homage to their excellent collection of Louis Dewis works, now featured in a better place than the last time we were there.
[Pandemic note: "Face masks are encouraged but not required." As usually seems to happen in these situations, people's mask use and non-use were regulated by some pretty good common sense.]
The final work of art? Avocado egg rolls at the Cheesecake Factory.
[Pandemic note: It's a restaurant; we were eating. The servers wore masks, and we didn't.]
It causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark. — Revelation 13:16-17
College is a time for wide-ranging, speculative discussions, and among my fellow students in the early 1970's this Bible verse was a popular topic. We were hard-pressed to imagine a world in which people would consent to having marks imposed on their bodies: tattoos were so rare that most of us had never seen one, and the now-common practice of implanting informative microchips in pets was 15 years in the future. The microchip itself had barely made any impression on our lives—my choice when doing my physics homework was between long, laborious hand calculations and a long trek through the snow to a small room where half a dozen chunky, very basic calculators had been made available to students.
Even more puzzling was how having or not having this "mark of the beast" could be the gateway to commerce. The marketplace still ran on cash and checks.
How much can change in 50 years.
Suddenly, in Canada, in Australia, in Switzerland, and in parts of the United States, the marketplace and much more are now gated by vaccination status. Society has been divided as by a sharp sword between the haves and the have-nots; the clean and the unclean; the ones who are free to travel, attend school, eat at restaurants, and even hold their jobs, and those who are not.
I am not saying that the COVID-19 vaccine is the Mark of the Beast. It seems clear that the Mark will involve some form of blasphemy and idolatrous worship, and this does not—although, frankly, the efforts to invalidate religious exemptions to vaccine mandates have me wondering a bit about that.
However, it is now crystal clear is that what seemed impossibly fanciful back in my college days is not only possible, but can sweep over even a free and democratic country with little effective opposition. Whatever that Mark may be, we have opened the door.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (Penguin Books, 2000)
I read Moby-Dick my freshman year in college. It was a long slog, even for an avid reader like me. But back then my tastes did not run to "literature," much less literature required by English teachers; perhaps I would appreciate it more now. In fact, I'm tempted to give it another go, now that I've read In the Heart of the Sea. The tale of the Essex was Herman Melville's inspiration.
I'd encountered Philbrick once before: His Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, which greatly impressed me back in 2010. In the Heart of the Sea gets the same good rating, but with a warning: As much as I found it fascinating, I found it depressing. Possibly this is merely a reflection of my own darker mood, induced by events associated with going on two years of pandemic. I find the sinful nature of humanity revealed a little to graphically here; ditto the grisly business of butchering a whale.
But there's no doubt it's a fascinating story, impeccably researched and dramatically told. Maybe it's time to dig up Moby-Dick and see if it's as painful as I remember.